The American

The American Summary and Analysis of 18-21


The next day, when Newman goes to visit Claire, she is packing to leave for the country, and tells him she cannot marry him after all. Her mother and brother admit that they have pressured her to give him up, since they think the marriage is beneath her. Newman accuses them of breaking their promise to support him, but they argue that they agreed only to support his attempts to woo Claire, which they did. Once the two were engaged, Urbain and Madame Bellegarde found they could not tolerate the possibility of the marriage occurring, and ordered Claire to end the engagement, which she did.

Newman announces his intention to follow Claire to the country estate of Fleurieres in hopes of winning her back. First, frustrated and hurt, he confides in Mrs. Tristram, who suggests that the Bellegarde family may hope to have Claire marry Lord Deepmere instead. Newman then receives word that Valentin has been seriously injured in the duel, and hurries to Switzerland to be by his side.

Newman finds Valentin close to death from the injury he suffered in the duel. The rest of the Bellegarde family has not yet arrived, as Valentin initially did not believe that his injuries were serious and delayed notifying them. As Newman attends to Valentin, he only reluctantly shares the news that his engagement has been broken off. Valentin apologizes for the behavior of his mother and brother, and just before he dies, advises Newman to ask Mrs. Bread about a dark family secret that she has knowledge of.

Shortly after the death, Newman visits Claire at her country estate and tries again to persuade her to marry him, but she refuses and tells him that she plans to become a nun. She explains that her family is cursed but there is no point trying to escape from them, and that she feels honor bound to obey them.

The next day, Newman returns to the chateau, stubbornly hoping to speak to Claire again. Mrs. Bread tells him that Claire has already returned to Paris and entered the convent for the first stage of becoming a nun. Her mother and brother are not happy, but cannot do anything to change her mind. Newman arranges to meet Mrs. Bread alone later that evening, in order to tell her about Valentin's death.

Before he leaves the house, he confronts Urbain and Madame Bellegarde, and tells them that Valentin denounced their behavior on his deathbed. They both angrily deny this possibility, and Madame Bellegarde leaves. When Urbain and Newman are alone together, Newman tells him that Valentin also implied that a crime had been committed, and that unless Urbain allows Claire to marry Newman, he will unearth and reveal this secret. Urbain seems nervous but says he will not change course, and that there is no secret being hidden.

Determined to be avenged, Newman goes to his meeting with Mrs. Bread. The two join each other at dusk amongst some ancient stone ruins.


The plans for Valentin's duel are the first problem to interrupt Newman's short period of bliss after his engagement. In this section, the foreshadowing surrounding the relationship comes to fruition with the abrupt ending of the engagement. In some ways, Claire's rejection of him is as cryptic as her acceptance; she offers vague platitudes about her motivations, but refuses to provide any in-depth discussion about her motivation for changing her mind, or reveal the extent to which she is distressed about ending the engagement. There are hints that she was genuinely attracted, if not to Newman, than to the freedom and wider possibilities that a life with him could offer, but she is also deeply bound to notions of familial duty and obligation, and cannot refuse to obey her mother and brother.

This section reveals Urbain and Madame Bellegarde to not be merely old fashioned and snobbish, but actively sinister in the lengths they will go to in order to preserve the family legacy and build wealth. Their claim that they did not technically break their promise of supporting Newman's courtship relies on a manipulative and sneaky treachery, which contrasts with Newman's blunt and open approach to speaking his mind and wearing his heart on his sleeve. His intense surprise that he has been betrayed by the Bellegardes' schemes, and his personal injury that Claire would change her mind, shows that he has never truly understood the formidable forces he was up against.

His naivety is further revealed when Mrs. Tristram mentions the fairly obvious alternate suitor (Lord Deepmere). This idea had not even occurred to him. Someone more attuned to social nuances would have recognized that Deepmere also offers wealth, but unlike Newman, bears a title and a pedigree as well. The conversations at the engagement ball strongly suggested that a plot was underway, but Newman overlooked all these warning signs. Just as he has tried to pretend to be sophisticated and knowledgeable about art and culture, but is actually not discerning at all, Newman's lack of ability to navigate schemes for social advancement proves to be his undoing. Mrs. Tristram's ability to read the situation much more accurately possibly stems from her acclimation to European society and ability to understand the rules it operates by, and her own status as a woman, which would often force her to her exert power and influence by indirect means.

Valentin's death exemplifies the destructive nature of a strict reliance on tradition and outdated customs. The duel was an unnecessary activity, required only by abstract social conventions, but his compulsion to obey those conventions cost him his life, just as it seems to also cost Claire her personal happiness. Valentin's condemnation of his mother and brother reveals that he understands why the actions of his family are deplorable; throughout the novel, his warm-hearted attitude towards Newman has symbolized an open mind and willingness to imagine new ways of life. While he largely takes a resigned attitude towards his death, his hints to Newman about a family secret involving the death of his father. Telling Newman where he can learn more can be viewed as an angry backlash against his family and their social system in the final moments of his life. The expectations and social burden built into being a Bellegarde have largely cost Valentin his life, and in his final moments, he takes the limited action he can to possibly destroy that family legacy.

Because that information is left in Newman's hands, he has a great deal of agency about whether to pursue it. He initially seems very willing to ignore hints of criminal behavior if he can get his engagement re-established, which speaks to his lack of integrity: Newman is happy to allow the immoral behavior to remain concealed if doing so gets him what he wants. First Claire herself, and then Madame Bellegarde and Urbain, insist however that there is no way for the relationship to be salvaged. Claire's decision to enter a convent is particularly horrifying for Newman, since much like Valentin's death by duel, it represents a repressive and antiquated practice destructive and out of step with the modern world. The sub-plot around Claire becoming a nun, and the setup to Newman's interview with Mrs. Bread, with its evening meeting in a secluded and almost haunted place, introduce Gothic tropes into the novel.