Part 8, Chapters 19-21
The Pococks are on their way, and Strether knows that it was Waymarsh who sent the alarm that summoned them, even though Waymarsh never confesses it. The unspoken truth puts more distance between the two men. Waymarsh, seeming to feel he has done all he can about his friend’s folly, steps back, and Strether has more freedom than ever.
Chad being out of town, Strether takes time off to himself. He goes to see the cathedral at Chartres and travels to Fontainebleau and Rouen. One day, he even stops by unannounced to see Mme. de Vionnet. She is not home, and he suddenly loses confidence. He realizes how worried he really is about the prospect of meeting Sarah Pocock. She will certainly place him under trial, he thinks; and he will be sent home to Woollett as if to a reformatory for juvenile delinquents.
At last the Pococks arrive, and Strether and Chad prepare to pick them up. Strether has asked Waymarsh to help take care of them in Paris. He feels sure that the stolid lawyer will get along perfectly with the businesslike Sarah Pocock. The pair will become “thick as thieves,” Strether predicts, and Waymarsh will forget all about Miss Barrace. As for Strether, he will be like the “outgoing ambassador.”
Strether wonders whether Sarah will be able to tell how much Chad has changed for the better. He rather doubts she will be able to appreciate it. And, too, he wonders what she will think of Mme. de Vionnet, whom Strether has so greatly praised to the family in his letters. Now, the two women will meet.
Thinking of Mme. de Vionnet, Strether now greatly regrets that he has avoided seeing her. He feels he has let the good days pass. He thinks of how easily Mme. de Vionnet has been able to win him to her side. It’s almost as if she bribed him, but of course, no money was involved. But Mme. de Vionnet will never be able to “bamboozle” Sarah Pocock.
Chad says that he will go home with Sarah, but in the meantime, he wants to show the Pococks a good time. He wonders whether Strether plans to introduce the family to Miss Gostrey. Strether isn’t sure whether he will or not.
Strether and Chad pick up the Pococks at the station. Chad gets in a cab with Sarah and Mamie and all the luggage, and Strether gets into a cab with Jim Pocock for the trip back to the hotel.
To his relief, Sarah has greeted him graciously, making him feel he is still a “valued friend of her family.” He notes her long chin, her penetrating voice, and massive body almost as if seeing her for the first time. She resembles her mother, although Mrs. Newsome is much prettier and more slender. Seeing Sarah, Strether becomes anxious again over his split with Mrs. Newsome, realizing how much he stands to lose if their break becomes permanent. However, for the time being, he acts toward the Pococks as if nothing is wrong.
Mamie strikes him as being every bit as pretty as Woollett boasts of her. With her pretty blue eyes and pretty perfect teeth, she is like an advertisement for Woollett. She reminds Strether of a fresh young bride. If Jeanne were in the running for Chad’s hand in marriage, he thinks, she would have stiff competition now.
In the cab, Jim Pocock is frank and whimsical. He thinks Strether must be having a jolly old time in Europe and can’t wait to have some fun himself. If he were Chad, Jim says, he’d never give up an exciting life in Paris to be an advertising boss in Woollett. But bringing Chad home is what Sarah is here to achieve and that’s exactly what Sarah will do. It dawns on Strether that while Jim Pocock may be a leading businessman, cheerful and well-adjusted, he really has no power or respect in the family. He allows Sarah to dominate to the point where he has become irrelevant. This might happen to Strether, too, if he marries Mrs. Newsome.
There is one important thing that Strether wants to know from Jim, and that is how Mrs. Newsome is doing. Jim lets him know that she is more than upset with Strether, and jokingly says that he’d better not go home.
The next morning, when Strether goes to see Sarah Pocock at her hotel, he finds Mme. de Vionnet already there. The Countess has come, as a good friend of Chad’s, to see if there is anything she can do for the visitors. Sarah appears flustered by the visit and is giving the lady a rather chilly reception. Waymarsh is there as well, but is detached from the conversation. He appears to be there to support Sarah.
Mme. de Vionnet addresses Strether familiarly and appeals to him to agree with her about how wonderfully Chad has adapted to Parisian life. This makes Strether uncomfortable, as he dreads being seen to be on her side. She adds that Strether has also come to know and love Paris in a remarkably short time. “The great thing, Mr. Strether will show you, is just to let one’s self go,” she adds. Embarrassed, Strether quickly adds that he’s not “let himself go” very far, but has only done what he came out to do. The Countess soon embarrasses him even more thoroughly by commenting on how much time he spends with Miss Gostrey. Waymarsh attempts to save the situation by quickly jumping in to say that he’s seen Miss Gostrey quite a bit as well, but Sarah’s eyebrows have been raised.
Before taking her leave, Mme. de Vionnet insists that Strether come to see her privately at the first possible opportunity; they settle for the coming Tuesday. She also invites the Pococks to her home, where she hopes Mamie can meet her daughter Jeanne. That date is not yet determined, but Strether promises he will make it happen.
Analysis of Part 8
The coming of the Pococks marks for Strether a clash of two separate realities: that of Woollett, his home, and that of Paris, the place he has come to know and love. The Pococks bring Woollett to Paris. Mamie appears as the quintessential American girl, fresh as a new bride; Jim is the provincial and somewhat gauche American businessman looking for a good time in gay Paree; and Sarah is the morally upstanding New England matron (who is acting as ambassador, incidentally, for another, even grander New England matron—her mother).
Strether has been anticipating the Pococks’ visit with anxiety, and is relieved when Sarah greets him kindly. He deludes himself that she will see the situation with Chad the same way he does. However, the first meeting between Mme. de Vionnet and Sarah is not promising, as Sarah rebuffs the Countess icily. Mme. de Vionnet, with all her bright charm and gay remarks, only succeeds in embarrassing Strether and bringing him down with her in the sinking boat of her cause. Waymarsh having arrived at the Pococks’ hotel before any others, it can only be assumed that he has briefed Sarah on his view of the situation. Sarah will now trust Waymarsh instead of Strether, and it seems that they may become “thick as thieves,” as Strether predicted.
Significantly, the Paris outside Sarah’s hotel windows is felt as “the twinkle of gilt-tipped palings, the crunch of gravel, the click of hoofs, the crack of whips, things that suggested some parade of the circus.” When the Pococks are there, the sensible Woollett reality seems the only substantial one, and Strether’s fledgling opinions—about Chad and about Europe—a vain self-delusion. He wonders whether he has been a fool, “bamboozled” by the superficial sparkle of a Countess, dazzled by the circus display of Paris. On the other hand, the image of a circus suggests that the “show” has just begun. The Pococks are there to see it, and they, too, will be affected by the magic of Paris.