Strether tells Chad right off what he is there in Paris to do: “I’ve come…to make you break with everything, neither more nor less, and take you straight home; so you’ll be so good as to immediately and favorably to consider it!” Chad takes the news quite easily. Strether continues to notice the change in the young man. He is no longer wild and bold and rough, but steady and smooth. Observing Chad—his earnestness, his dignity, his seriousness—Strether is in awe. He sees how wonderful Chad is, and what makes women love him so much. It is remarkable how Paris has made him over. This new maturity and polish, he decides, has made Chad even more suited to the purpose of handling his family’s business back home in Woollett.
Chad correctly surmises that Strether is now officially engaged to his mother and that he plans on “bringing [Chad] home as a sort of wedding-present.” Strether affirms this. If Chad will come home, he persists, it will ensure the best future for them both. Will he promise to do so? The question makes Chad nervous. Before agreeing to anything, Chad wants to ask Strether some questions about the deal. Strether says there will be time for that in the days to come, but for the present, he is ready for bed.
Despite the weighty question at hand, the conversation is pleasant and filled with jokes. The young man exclaims, “Oh, we shall get on!” Strether is pleased and feels he has made some progress already.
On their way home, Chad wonders. What horrors have they imagined, back in Woollett, about his Parisian life? If they think he’s trapped there by a woman, he insists, they must have low minds indeed. “I always had my own way,” he declares, “And I have it at present.” Strether is taken aback. A moment before, he’d been wondering whether Chad were a pagan; now he wonders if the young man is in fact a gentleman. Or could it be that this is all a trick gentlemen have, of making themselves appear virtuous beyond reproach? He is not sure of anything anymore. Chad rescues the situation with the dismissive statement, “Oh, I’m all right!”
Chad does truly appear to be “all right.” Over the next ten days, he gives Strether his full attention and thoughtfully considers the proposal. Meanwhile, Strether’s letters to Mrs. Newsome are less frequent, but filled with more information. Strether writes just as often to Miss Gostrey. Realizing that his relationship with Miss Gostrey may raise some eyebrows, Strether has made light of it to Chad, jovially remarking that “every one…[knows] Miss Gostrey.”
Chad comes to like his prospective stepfather, which is something Strether never counted on. Strether likes him, too. The more he observes Chad, the more he feels that there really is no “wicked woman” involved at all. Chad seems perfectly free. However, he realizes, Chad’s mother and sister are not likely to believe this. They will think that Strether is simply incompetent. Sarah Pocock, Chad’s sister, may even want to come out herself to find the woman, if Strether can’t do it himself.
He takes up the question with Miss Gostrey, who has so far been reluctant to give her opinion. “He’s not free,” Miss Gostrey finally declares. She admits that she has known it since the first hour she met Chad—there is some woman, and an excellent one at that, who is behind Chad’s remarkable transformation. He hasn’t revealed her yet, for two reasons. One is that she is truly fine and dignified, and he is protecting her. The second is that he secretly wants to get rid of her. “After all she has done for him?” protests Strether. “He’s not so good as you think!” responds Miss Gostrey. Her prophetic warning stays in Strether’s mind.
Strether and Waymarsh are more and more drawn into the world of Chad and little Bilham. Waymarsh regards his friend critically, seeming to warn him against growing too close to Chad and forgetting his mission. Without actually saying anything, he communicates his message: “I told you so—that you’d lose your immortal soul!” Strether does seem to be ever more drawn in by the allure of Chad’s Parisian life. He particularly loves the afternoon chats at Chad’s home, in which so many diverse opinions are shared. In Woollett, he observes, there are only “three or four” opinions. Mrs. Newsome’s references, in her letters, to Chad’s immoral lifestyle embarrass him now; he feels that she lacks tact.
One afternoon, Strether meets up with little Bilham. He has just seen Chad earlier, and Miss Barrace too (whom he has decided to set up with Waymarsh for a date). Now, alone with little Bilham, Strether comes out with his question about Chad: “Is the creature honest?...Is there some woman?” Little Bilham is hesitant to answer directly at first, but offers his opinions about Chad. Chad has changed, it is true, he says, but Bilham is not sure that Chad was “really meant by nature to be so good.” Nonetheless, Chad does want to go home to take up a career. He’s unhappy in Europe; he wants to be married. Strether persists—is there a woman? Bilham acknowledges that there is one, but it is a “virtuous attachment.”
Several days later, Strether meets Miss Gostrey with some urgent news. The night before, he demanded that Chad tell him, once and for all, whether he is coming home—and Chad responded by saying that there were two ladies, a mother and daughter, Strether must meet at once. These women, surmises Strether, are the “virtuous attachment.” He avoided asking Bilham for any details before. Now, he and Miss Gostrey are left to speculate. Is it the mother or the daughter in whom Chad is interested? And if it is the daughter, then what’s holding things up? Could it be that the daughter doesn’t want to marry Chad? Might she be opposed to having to move to Woollett? Mamie Pocock, at least—the beautiful Mamie Pocock—is not opposed to Woollett.
There is much that Miss Gostrey and Strether don’t know. What nationality might these women be? And what are their ages? The mother might be forty, with a daughter of twenty—or she might be twenty-five and widowed, with a daughter of five. Or the mother might not be widowed at all, but still married, which might then throw some doubt upon the virtuousness of her attachment to Chad. These are all things that are left to Strether to find out.
There is one thing, however, that Strether should be glad of. Chad has apparently decided that Strether will “do.” He is good enough to be introduced to these ladies, who are almost certainly very particular. This, notes Miss Gostrey, is a great compliment to Strether, and a mark of his success.
Analysis of Part 4
The mystery of Chad grows deeper in these chapters. Strether has met him and is thoroughly impressed by the young man’s transformation from a wild youth to a refined gentleman. But is it all an act? Is there some kind of conspiracy at work to fool Strether? He still is not sure. Miss Gostrey, who possesses a keen social insight, makes several prophetic observations. Chad, she notes, is not as good as Strether thinks, nor is he as free as he appears. His transformation is all due to the influence of some fine lady. His attachment to her, however, is very likely not a virtuous one, and he secretly wants to get rid of the woman. James leaves the reader in suspense on these points.
Meanwhile, Strether continues to be awakened by Paris. The intellectual life stimulates him and the exposure to a wide variety of opinions broadens his mind. Mrs. Newsome, at home in Woollett, now seems to have a painful lack of tact in suggesting that Chad is leading a dissolute life. Indeed, Strether wonders if all of Woollett is too small-minded, too smugly moral for its own good.