Having made a fortune from his California-based business, Christopher Newman resolves to enlarge his experience with a grand tour of Europe, the customary practice of wealthy young men of the nineteenth century. When his acquaintance with Claire de Cintre, a youthful widow from an aristocratic Parisian family, blossoms into romance, Newman finds that he must also court her mother and brother. Rich in pride and tradition but short on money, Claire's relatives object strongly to her nouveau riche suitor even as they consider the sale of their dignity.
Henry James, the great chronicler of cross-cultural encounters, wrote The American early in his career. The contrast of Old and New World values―depicted with James' characteristic grace, eloquence, and subtle wit―constitutes a precursor to many of the author's later works. With its brisk plot and sparkling dialogue, this tale of a courtship gone awry offers an excellent introduction to James' novels.