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The American

The American by Henry James
By: (1843-1916)

One of James’s early novels, The American plunges right in to one of the writer’s most enduring subjects, that of the innocent, or at least inexperienced, American abroad, seeking to come to terms with the social customs and conventions of an old European aristocracy (think of Daisy Miller, Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and others). The aptly named Christopher Newman, having made a small fortune from business in California, has come to the Old World for the first time, determined to enlarge his experience by learning all he can of it. In Paris he meets an old acquaintance, Tom Tristram, who (though he himself has little interest in educating himself about Europe) shows him around, and introduces him to the young widow Claire de Cintre, whose family – the aristocratic de Bellegardes – distrust his American brashness and commercialism. Claire, nonetheless, agrees to marry him, thus pulling Newman, rather more deeply than he is prepared for, into a society that closely guards its secrets, and forcing him to face new and quite unexpected questions.
(Introduction by Nicholas Clifford)

First Page:

THE AMERICAN

by Henry James

1877

CHAPTER I

On a brilliant day in May, in 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. This commodious ottoman has since been removed, to the extreme regret of all weak kneed lovers of the fine arts, but the gentleman in question had taken serene possession of its softest spot, and, with his head thrown back and his legs outstretched, was staring at Murillo's beautiful moon borne Madonna in profound enjoyment of his posture. He had removed his hat, and flung down beside him a little red guide book and an opera glass. The day was warm; he was heated with walking, and he repeatedly passed his handkerchief over his forehead, with a somewhat wearied gesture. And yet he was evidently not a man to whom fatigue was familiar; long, lean, and muscular, he suggested the sort of vigor that is commonly known as "toughness." But his exertions on this particular day had been of an unwonted sort, and he had performed great physical feats which left him less jaded than his tranquil stroll through the Louvre... Continue reading book >>


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