Study Guide

The American Appearances

By Henry James


…For he admires the squinting Madonna of the young lady with the boyish coiffure, because he thinks the young lady herself uncommonly taking […](1.3)

Newman isn't really that interested in art. He's more interested in scoping out the pretty lady making a copy of a great painting.

His little ill-made coat, desperately brushed, his darned gloves, his highly polished boots, his rusty, shapely, hat, told the story of a person who "had losses." (1.29).

Newman might be blinded by a pretty lady, but he's pretty good at sussing out M. Nioche's character…and his financial situation. In the wild world of Victorian-era Europe, you either presented a polished front or you floundered.

"She is not a beauty, but she is beautiful, two very different things." (3.88)

Mrs. Tristram knows what's up. She knows exactly how to pique Newman's interest. Newman, being a connoisseur, knows the difference between "a beauty" (cookie-cutter, appealing to the masses) and "beautiful" (unique and distinctive).

It had been endued with a layer of varnish an inch thick, and its frame, an elaborate pattern, was at least a foot wide. (4.3)

Newman is totally enamored with the pattern of—yes, ladies and gents—the picture frame. But this frame ain't just a frame: Newman's admiration shows that he's just as interested in what surrounds content as he is in content. Newman has good taste…but he's still more than a tad superficial.

She is very pretty, certainly. Alas, yes, she is pretty! (4.10)

Appearances can be dangerous, especially in the cutthroat high-society world of Paris. A pretty woman = a woman in high demand, and Newman doesn't know if he can make the cut when it comes to seducing a hottie like Claire.

"She is dangerous to beauty, when beauty hasn't the soul." (4.11)

According to M. Nioche, Paris chews up beauties and spits them out. Totally merciless. But as we see in the character of Mrs. Tristram, soul without beauty has a longer shelf life than beauty without soul.

Newman's comrade, whose name was Babcock, was a young Unitarian minister; a small, spare, neatly-attired man, with a strikingly candid physiognomy. (5.3)

In Newman's social circle, everyone's personality seems to be influenced by their outward appearance. Hey, that doesn't sound all that different from most social circles today. The more things change…

She looks like a statue which had failed as stone, resigned itself to its grave defects, and come to life as flesh and blood, to wear white capes and long trains. (6.4)

Ouch. Valentin's describing his sister, which makes this vaguely complimentary speech seem a bit harsher. But, to be fair, no one really wants to be compared to a statue…except when it comes to praising rock-hard abs.

Her face could wear no look that could make it less beautiful, and he was sure beforehand that however she might take the proposal he had in reserve, she would not take it in scorn or in irony. (7.1)

Sounds like Newman is pretty confident that he won't get rejected, all based on the fact that Claire looks nice.

The colouring in Madame de Cintre was the same, and the high delicacy of her brow and nose was hereditary. (10.17).

Newman is starting to become a real expert at judging wealth by appearance. Bravo, Newman. You've just earned your black belt in being shallow.

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