That evening, Strether is invigorated by his encounter and excited to tell Waymarsh all about his visit to Chad’s apartment. Chad was not there, he reveals—the young man is presently in Cannes, in the south of France. A friend of his, an art student named John Little Bilham (known as “little Bilham” on account of his small stature), is staying in the apartment during Chad’s absence. Strether found little Bilham a friendly and curious young man, and is delighted to be going to breakfast with him the next day. Waymarsh is invited as well.
Waymarsh, however, is skeptical and disapproving. He has no desire to meet little Bilham and thinks Strether foolish for having been so easily charmed. “Quit this,” he advises Strether. “Quit the whole job.” Strether protests that he can’t. Chad must be brought back to America, and he, Strether, must do it. If he succeeds, he will win the hand of Mrs. Newsome in marriage. Not only that, Waymarsh notes, but Strether stands to gain a lot of money if Chad returns, as Chad’s help will only increase the profits of the family business. Indeed, Strether stands to gain much if he succeeds in bringing Chad back—and so, asks Waymarsh, why does he allow himself to be taken in by the charm of Chad’s Paris apartment, by the charm of Chad’s artist friend?
The next day, Strether has breakfast with little Bilham. Waymarsh is “massively” and “stupendously” in attendance, along with a friend of Bilham’s, a clever woman named Miss Barrace. Miss Barrace is delighted by Waymarsh. He reminds her of a “Hebrew prophet” like Ezekiel or Jeremiah, similar to the grand American statesmen who used to visit her father when she was a girl growing up in Paris. However, Strether realizes, Waymarsh does not at all approve of Miss Barrace. Her smoking and her keeping company with men seem very morally lax to the two Americans.
Strether knows that both little Bilham and Miss Barrace are caught up in the same “badness” that characterizes Chad’s whole debauched lifestyle, the lifestyle Strether is there to rescue Chad from. Still, he finds it impossible to despise them as Waymarsh does; he simply does not have the fierce lawyer’s moral strength. He reminds himself not to be taken in by the enemy side. He must lure Chad to his side, instead.
Miss Gostrey arrives in Paris at the end of the week, and Strether goes to see her immediately. Her small apartment is crowded by the quaint and curious things she has gathered—ivory and brocades. It reminds him of a nest or a pirate’s cave; a temple of material accumulation.
Strether is eager to see his friend and rapidly confesses to her that he is “lost.” He has made friends with little Bilham, and far from being properly shocked, he is utterly charmed by what he has seen of Chad’s lifestyle. He hopes that Bilham will report favorably of him to Chad, thus luring the young man back to Paris. But, Miss Gostrey asks, what has he been able to find out so far about the “wicked woman” he came to get Chad away from? Nothing so far, Strether admits. Well, if he has gone to Cannes, Miss Gostrey remarks, he can’t have brought any indecent sort of woman with him. Cannes is different; it’s not that sort of place. And if Chad is in with the society of Cannes—well, he’s probably more high-class than they thought.
Miss Gostrey meets little Bilham among the “splendid Titians” of the Louvre. She heartily approves of him, exclaiming: “Oh, he’s all right—he’s one of us!” Strether takes her to mean that all three are “intense Americans.” Contemplating this, it strikes Strether that, far from being part of some “corruption” of Europe, little Bilham is “more American than anybody.”
After the visit to the Louvre, the trio goes for tea at little Bilham’s humble apartment, where they meet other “ingenuous compatriots” of Bilham’s. The talk is free and candid and vernacular; the young people “quaint and queer and dear and droll,” and their cheerfully impoverished, communal lifestyle romantic to Strether. Miss Gostrey gets along well with them, handling everything with masterful grace.
A day or two later, Miss Gostrey invites Strether and Waymarsh to a play at the famous Theatre Français. They will have seats in an excellent box at the theater. She telegrams little Bilham to invite him as well, but they receive no response. Miss Gostrey guesses that he has been delayed or has failed to get the note. Of all the young Americans she has met coming and going in Europe, she says, Bilham is “far and away, you know, the best of them.”
