The American: Chapter 3,4

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Summary of Chapter III

Newman dines with Mr. and Mrs. Tristram in their American neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. The Tristrams are not happily married; the wife is more intelligent and looks down on the husband. Lizzy Tristram has an ironic and intellectual nature. She becomes a close friend of Newman's, while she makes it clear she merely tolerates Tom. Although she is plain looking, she is interesting, and from her Newman gains the orientation he has been looking for to the European adventure he is embarking upon. Lizzy speaks French and has French friends. Newman is generally liked wherever he goes for his good nature and democratic assumption that everyone has rights. Newman likes women for their sensitivity and astute judgment. He takes pleasure in Mrs. Tristram's company, and she introduces him to her friends. Newman is disappointed in Tom Tristram, however, for he is an idle gossip.

Mrs. Tristram gets Newman to talk about his business success and his love life. He has never been in love, but he wants a wife now. His wife must be “a magnificent woman” (p. 27). Mrs. Tristram proposes her aristocratic friend, Claire de Bellegarde, now a young widow called Madame de Cintré, would be perfect for him. Claire went into an arranged marriage at eighteen and is now a widow at twenty-five. Though she is perfect, “she comes from terrible people” (p. 30). When Newman is introduced to her, she agrees to receive him at her house. When Newman calls, however, he is not admitted. He meets her younger brother, Valentin, who welcomes him, but the older brother, Urbain, says she is not at home.


Commentary on Chapter III

Mrs. Tristram plays a main role in Newman's Paris history. She is frustrated in her marriage to a dull man and soon adopts Newman as her project. She helps him to interpret the city and the French, especially the Bellegarde family, with which he is soon to be entangled. Mrs. Tristram can be unpredictable due to her restless behavior, but Newman trusts her moral integrity.

Newman's way with women is elaborated upon because he is about to fall in love. He is not gallant with women but likes them as friends. He is unusual for he regards women “in a sort of rapture of respect” (p. 22). His innocent adoration of women is later contrasted to the cynicism of European men to the opposite sex.

Newman's patriotism is also touched upon. He believes the United States, still a young country, is the greatest nation on earth and that Europeans are somewhat inferior because they do not believe in the moral value of hard work and honesty. This native pride is important in explaining his confrontation with the French Bellegarde family. Newman's good nature and lack of malice are traits that work both to his advantage and disadvantage. His goodness has a different meaning in a European context.

When Newman tells Mrs. Tristram he wants a wife, he lays out specific guidelines: she must be good, beautiful, and clever: “I want to possess, in a word, the best article in the market” (p. 28). He cannot help sounding like a man of business looking for a bargain, and this will be held against him by the French. Yet Newman understands that marriage to the right woman is “the greatest victory over circumstances” on earth, a piece of good fortune (p. 28).

Mrs. Tristram introduces Claire de Cintré, the woman she proposes as Newman's wife, outlining the history of her family who has little money but an ancient name. The mother rules the family with an iron hand; she is the daughter of an English earl who married a French marquis. Their young daughter, Claire, was forced into marriage by the mother to an old man, and is a widow still recovering from the horror. The fact that Mrs. Tristram arranges for Newman to be received is unheard of, for the family lives in a restricted circle of friends. The younger brother is a count, and the older brother is now the marquis. Claire is herself a countess, so Newman, who falls in love at first sight, sets his aim high.


Summary of Chapter IV

M. Nioche visits Newman in his apartment with the finished painting by his daughter. The old man's forlorn look prompts Newman to want to help him. The father complains that his daughter's beauty is a liability in Paris; he is always worried for her reputation. He would need 15,000 francs for her dowry. Newman offers him this sum if Noémie will paint a series of six paintings for him. M. Nioche is so grateful he teaches Newman French for free.

The father complains he worries about his daughter's virtue because she is a coquette, but he can say nothing because she earns their bread. He threatens to shoot himself if he ever hears she shames him. Newman believes he is saving this family from hardship with his commissions to Noémie, but she is not pleased. At the Louvre, she sizes him up, and he realizes she is not innocent, but he does not think she is a bad girl. She refuses his commissions saying 12,000 francs will not buy the husband she wants.


Commentary on Chapter IV

M. Nioche asks Newman to respect his daughter's virtue, and Newman laughs, for he has no intention of approaching her. He does not fit into the French way of thinking of these matters. It never occurs to him, as to other men, that Noémie would be a good mistress. Only later does he see that the old man is the set up for his daughter to find a rich lover. Newman does not want to play this game. His honesty is not appreciated by the Nioches. They can't get anywhere with him. She flirts with Newman and hints she would like to go to Switzerland with him.

Noémie finally clues him in that she is a terrible artist and cannot paint. She does not want to work but to find a patron. Newman withdraws his offer. She is selling herself to the highest bidder and is very ambitious and ruthless. He insists on thinking of her as a virtuous daughter in a bad circumstance. His naïveté is out of place in Paris, though he takes a long time to discover this.

Text: James, Henry, The American, The Project Gutenberg Ebook, #177,, January 2, 2007.

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