- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 April 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192833227
- ISBN-13: 978-0192833228
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,110,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The American (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 1 Apr 1999
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More About the Author
In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote some twenty novels, the first published being Roderick Hudson (1875). They include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.
Henry James' great theme is the collision of cultures, of New World American energy encountering Old World European aristocracy; and his supreme skill is in the delineation of the unspoken subtleties that govern human interaction-- the meanings behind people's words, the delicate signals by which people communicate more than the conventions of conversation or society allow.
The American is built around a moral dilemma that dramatises this clash of cultures. Wealthy, open-hearted Christopher Newman (the New Man in the Old World) visits Paris and falls in love with impoverished French aristocrat, Claire de Cintre. However, her snobbish family bully her into breaking off the engagement. When Newman discovers that his former fiancée's family are hiding a dark secret, corrupt Old World morals suggest he should use it to take his revenge; but his simpler American sense tells him that this would be wrong. What should he do? The fine touch with which James explores the complexities of this scenario markes an extraordinary advance over his first novel, Roderick Hudson; and The American looks forward to the mature classics of James' middle period, books like Daisy Miller and Portrai t of a Lady--all novels that explore the classic Jamesian theme of Americans in Europe. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Henry James was born in 1843 in new York, with Scottish and Irish ancestry. Having studied in New York and Europe, he became a lawyer, and started writing in 1865. Spending time in Paris he knew Flaubert and Turgenev, before moving to London and then Sussex. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
ON a brilliant day in May, of the year 1868, a gentleman was reclining at his ease on the great circular divan which at that period occupied the centre of the Salon Carre, in the Museum of the Louvre. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt
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Top Customer Reviews
James' third novel continues the theme introduced in its predecessor, that of Americans in Europe and the consequent interaction of New World culture and manners with the Old. Newman's good nature elicits our sympathy as he struggles against blatant rudeness and ambivalent hostility for acceptance by the family who control the woman he loves. And he has no allies save for the Tristrams, and Valentin the younger de Bellegarde brother whose tragic demise Newman brings about quite unconsciously having introduced him to the provocative Madamoiselle Noemie Nioche.
It's a novel with a plot, unfolding smoothly with each chapter taking the story forward from the previous in an unbroken line. It's couched in clear unadorned prose that is an absolute joy to read. The sub-plots, barely noticeable as such, interact relevantly with the main thrust and are an interest without being a diversion.Read more ›
It is 1868 and Christopher Newman has arrived in Paris after selling up all his business interests in the US. Feeling that he neeeded a change in life Newman has decided to visit Europe. Whilst arranging to buy a copy of a painting he meets up with an old acquaintance and has dinner with him and his wife. It is his friend's wife who gets Newman interested in Claire de Cintre, a widower from a unhappy previous marriage. Claire de Cintre is from a very old family, the Bellegardes, who have fallen on hard times. Although things look like they are going all right between Newman and Claire can her family reconcile themselves to an alliance between a nouveu riche with no title?
This is a romance that starts off quite light and frothy but by degrees becomes much darker, taking in family duty, a skeleton in the closet and, pride; becoming a serious melodrama that starts to show those subtlties that James is famous for. This isn't by any degree the best of James' novels but it is still way and above more eloquent and better than most novels.
The story involves Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman, during the Paris portion of his European tour. Romance seems be a large part of what he is looking for. The first suggestion that he may have found it occurs in his encounter with the artist, Noemie Nioche. This turns out to be merely a passing fancy. Things get more serious when his American friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tristan put him in contact with an attractive young widow, Claire de Cintre.
Madame de Cintre, nee Bellegarde, whose first marriage had been arranged to an elderly nobleman who gave her a title, but little else. Upon meeting Newman, both seem to find what they are looking for in the world of romance. As the story develops it becomes clear that it is sufficient for Newman to win Claire but that he must also win over her family, which consisted of her mother, Madame de Bellegarde and her brother, Urbaine, the Marquis de Bellegarde.
The House of Bellegarde was full of pride and tradition, but short of money. As the Bellegardes size up Newman, it becomes obvious that they are weighing the sale of their pride for Newman's money. Ultimately they reach their decision. In their last meeting, Claire informed Newman of that she was to become a nun. Although shocked, Newman could not persuade Claire to break free of her family's rule and breath the free air which comes so naturally to an American.
Given one piece of evidence, Newman attempts to recover Claire back through blackmail.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
He becomes entangled in what he thinks is a simple plan for matrimony, but is really truly a great deal larger and more treacherous and terrible than that.
