The American: Chapter 9,10
Summary of Chapter IX
Newman goes to see Madame de Cintré. He begins to court her in his conversation and admits he asked her brother to speak on his behalf. Claire tells him Valentin cannot help his cause. Newman blurts out that he intends to plead his own cause in the hopes of marrying her. He says he knew as soon as he saw her. He defends himself from the charge he is not noble enough for her. He does not accept this judgment. He is kind and will give her everything she wants. She thanks him but says she has decided not to marry again. He continues that he will give her freedom and happiness and safety. After he has expressed his love and friendship to her, she admits he has given her pleasure. She asks him to continue to visit but not to speak of marriage again for six months. When Valentin hears of his sister's consent to the courtship, he is impressed, and says he will introduce Newman to the elder brother.
Commentary on Chapter IX
This is a moving chapter with Newman declaring his love, and Claire unable to say no. Newman feels the authority of Claire's position in the world, her birth, education, and experience of society. He wishes to have a wife like this to complete himself, for she would interpret him to the world he feels. She is like an artist in the aristocratic world. He wonders though how he will find her private and real person under the manners. Newman compliments Claire, not with gallantry, but with sincerity. He wishes to do her a service, to protect her, give her freedom and joy, things she has not known. Claire is moved by all these new ideas; something stirs in her; she sees a glimmer of light. She consents to a trial courtship.
Summary of Chapter X
Mrs. Tristram is a bit jealous of Newman's success in love. He begins to think of the glory of possessing Madame de Cintré. Valentin now takes him to see his mother and older brother. The old marquise is treated with fear as the queen of the family. She is cold and demanding. She and Newman size each other up. The marquise makes satirical remarks about Americans. She admits she knows no one outside her social circle. When Newman meets the older son, Urbain, now the marquis after his father's death, he thinks, “He is the old woman at second hand” (p. 99). The mother and son preside over the family, almost as a couple, though Urbain is married and has a child.
Valentin announces that Claire has suddenly decided to go to a ball, and the mother remarks that she did not ask permission. When alone with the mother, Newman tells her of his intention to marry her daughter. She refuses. He mentions the exact amount of his wealth, and she yields for the moment.
Commentary on Chapter X
Newman is presented as a likable and generous man, but he gets carried away with the idea of Claire as a possession to complete him, as though she is a great work of art from the Louvre. Even when the old marquise rejects his suit, he believes his money will get him what he wants. Claire still seems to be for sale. She is important to the Bellegardes since they have no income and she can bring money with a marriage. Claire seems to have a card to play, since this time they might have to consult her taste in a husband, but the dowager marquise is seen to be a crafty and cold dictator.
Urbain's young wife is always flirting with Newman, and he decides she is the type Noémie would like to be. She is coarse compared to Claire. The Bellegarde house is filled with ancient but decaying objects, and Newman finds the house shabby. The children are used to make wealthy marriages to keep the family going. The old marquise acts a bit like Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham (in Great Expectations), a queen in her decaying world. The conversation with the Bellegardes brings out immediately their family pride; they try to make Newman feel he is beneath their notice. In an attempt to make himself felt in their world he announces his own philosophy of hard work. Valentin is embarrassed by this speech and goes out the door. Newman shamelessly admits what they would find faults—his lack of education and notable family. The fact that Claire goes to the ball without her mother's permission might mean she too wants to be away from this painful scene, or perhaps that she feels more power with Newman's courtship.
Text: James, Henry, The American, The Project Gutenberg Ebook, #177, www.gutenberg.org, January 2, 2007.