Waymarsh can’t see her point; the young man, as far as he can tell, is no good American at all. But Miss Gostrey persists. Little Bilham, she says, still has his “happy attitude, the state of faith…the sense of beauty” that so many young Americans lose in their haste to “do something” with their lives. They must preserve him, she decides. They must keep him from being spoiled.
But, as Bilham still has not appeared, they begin to wonder what he is up to and whether his failure to arrive indicates some sort of conspiracy between him and Chad. Miss Gostrey says portentously: “They’ve got you.” Chad and Bilham, she thinks, have been corresponding all along, working out how to manipulate Strether so that he’ll see Chad in a favorable light and give up his mission to bring the young man home. And, she thinks, they haven’t finished yet. There will be someone else that will help him—someone who hasn’t appeared yet on the scene.
Just as she speaks, the door of the box opens and a gentleman enters. He has a striking air of confidence about him, and Strether is immediately impressed. Moments later, he is stunned to find that this gentleman is Chad—a Chad so changed that Strether can scarcely recognize him. Nothing more is said until the end of the show, during which time Strether feels pressure building. He is amazed by Chad’s transformation. The young man now has streaks of distinguished gray in his black hair, and an unmistakable refinement he totally lacked before.
Strether begins mentally preparing the telegram he will send to Woollett about the meeting, and doubts he will be able to really convey to Mrs. Newsome what he has learned. Communication, after all, is so imperfect. Either people understand each other perfectly, he reflects, or they don’t care if they don’t.
Following the performance, Miss Gostrey discreetly arranges for Waymarsh to escort her home so that Chad and Strether can be alone. The two men go to a café to talk.
Analysis of Part 3
In Part 3, Strether’s ambivalence toward his task only increases. He is charmed by Chad’s “lovely home” and seduced by the wayward young man’s friends, little Bilham and Miss Barrace. His appreciation for little Bilham, in particular, helps redefine for him what a good American should be. Intensely and sincerely curious about the world, with a complete lack of pretentiousness, Bilham strikes Strether as “more American than anybody.” Miss Gostrey expands on this idea when, at the theater, she tells Waymarsh that Bilham has a “happy attitude, the state of faith…the sense of beauty” that so many young Americans lose in their haste to do something with their lives, to become what Waymarsh would call “good Americans.”
The setting of Chapter 7—the Louvre—is significant. This is the temple of culture; the display-case for the best and finest Europe has to offer, and would win over even the most stern of American Puritans to the glory of the Continent. The Titian painting referred to, of a “young man with the strangely shaped glove and the blue-gray eyes” is Man with a Glove (1519), a psychological portrait of a young man. To readers familiar with the painting, the reference calls to mind the picture of a perfect young Renaissance gentleman, handsome and sensitive, of high class and breeding. The portrait prefigures what Chad will reveal himself to be at the end of the chapter.
James keeps us, until the end of Part 3, in suspense about the young man himself. Instead, readers are introduced to his surroundings and, with Strether, can only guess at what his true situation is. When Chad does enter the scene, it is a dramatic entrance in more ways than one as he steps into their theater box and steals the show.
Strether’s reflections about communication illustrate one theme of the book, that of the impossibility of explaining one’s thoughts to another. He muses: “[N]othing ever was in fact—for any one else—explained. One went through the motions, but it was mostly a waste of life. A personal relation was a relation only so long as people either perfectly understood or, better still, didn’t care if they didn’t.” Miss Gostrey seems to perfectly understand Strether. She guesses his thoughts and desires without him ever having to utter a word. However, it is becoming more apparent that Mrs. Newsome and Strether do not perfectly understand each other. The gulf between them will continue to grow as Strether becomes more immersed in Parisian life and values.
The Ambassadors: Part 3, Chapters 6-7