Study Guide

Valentin de Bellegarde in The American

By Henry James

Valentin de Bellegarde

Your Typical Aristocrat

Valentin de Bellegarde has only known the lap of luxury his entire life. That doesn't mean he's a bad person, but Newman notices that Valentin's concerns have mostly to do with superficial matters.

For instance, he has a "mortal dread of the robustness overtaking the agility; he was afraid of growing stout" […] (7.13). In other words, he structures his days around aristocratic pursuits like riding, fencing, and practicing gymnastics.

Ah yes, and chasing the ladeez.

See, Valentin's grown up in a family that values wealth and respectability above all else. As the younger brother in the family, he doesn't need to concern himself with serious matters. Instead, he flaunts the de Bellegarde wealth and respectability in order to appeal to all the young flirts in France.

While Valentin is frolicking around with his flavor of the month, Claire is forced to marry for money. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

Loyal to a Fault

Even though Valentin can be a wee bit shallow, he's serious about two things: his friendship with Newman and his relationship with his beloved sister, Claire.

To Newman, Valentin confides his deepest secrets: "I'm an idealist!" (7.47). Although Valentin always takes a light tone in his conversations with Newman, he tells him things about his family and his approach to life that suggests he treasures their bond.

Actually, a good way to figure out Valentin is to pay attention to his jokes. When he joshes to Newman that "you are a successful man and I am a failure," he reveals his very real worries about doing something worthwhile (7.24).

When it comes down to it, Valentin surrounds himself with people he wants to be like. He refuses to throw Newman over when the rest of the de Bellegarde family is against him, and he's fiercely protective of Claire.

Basically, Valentin is the human equivalent of a corgi. He's a bit silly and a bit lazy…but he's definitely not lacking in the loyalty department.

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