We spend a lot of time in Newman's mind, paragraphs of character analaysis are sprung upon us, but nothing seems plodding or slow, nothing feels useless. By the end of the book we find that we think like the character and can only agree with what he does. We react to seemingly big plot twists and events as he does, without reaction, and a logical, common sense train of thought.
But don't misunderstand that. For a book that is so polite and the essence of "slow-reaction", it is heartwrenching and tragic. You will cry, you will wonder, and you will ask yourself questions. Colorful, lifelike, and exuberant characters fight for your attention and your emotions, and we are intensely endeared to them. Emotional scenes speckle the book and are just enough. And the fact that something terrible and evil exists in this story hangs over your head from the beginning. It's hard to guess what happens because James doesn't give us many clues, and the ending may come as a surprise to some people. And without us knowing it, James is comparing American culture to European culture (of the day), and this in of itself is fulfilling.
Indeed, James uses every page he has, without wasting any on detailed landscapes and useless banter. 2 pages from the end you have a wrenching heartache, but the last paragraph and page is utterly and supremely satisfying, and you walk away the way Newman walks away, at peace.
I couldnt recommend this more for a good read. The only caution I have is for readers who have never been to France. They may get an extremely negative impression of French people from many of the characters in this book. Go to Paris and you will find the city is wonderful, and so are the French people. These characters are not typical!! They belong to a certain class, and the book does take place 150 years ago. If this book doesnt get you hooked on James, I dont know what will. Try Washington Square and dont miss that movie, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney and Maggie Smith.
An attractive hero, he possesses remarkable talents. In fact he has pretty well every virtue except exalted antecedents; he is, for example, tall, good-looking, urbane, well-mannered, forthright, intelligent, thoughtful, considerate, persistent, good-natured, generous and rich. At their first meeting he conquers Claire sufficiently to be allowed to continue to visit her, instead of being shown the door. Actually, his dogged audacity is pretty amazing; he simply asks her to marry him after about the fifth meeting, because he wants everything to be above-board. She says No and he promises not to mention the matter for another six months. He then succeeds in making a bargain with her mother and brother, the most rigid and narrow dyed-in-the-wool aristocrats, that they will not stand in his way or say anything against him until she accepts his hand. Marquise and marquis make no secret of their dislike of him ("a commercial person"), nor of their horror and disgust at the entire proposition. These are two different worlds. Christopher is aware of it but is confident that their differences can be overcome; after all he is very rich and he knows this is important to them. He sees no reason why sensible individuals would not agree in time to a straightforward and sensible offer.
Matters seem to proceed well or better than can be expected, and when the six months are up Claire graciously accepts Christopher's proposal. A dramatic turn of events, however, obstructs their happy plans.
Henry James is a joy for those who like a sedate plot to unfold slowly, carefully and thoroughly. His psychological observations are minute; his characters drawn with deftest strokes, and one or two lighter subplots fill out the general late-Victorian picture. Bigoted aristocrats, unprincipled upstarts, impulsive young noblemen, impassive secret-keepers, loquacious duchesses, these and many other finely-drawn characters fill the pages of this enthralling story.
For anyone with an interest in understanding the clash of American and European society, values and culture, particularly in the late 19th century, The American is a worthwhile read. While the language and style of the work are at times a bit tedious, James' classic novel succeeds in elevating a common literary theme--man meets woman--onto a higher, more expansive cross-cultural stage. Though a happier resolution may have made for a more popular work of fiction, the realistic, less romanticized ending, with Newman pensive and melancholic and Claire cloistered away and out-of-touch in the nunnery, is exemplary of our universal human condition--a bittersweet affair in which openness and honesty do not necessarily win out over the inevitable prejudices, societal norms and sometimes even ill intentions of others.
One element of the story that I was hoping to find but did not was at least an inkling of how Newman, Claire, the Bellegardes or any other character in the novel go about finding a sense of "deeper meaning" in life. Newman has money but seeks an ideal wife. Claire appears to have the choice of marrying but is really being controlled by her family and ends up seeking solace (and maybe even emotional freedom?) in religion. The Bellegarde family have social status but are too embroiled in internal strife to be content. Beyond his cross-cultural (American versus European) social commentary, could James also be hinting that neither money, nor status, nor family, nor religion can bring us lasting satisfaction? If not any of the above, toward what higher objective should we all--individuals and societies alike---spend our waking hours striving toward?