The American: Chapter 15,16
Summary of Chapter XV
M. Nioche had threatened to shoot his daughter if he ever found out she had become a fallen woman, and Newman believed him. He is disgusted to find out Valentin's cynical appraisal of the Nioches as a con team is correct. Valentin, however, takes this as encouragement to pursue Noémie. Noémie has taken a fifty-year-old lover with lots of money. Newman decides to look up Nioche to see for himself if he is upset about this. He meets father and daughter in a cafe. Noémie is elegant but looks older. She is self-possessed and not embarrassed about her situation. Newman scolds her for losing her virtue, but she claims to want success. The old man is not unhappy, for his daughter gives him an allowance. Valentin sings Noémie's praises: she is cultured, beautiful, intelligent, and heartless: “You can't scratch her even with a diamond” (p. 151).
When Newman receives his invitation to the marquise's party, he feels he has triumphed, but Valentin warns him that he will meet aristocrats and should be careful. Newman does not listen because he is in love. He will be married in six weeks.
Commentary on Chapter XV
Valentin and Newman argue over women. Newman is proper and old-fashioned, believing women should be virtuous. He is in love with Claire because of her goodness. Valentin, however, is attracted to Noémie because she is naughty and interesting to him. He is charmed with her cleverness. Newman says he must like the criminal type. Newman's respect for women is at odds with Valentin's cynicism.
Valentin asks Newman if he is not afraid of trying to marry a countess. Newman is so happy that he sees no obstacles of rank. He believes the Bellegardes when they say they have given their word, and the party seems proof of that. Valentin, on the other hand, is unhappy about Noémie. He is becoming obsessed with her. Newman tries to help him. He says he will find him a job in a bank, thinking he needs a useful life.
Summary of Chapter XVI
Newman sees Claire every day while her brother Urbain and her mother are busy entertaining Lord Deepmere. Urbain's wife often flirts with Newman, but he tries to ignore her. She complains her husband is boring. Claire seems very happy, and the couple are tender together. At the engagement ball, Newman meets dukes, counts, and a baron, including Lord Deepmere. Newman is at a disadvantage in being unable to dance, while Deepmere makes a point of dancing with Claire. Newman is dazzled by the brilliance of the party “that soft hardness of good society which puts out its hand but keeps its fingers closed” (p. 161).
Newman enjoys the politeness of so great a company but wonders if he appears a fool to them. Mrs. Tristram warns him that the marquise is not happy about the engagement. Newman finds her in serious discussion with Lord Deepmere. She instructs him to dance with Claire. Newman finds Claire with Deepmere, having an agitated discussion. There is a mystery, and Claire is upset but will not tell Newman why.
Commentary on Chapter XVI
Newman is naturally happy and does not expect a reversal of his good fortune. His praise of Claire suggests she is an exquisite piece of art. He tells her she is the exact image of a wife: “You come up to the mark” (p. 155). Claire denies that she can match his ideal. She always warns him that she has flaws.
Newman still believes that the marquise is going to leave him alone, but the ball at the Bellegardes is a trial he does not comprehend. The author includes scenes of trivial social banter of the upper classes. They may glitter, but they also appear shallow compared to the lovers. Newman can hardly remember anyone's name or title. They pump him up with attention and praise, and he swallows it all.
There is a conspiracy going on with Lord Deepmere, however, and it comes from Claire's mother, who evidently does not accept the engagement as final, despite the family's word and the engagement party.
Text: James, Henry, The American, The Project Gutenberg Ebook, #177, www.gutenberg.org, January 2, 2007.