Strether goes to see Mme. de Vionnet as he promised, on the Tuesday after the Pococks’ arrival. They discuss the Pococks. The difficulty with them, Strether explains, is that they are so reluctant to change their attitude toward Chad. For the last three years, they’ve seen him as the irresponsible prodigal son, and they refuse to see how he’s changed.
Strether hints, too, at how anxious Sarah makes him about his tenuous relationship with Mrs. Newsome. He has not received any letters from his fiancée for some time, a fact which Sarah undoubtedly is aware, but she says nothing. In fact, she is careful never to mention her mother to Strether, but nonetheless he knows that she is watching him and reporting everything back to Mrs. Newsome.
Mme. de Vionnet reveals that since the Pococks’ arrival, she has not seen Chad. She misses him, but tells herself that he must charm the Pococks for the good of their future. Both agree that Chad is “excellent” and “capable of anything.” Noting that Chad has been spending a lot of time with Jim, Strether hopes that Jim Pocock may be the one to “save” Chad by stopping him from going home. Jim, after all, is rather cynical; he’s got a wicked streak in him, and it amuses him to see Chad in Europe with a woman. Besides, he may not want Chad back home, because with Chad absent, he has more power. Indeed, there is more to Jim than meets the eye.
They begin talking of the proposed meeting between Mamie and Jeanne. Mme. de Vionnet announces that Jeanne is about to enter an arranged marriage, with the help of Chad. Strether is shocked; the Old World tradition seems awful to him, and Chad’s involvement in the arrangement confuses him. Mme. de Vionnet says simply that she trusts Chad, but Strether must judge everything for himself.
A week has passed, and Sarah has not confronted Strether directly, but keeps him at an icy distance. After spending most of the day with Chad, Waymarsh, and the Pococks, Strether goes to see Miss Gostrey to dissect the situation.
As he tells Miss Gostrey, Strether is engaged to take Jim to the theater later that evening, while Waymarsh will take Sarah to dinner and to the circus, and Chad will take Mamie to the Theatre Français. Miss Gostrey is amused by the arrangements. They decide that Sarah is in love with Waymarsh, although she won’t do anything about it; Mamie may or may not be interested in Chad; and Jim is just Jim.
Miss Gostrey has heard of Jeanne’s engagement; in fact, she knows the name of the young man Jeanne will marry: M. de Montbron. They discuss the significance of the engagement. Strether thinks that Chad has arranged the engagement to prove to everyone that he is truly committed to Mme. de Vionnet, even though he knows they can never marry. But Chad will not defend himself to the formidable Sarah; instead, he will leave it to Strether to fight for him. “I shall be used for it … to the last drop of my blood,” Strether puts it. Strether will defend Chad from Sarah; he will throw himself on the cause and take all the blame when Chad does not return home to Woollett; he, Strether, will be sacrificed so that Chad may be saved.
As for Mamie, she can do nothing about all this. All she can do is remind Chad of home, but she will not succeed in luring him there. And Jim will work, in his own wicked way, to help Chad stay in Europe, too.
Two days later, Strether goes to visit Sarah’s hotel, but finding nobody there, decides to wait for her. He notices a letter from Mrs. Newsome on Sarah’s desk. Reflecting that Mrs. Newsome has stopped writing to him, he wonders if he is now already out of her life.
Suddenly, he realizes that the rooms are not empty; there is someone on the balcony—it is Mamie Pocock. Observing her as she looks out upon the Paris streets, Strether realizes that he does not really know the young lady. She has grown up before his eyes, and he begins to suspect that there is more to her than just being the “It” girl of the moment.
He goes out to the balcony to join Mamie. She is surprised to see him and reveals that she has been expecting Bilham, who is delayed. They talk for the next forty minutes while she waits for Bilham, and Strether finds that Mamie understands the situation better than he had guessed. She perceives the change in Chad, just as Strether does, and seems to know that he is not, after all, available for her to marry. She has met the de Vionnets and is delighted by them; she’s even met M. de Montbron, whom she says is very much in love with Jeanne.
Strether leaves Mamie to wait for Bilham alone. He is more impressed with her than ever before.
Analysis of Part 9
In Part 9, Strether visits with three women in turn, Mme. de Vionnet, Miss Gostrey, and finally Mamie. The novel is made up mostly of conversations that advance the plot and reveal Strether’s thoughts and feelings about his situation. In these chapters, Strether’s conversations with the trio of women reveal his attitude toward the Pococks and what he ultimately intends to do for Chad. Significantly, his meeting with Mme. de Vionnet precedes his meeting with Miss Gostrey, signaling how the Countess has now become the more important lady in his world.
The major plot development in Part 9 is the removal of other pretenders to Chad’s hand. By the end of Part 9, Jeanne is engaged and Mamie, besotted with Bilham, is nearly out of the picture. This clears the way for Chad to have a lasting relationship with Mme. de Vionnet, although they can never marry, and, Strether assumes, will never consummate their sacred connection in any carnal sense.
Chad’s help in arranging Jeanne’s engagement may be interpreted in various ways. First and most obviously, as stated above, it puts out of question any marriage between Chad himself and young Jeanne; second, it suggests that the nature of his attachment to Mme. de Vionnet has become one of a surrogate husband, as he has taken on a sort of stepfatherly role with the young girl. Strether reads even more into it than this. He thinks that by arranging Jeanne’s marriage, Chad is showing Mme. de Vionnet that he has “stopped squirming” and is committed to her—even though they can never marry. What Strether is too naïve, too pure himself, to suspect is that the relationship might be more than just a platonic friendship, and Chad may not be as selflessly devoted to the de Vionnets as he appears.
Another side effect of the engagement is that it shows (in Strether’s opinion) a negative, somewhat barbaric side of European culture, and places Strether on the side of America, a more modern culture where marriages are made for love. In the first half of the novel, Strether’s eyes were opened to the limitations of provincial American society, while Europe seemed wholly wonderful to him. In the second half of the novel, he will take a more measured view as he learns that not everything in the Old World is as “wonderful” as it seems. His disillusionment with Europe will make him appreciate America more.
Strether ruefully notes that he will be blamed for Chad’s defection. Believing as strongly as he does in the rightness and purity of Chad’s bond to Mme. de Vionnet, and the importance of the young man’s remaining in Europe where he has the hope of leading the life Strether himself never had the courage to pursue, Strether is prepared to defend the boy “[t]o the last drop of [his] blood.” Indeed, an explosive confrontation between Strether and Sarah seems bound to happen, whereby Strether’s fate is sealed. Mrs. Newsome has stopped writing, and it is very likely that she will cut off all ties to her former fiancé after the way he has betrayed her cause. However, all this is still hanging fire, and James keeps us in suspense about what is to become of Strether.
If Strether hopes to keep Chad in Europe, then the meeting with Mamie removes one obstacle toward that end. Mamie, like Jim, proves to be a secret ally to Strether’s cause. She understands more than he had given her credit for; she is more than simply the beautiful “It” girl of Woollett. She sees very clearly how Chad has changed. Furthermore, it is suggested, she is “deep” enough to have fallen in love with Bilham. This revelation about Mamie is part of what prevents the Woollett crowd from being simply stock characters of provincial America. James allows each of his characters his or her own secrets, his or her own complexity. There are even surprises about Sarah (apparently stodgy to a fault, the romance of Paris has affected her and she seems to be falling in love with Waymarsh) and Jim (who is foxy after all, despite appearing to be a bumbling husband outsmarted in a world of dominant women, and later will fall for Mme. de Vionnet).