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The Ambassadors

Henry James

Book Overview: 

Henry James considered The Ambassadors his best, or perhaps his best-wrought, novel. It plays on the great Jamesian theme of Americans abroad, who finds themselves in an older, and some would say richer and more sophisticated, culture that that of the United States. The protagonist is Lambert Strether, a man in his fifties, editor of a small literary magazine in the manufacturing town of Woollett, Massachusetts, who arrives in Europe on a mission undertaken at the urging of his patron, Mrs. Newsome, to bring home her son Chadwick. That young man appears to be enjoying his time in Paris rather more than seems good for him, at least to those older and wiser. The novel, however, is really about Strether's education in this old world. One of his teachers is the city of Paris and its society, in which Chad Newsome has become so immersed. Yet for all its beauties and attractions, this is a real Paris, not an idealized one, a Paris with its own superficialities and dangers. From it Strether has much to learn, and its lessons are perhaps not always those that Chad himself has drawn, pleasant as they might at first seem.
Had Strether his life to live over again, knowing what he has now learned, how different would it be?

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .P> Strether told Waymarsh all about it that very evening, on their dining together at the hotel; which needn't have happened, he was all the while aware, hadn't he chosen to sacrifice to this occasion a rarer opportunity. The mention to his companion of the sacrifice was moreover exactly what introduced his recital—or, as he would have called it with more confidence in his interlocutor, his confession. His confession was that he had been captured and that one of the features of the affair had just failed to be his engaging himself on the spot to dinner. As by such a freedom Waymarsh would have lost him he had obeyed his scruple; and he had likewise obeyed another scruple—which bore on the question of his himself bringing a guest.

Waymarsh looked gravely ardent, over the finished soup, at this array of scruples; Strether hadn't yet got quite used to being so unprepared for the consequences of the impression he produced. It was comparatively . . . Read More

Community Reviews

“The Ambassadors”, by Henry James

This is Daisy Fuentes Miller, reporting to you live from the set of MTV’s “Real World Gay Paree”. Six strangers, from totally different backgrounds, thrown together, forced to live under the merciless glare of the Hankcam, which documents their every move for post...more

A Perched Privacy

I finish reading this novel feeling exalted and cowed by what a man may accomplish in a work of fiction. Human relationships, so various, so changing, so beautiful, are so variously, changeably and beautifully conceived here that they constitute a cause for moral uplift and terro...more

It is important to remember that Henry James's later works (his "major phase") are very much the roots of "modern literature" (whatever that means), and should be read in the same way as Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, Joyce's Ulysses, Woolf's The Waves and Mrs. Dalloway: which is to say:...more

An eternal situation. When I lived in Paris the worried mum of an American girl arrived to get her back to the US. Her daughter, a close friend then, had developed, in one year, a style and manner -- a chic, if you will, far beyond her suburban Baltimore roots. She soon had a romcom with a visi...more

A gay friend of mine once put Henry James’ tendency to play hide and seek with the reader down to the same trait within himself with regards to his sexuality. Apparently he was deeply suspicious of everything that gave him pleasure. “Nothing came to him simply.” And in this novel nothing comes to...more

Lambert Strether, the needy editor of a little New England literary magazine, is sent to Paris by his patroness, wealthy Mrs. Newsome. His mission as "ambassador" or emissary for the Newsome family is to fetch the wayward heir Chad and return him to the USA to work in the family business. Strethe...more

I’m sure Henry James is a genius and all, but untangling his prose is like trying to talk to a verbose, over-educated person who’s drunk off his ass but refuses to pass out. For example, he might start off with “The effect of the man’s speech was as if he were a tippler who…” then meanders here,...more

Lewis Lambert Strether,55, a prim widower, considers himself a failure, completely dependent on the kindness of wealthy widow, and still attractive, Mrs.Newsome, from fictional, Woollett, Massachusetts, his fiancee, for a living (set circa 1900) , he's the editor of a small magazine review, that...more

I have been reading quite a bit of James. Last year, I audio’d The Bostonians and Washington Square. I read The Aspen Papers, reread Beast in the Jungle, and read Turn of the Screw (which I disliked -- found it excruciating). And then this spring read a large collection of James’ stories (ed. Fad...more

Henry James has taken circumlocution and obfuscation to new heights in this novel. I don’t often rate a book an ungenerous two stars, but this novel was in many ways an impossible book for me. I appreciate the architecture of James’s novel: the beauty of Paris as a backdrop for temporarily exiled...more

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