Christopher Newman is a wealthy American businessman; he is thirty-six when the novel begins. Having made his fortune, he is traveling in Europe to expose himself to beauty and culture, and hopefully find a wife. Newman is a complex character in that he is often frank, open, and kind-hearted, but can also be self-absorbed and has difficulties understanding perspectives different from his own.
Noemie Nioche is a young Parisian woman from a lower-class background. She is, however, well-educated and ambitious about her future, believing that her beauty and sex appeal will allow to achieve a higher social position for herself. She is unashamed about her motives, and very good at charming and flirting with men.
Monsieur Nioche is the father of Noemie, and develops a friendly relationship with Newman. He is trapped between moral principles, which lead him to disapprove of his daughter's behavior, and a need to earn income even if it involves lying to and tricking people.
Mr. Tom Tristram
Tom Tristram is a wealthy American who made friends with Newman when they fought in the Civil War together. He now lives in Paris with his wife, and reignites the friendship after running into Newman at the Louvre.
Mrs. Tristram is an American ex-pat living in Paris, and the wife of Newman's old friend. She and Newman become very close and he often confides in her. She is the one to introduce Newman to Madame de Cintre, although she also seems to be able to anticipate the difficulties the match will face.
Claire Bellegarde de Cintre (Madame de Cintre)
Claire is a widow; she married her first husband at eighteen, and is twenty-five when she is introduced to Newman at the beginning of the novel. She comes from a very proud aristocratic family, but does not actually have much money. Claire is very beautiful and refined, but also often aloof and mysterious. At times she seems to be attracted to Newman, but she also feels a deep obligation to her family, and is not willing to disobey them.
Count Valentin Bellegarde
Valentin is the younger of the two Bellegarde sons; he is the brother of Claire and Urbain, and the son of old Madame Bellegarde. He is much more open-minded and liberal than the rest of his family, and enjoys living a somewhat reckless life. He becomes good friends with Newman, and shortly before his death, he tells Newman to seek out the family secret that the Bellegardes have been hiding.
Urbain, the Marquis Bellegarde
Urbain is the eldest of the Bellegarde children, brother of Valentin and Claire. He inherited his father's title after his death, and is therefore now the Marquis Bellegarde. He is married to young Madame Bellegarde and has several young children with her. Urbain is very proud, cold, and protective of the family image. He feels entitled to make decisions about his sister's future, and generally shares the same perspective as his mother.
Old Madame Bellegarde
Madame de Bellegarde is an English aristocrat from a very old family who married into the Bellegarde family and has lived in France for many years. She is very haughty, cold, and maintains complete control over her children. She sees distinct differences between nationalities and social classes, and does not want her family lineage to be sullied. At the same time, she is very pragmatic and calculating, and interested in increasing the wealth of her family.
Young Madame Bellegarde
Young Madame Bellegarde is the wife of Urbain Bellegarde, and the mother of his children. She comes from an ancient and noble family, but finds her life in the Bellegarde household confined and restricted. She would like to socialize and mingle more with the world, but is prevented from doing so. She is sometimes an ally to Newman, but only because she hopes that he will take her side and help her to secure greater personal freedom.
A young American minister traveling in Europe, he meets Newman when he is touring around Europe, and the two do some traveling together. Babcock, however, is much more serious than Newman, and eventually rejects him as a traveling companion since he thinks that Newman is ruining his focus on art and aesthetics.
Henri-Urbain Bellegarde, the Old Marquis de Bellegarde
The old Marquis is dead when the novel opens. It is later revealed that he had sided with his daughter when she objected to marrying for money, and as a result was murdered by his wife and son.
Lord Deepmere is a wealthy English aristocrat distantly related to the Bellegarde family. He visits them while he is in Paris, and Madame Bellegarde and her son the Marquis hope that he will marry Claire. Lord Deepmere ends up beginning an affair with Noemie Nioche, and bringing her to England with him.
Mrs. Bread is the housekeeper and domestic servant of the Bellegarde family. She is English, and worked for old Madame Bellegarde prior to her marriage. After Madame Bellegarde married, she traveled to France with her. Over time, she has lost respect for her mistress, but remains very loving towards Valentin and Claire, who she cared for as children. Her knowledge of the Bellegarde family secrets allows her to reveal important information to Newman.
The Duchess d'Outreville
A wealthy woman who is very important in aristocratic Parisian social circles. Newman initially thinks that he will reveal the crime of Madame Bellegarde and her son to the Duchess in order to ruin the family's reputation, but finds himself curiously unable to do so.
The American Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The American is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
This is primarily a piece of fiction however most writers draw on inspiration from their own experiences when writing a novel. The novel reflects James's preoccupation in this period with writing about Americans traveling abroad, a theme shared...