Chad Newsome of Woolett, Massachusetts, is in Europe, where he has gone for an extended stay. He has become entangled romantically with a Parisian woman. Chad views himself as a freewheeling man-about-town. His mother views his identity in another way. She thinks he should come home, marry well, enter the family business, and become responsible.
To achieve this end, Mrs. Newsome dispatches her ambassador, Lambert Strether, a fifty-five-year-old widower, a writer who is her protégé and fiancé, to Paris to rescue Chad. Strether never liked Chad, but on meeting him in Paris, he is struck by Chad’s improvement. Mme de Vionnet captivates Strether, who assumes that Chad’s interest is in her daughter, who is approximately Chad’s age.
This illusion is shattered when the daughter marries. When Strether meets Chad and Mme de Vionnet, who is separated but not divorced from her husband, in the south of France, it becomes clear that the older woman is Chad’s mistress. Strether begins to feel sympathy for the two, believing that Chad has a moral responsibility to Mme de Vionnet.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Newsome, growing impatient, has dispatched four additional ambassadors to Paris with a mandate to bring Chad home. Among them is Mamie Pocock, whom the Newsomes presume Chad will marry. The arrival of this quartet from Woolett throws into striking contrast the manners and morals of Paris against those of Massachusetts. To Strether, continental...
(The entire section is 455 words.)