Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman, descends on Europe in search of a wife to make his fortune complete. In Paris he is introduced to Claire de Cintre, daughter of the ancient House of Bellegarde, and to Valentin, her charming young brother. His bid for Claires hand receives an icy welcome from the heads of the family, an elder brother and their formidable mother, the old Marquise.
Can they stomach his manners for the sake of his dollars? Out of this classic collision between the old world and the new, James weaves a fable of thwarted desire that shifts between comedy, tragedy, romance, and melodrama - a fable which in the later version printed here takes on some of the subtleties associated with his greatest novels.