The American: Chapter 25,26
Summary of Chapter XXV
Newman calls on the fat duchess who had once invited him to her home. She is gracious but sits in her armchair engaging in a monologue, not really speaking to her guest. Newman feels like he is in a comedy with the old lady. As soon as another guest comes, Newman leaves, knowing he will never be received again. He understands that they will all hold together like a great wall. As he leaves he knows that he never wants to speak of the Bellegardes again. He turns to the Tristrams for solace. He says he feels like a widower, as if his wife has been murdered, and he cannot bring the case to justice. Mrs. Tristram tells him to travel. Newman goes to London, running into Noémie with her lover, Lord Deepmere. M. Nioche still plays the wronged father.
Commentary on Chapter XXV
Mrs. Tristram is a little like a cat. She introduced Claire to Newman, but claims it was more out of curiosity than a wish to do good. This is similar to Valentin's enjoyment of the drama of other people. This attitude is foreign to Newman's forthright and serious intentions. When he sees Noémie and her father in London with Lord Deepmere, this is the last straw. Noémie and Lord Deepmere have profited from the Bellegarde tragedies and seem unconcerned. Newman's faith in human nature is at a low point.
Summary of Chapter XXVI
Newman settles into a state of melancholy, enjoying reveries of Madame de Cintré in a kind of intoxication, only to be shocked again at her loss. He begins to idealize her and to want to carry out his life under her inspiration. He looks at the piece of paper in his wallet; it is his revenge that he keeps to himself. He feels he is a wronged man, and when he goes back to America, he does not tell anyone what happened. He is indifferent to his business. He feels lost, thinking something was left undone. A letter from Mrs. Tristram informs him that Claire has finally taken the veil on her twenty-seventh birthday as Sister Veronica. He starts for Paris full of heartache.
Mrs. Bread is taking care of his Paris apartment. Newman thinks now he will remain in Paris forever near Claire though he cannot see her. He goes to her convent in the Rue d'Enfer (Street of Hell) with many other convents and prisons. He feels he is visiting her tomb. The feeling of revenge is suddenly gone. He tells Mrs. Tristram he will never mention the Bellegarde name again and throws the scrap of paper into the fire without telling Mrs. Tristram the secret. He leaves Paris for good.
Commentary on Chapter XXVI
Newman does not take his revenge after all, as he did not take revenge in his business life earlier. It is against his character. Mrs. Tristram tells Newman the Bellegardes were not afraid of him, because they understood his generosity and good nature. She implies by this that Newman was not corrupted by the evil he saw around him. The Bellegardes can read him, while he cannot read into their motives. He is not the sort of man who can destroy others. The ending completes the beginning portrait of Newman as a “new man” who does not hold with old behaviors or grudges. The Old World stands for a history of war, feuds, and secrets hundreds of years old. After all, Newman is not cut out for European intrigue. He has to mend his grief in a more honest way. James shows that though the Bellegardes insisted Newman was not good enough for their family, he was morally too good for them and better off not caught in the clutches of their family politics.
Text: James, Henry, The American, The Project Gutenberg Ebook, #177, www.gutenberg.org, January 2, 2007.