The American (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)by Henry James
The American portrays courtship with the virtuosity and soulfulness that characterizes a seduction. With Paris as its artistic backdrop, the novel reveals the insecurities a powerful American feels when pursuing an elusive woman. The novel is simultaneously a gothic romance, a quest narrative, an unsolved murder mystery, a revenge drama, and James' ticket of admission to the higher echelon of American writers.
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The American by Henry James is a romance for both people who love romances and those who do not. Set in late nineteenth century Paris, it combines a love story with the struggle between a new, wealthy American and an old, traditional French family over the lovely daughter of the family. 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. When the Bellegardes refuse to submit, Newman destroys his evidence. Up to the very end, the reader is left hoping for the happy ending, but he hopes in vain. For the romantic, this book provides an inspiring love story. For the historian, it provides a glimpse into the life of Nineteenth Century Aristocracy on two continents. For the lover of freedom, it provides a struggle between New World freedom and individuality and Old World tradition and bonds of consanguinity. With something for everyone, The American is a worthwhile read for all.
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