The American: Chapter 23,24
Summary of Book XXIII
Newman returns to Paris and tries to figure out how to use his information against the Bellegardes. Mrs. Bread arrives and becomes the housekeeper. She says Claire refuses to receive her family, and after she takes orders, they will never be able to see her. Mrs. Bread tells him where the convent is; he can go to mass there and hear the nuns sing, but no one is allowed to see them.
Mrs. Bread says that the old marquise tried to stop her from leaving and seemed scared that she was going to serve Newman. Newman exults at this news, for he is completely taken up in his purpose of revenge. His friend, Mrs. Tristram, helps him to get into the Carmelite chapel.
Commentary on Book XXIII
Mrs. Bread dwells on the hard life of the Carmelite nuns until Newman cannot bear it. Newman gives her a job as his housekeeper and security from the Bellegardes. He is now like a different man, pale, and full of anger and revenge. This is not like his easy going character. It is surprising except that his grief over the loss of Claire has no other outlet. He assumes the role of the righteous American cowboy pursuing justice. The thought of Claire shut up in a convent seems like another murder to him. The father, Valentin, and Claire have been snuffed out. There does seem to be a curse.
Summary of Chapter XXIV
Newman walks by the convent many times. It is in a prosperous section of town. He is disturbed that the convent has no windows. On Sunday he goes to chapel to hear mass. There is a screen dividing visitors from nuns. He hears the women chanting. Agitated and close to tears, he leaves just as the Bellegardes are arriving. They look at him with dismay.
A lady in a carriage outside turns out to be Madame Urbain de Bellegarde waiting for her husband and mother-in-law. She is kind to him and agrees to help him meet the Bellegardes after mass. There in the park, he accuses them to their faces of murder. The mother is cool, but the son turns white. Newman gives them a copy of the note but keeps the original and threatens to expose them. The next day Urbain calls on Newman to ask his price for the paper. He believes it is genuine. He claims he wants to preserve his father's good name.
Commentary on Chapter XXIV
The marquise does not buckle under Newman's pressure. Urbain asks Newman to act like a gentleman. Newman lashes out that they do not consider him to be a gentleman. Urbain warns that all their friends are loyal and will not listen to him. He will be attacking Claire if he attacks the family.
The Bellegardes do not respond as Newman wishes. They continue to protest their innocence but implicate Mrs. Bread and the father as culprits. They do not want the family name sullied, but Urbain lets Newman know he is powerless against an old French family with many friends.
James gives another “turn of the screw” by having the Bellegardes admit the note is genuine, but they imply the old marquis was the cruel one, having many mistresses, including Mrs. Bread. In this way suspicion is thrown back on the late marquis and Mrs. Bread for trying to dishonor the marquise. The mystery seems to be messier all the time, but Newman charges around as though his aggression will solve something.
Text: James, Henry, The American, The Project Gutenberg Ebook, #177, www.gutenberg.org, January 2, 2007.