(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Lambert Strether is engaged to marry Mrs. Newsome, a widow. Mrs. Newsome has a son, Chadwick, called Chad, whom she wants to return home from Paris and take over the family business in Woollett, Massachusetts. She is especially concerned for his future after she hears that he is seriously involved with a Frenchwoman. In her anxiety, she asks Strether to go to Paris and persuade her son to return to the respectable life she planned for him. Strether does not look forward to his task, for Chad ignored all of his mother’s written requests to return home. Strether also does not know what hold Chad’s mistress might have over him or what sort of woman she might be. He strongly suspects that she is a young girl of unsavory reputation. Strether realizes, however, that his hopes of marrying Mrs. Newsome depend upon his success in bringing Chad back to America, where his mother can see him married to Mamie Pocock.

Leaving his ship at Liverpool, Strether journeys across England to London. On the way he meets Miss Gostrey, a young woman who is acquainted with some of Strether’s American friends, and she promises to aid Strether in getting acquainted with Europe before he leaves for home again. Strether meets another old friend, Mr. Waymarsh, an American lawyer living in England, whom he asks to go with him to Paris. A few days after arriving in Paris, Strether goes to Chad’s house. The young man is not in Paris, and he temporarily gave the house over to a friend, Mr. Bilham. Through Bilham, Strether gets in touch with Chad at Cannes. Strether is surprised to learn of his whereabouts, for he knows that Chad would not dare to take an ordinary mistress to such a fashionable resort.

About a week later, Strether, Miss Gostrey, and Waymarsh go to the theater. Between the acts of the play, the door of their box opens and Chad enters. He is much changed from the adolescent college boy Strether remembers. He is slightly gray, although only twenty-eight years old. Strether and Chad are pleased to see each other. Over coffee after the theater, the older man tells Chad why he came to Europe. Chad answers that all he asks is an opportunity to be convinced that he should return. A few days later, Chad takes Strether and his friends to a tea where they meet Mme and Mlle de Vionnet. The former, who married a French count, turns out to be an old school friend of Miss Gostrey. Strether is at a loss to tell whether Chad is in love with the comtesse or with her daughter Jeanne. Since the older woman is only a few years the senior of the young man and as beautiful as her daughter, either is possibly the object of his affections. As the days slip by, it becomes apparent to Strether that he himself wants to stay in Paris. The French city and its life are much calmer and more beautiful than the provincial existence he knew in Woollett, and he begins to understand why Chad is unwilling to go back to his mother and the Newsome mills.


(The entire section is 1203 words.)