The American

The American Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-13


Newman proposes to Claire. She rejects him, claiming she does not intend to remarry. However, she agrees to continue to spend time with him if he does not speak of a romantic future for at least six months.

When Newman relays these events to Valentin, Valentin sees them as a step towards success. Mrs. Tristram does as well.

Newman is formally presented to the Bellegarde family, who disapprove of him as a self-made man, but are also intrigued by his wealth. When Claire's mother learns the size of Newman's fortune, she agrees to allow him to court her daughter, even though she makes her dislike of him evident. Urbain, the Marquis de Bellegarde, also tells Newman that he will encourage his sister to consider his proposals.

Monsieur Nioche comes to visit Newman, and expresses his anxieties that Noemie is not progressing with her paintings. Newman agrees to go to the Louvre to check up on her progress. While there, he runs into Valentin.

He introduces his friend to the young woman. Valentin is attracted to Noemie, and excited about the idea of pursuing her.

As Newman spends more time at the Bellegarde home, he encounters Mrs. Bread, an English servant who has worked for the Bellegarde family for more than forty years. She encourages Newman in his courtship of Claire, expressing her hope that he will marry her and take her away from her family.

Newman also meets Lord Deepmere, an English lord who is a distant relation of theirs. He has come to France to visit.


Newman's self-confidence, as well as his difficulty considering the perspectives of others, are displayed in his abrupt and premature first proposal to Claire. Although they have spent little time together, he feels certain that she ought to be willing to accept him. He also brushes aside even his own doubts about their compatibility since he is so invested in securing her as his wife. Although readers do not have access to Claire's thoughts, her behavior indicates that she is uncertain about what course of action to take and also considering competing impulses and motivations. She is clearly a complex, thoughtful, and subtle individual, which makes Newman's perception of her as primarily a high-status and attractive object that will enhance his own reputation all the more ironic.

Newman's formal interactions with the Bellegarde family after the proposal further reveal the challenge he faces. Old Madame Bellegarde, in particular, has very strict standards about social rank and little respect for Americans. Because her own family lineage can be traced back for centuries, she values a sense of history and does not want to see her family lineage tainted.

At the same time, James highlights a particular social challenge that had become clear in the nineteenth century: as economic systems changed, the landed aristocracy often had less money (sometimes far less) than individuals who had made fortunes in business and commerce. While a social division existed between the groups, it was often desirable for aristocratic families to marry individuals with less established lineages but more readily disposable income. Old Madame de Bellegarde's resignation to Newman's courtship of her daughter, even though she finds it distasteful, exemplifies a reality of the time.

In the face of this disdain and suspicion, Newman insists on his self-worth and the legitimacy of his right to woo Claire. While he has flaws as a character, he presents an appealing figure of the down-to-earth American taking a stand against repressive and snobbish traditions. This section does begin to foreshadow that there may be more to the Bellegarde family than an old-fashioned sense of social distinction. Both Valentin and Claire herself allude vaguely to a sense of being trapped within their family and unable to change their positions even if they might desire to. The fact that Mrs. Bread, before she knows anything about Newman or what kind of person he is, sees him as an option preferable to Claire remaining in the family home, suggests that her situation must be dire, and that there may be darker issues at play.

Valentin's introduction to Noemie also lends more nuance to questions of class and gender within the novel. There is a vast social distinction between the two. Noemie would never be a possible candidate as a wife. However, as a man, Valentin has the alternative possibility of making her his mistress and enjoying a sexual relationship with her without compromising his position. This arrangement, while damaging to Noemie's reputation, stands to benefit her financially, an arrangement which she cheerfully accepts. When Valentin asks her if her painting is for sale, she gives the innuendo laden response that "everything I have is for sale." The interaction between them reveals that the European characters are much more pragmatic about how social position and class shapes one's life, and operate within those realities, rather than attempting to deny them the way that Newman does.