Novel by Henry James, published in 1877 and dramatized by the author in 1891.
Christopher Newman, a wealthy American on a visit to Paris, meets Claire de Cintré, a widow of noble birth, half French and half English. On his first call at her home, Newman is turned away by her ungracious brother Marquis Urbain De Bellegarde, but later he meets others of the family, Urbain's wife, the charming younger brother Count Valentin, the shrewd, proud old Marquise, and her maid, the sympathetic Englishwoman Mrs. Bread. The American becomes a close friend of Valentin, who encourages his courtship of Mme de Cintré, but the others tolerate him only because of his wealth. Finally his proposal is accepted, the engagement is formally announced, and the Marquis reluctantly introduces Newman to his aristocratic friends. Meanwhile the American comes to know Mlle Noémie Nioche, a copyist of paintings, whose meek, shabby genteel father is Newman's French teacher. Newman benevolently orders a number of Nosémie's paintings in order to provide her a dowry, and introduces her to Valentin. Although the young man realizes she is mercenary and unscrupulous, he continues to see her, and she is the cause of a duel in which he is fatally wounded. Before learning of this, Newman receives word that Mme de Cintré, influenced by her mother and brother, has broken their engagement. Summoned to Valentin's deathbed, he hears the young man's disgust with his family, and is told that Mrs. Bread knows a guilty secret about them that Newman may use to further his own ends. After Valentin's funeral, Mme de Cintré announces that she intends to become a nun. Through Mrs. Bread, Newman discovers that the Marquise killed her husband, and he threatens to expose the evidence, but Urbain and his mother still refuse to allow the marriage. At first Newman determines to fulfill his revenge, but in a revulsion of feeling he destroys the evidence of the murder.
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Henry James (1843—1916) writer