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The Ambassadors



The Ambassadors, which Henry James considered his best work, is the most exquisite refinement of his favorite theme: the collision of American innocence with European experience. This time, James recounts the continental journey of Louis Lambert Strether--a fiftysomething man of the world who has been dispatched abroad by a rich widow, Mrs. Newsome. His mission: to save her son Chadwick from the clutches of a wicked (i.e., European) woman, and to convince the prodigal to return to Woollett, Massachusetts. Instead, this all-American envoy finds Europe growing on him. Strether also becomes involved in a very Jamesian "relation" with the fascinating Miss Maria Gostrey, a fellow American and informal Sacajawea to her compatriots. Clearly Paris has "improved" Chad beyond recognition, and convincing him to return to the U.S. is going to be a very, very hard sell. Suspense, of course, is hardly James's stock-in-trade. But there is no more meticulous mapper of tone and atmosphere, nuance and implication. His hyper-refined characters are at their best in dialogue, particularly when they're exchanging morsels of gossip. Astute, funny, and relentlessly intelligent, James amply fulfills his own description of the novelist as a person upon whom nothing is lost.


James's novels take us into the minds of his characters who are lively and true to life. The Ambassadors is the story of its narrator and major character Lambert Strether who goes to Paris to rescue his benefactress, Mrs Newson's son Chad, whom they believe to be under the clutches of a Parisian seductress because he has not returned home for five years- a stay which was originally supposed to be limited to six months. Strether goes to Paris with a lot of illusions about life in Europe. moreover he comes from provincial America with its conservative and Puritanical outlook. But he is a sensitive man with an open mind. When he arrives in Paris and meets Chad he realizes that notions about him harboured back at home are not completely correct and Chad has changed but Europe has had good effects on him. Strether himself is impressed by the European culture the range of which is much more than the constricted one of Woollett, Massachusetts. Strether is attracted by the gracious Madam de Vionett. Now he does not know whether he should work to achieve the original errand with which he came to Paris or he should follow his instincts. He decides to do the latter. Impatient at home Mrs Newsome sends three more ambassadors, her daughter Sarah Pocock, her husband Jim Pocock and Jim's sister Mamie. Sarah unlike Strether, does not romanticize Paris and its inhabitants and She quickly convinces Chad to return home though Strether now advises him against it. But he has obviously over estimated Chad's capability for finer perceptions. It is suggested at the end that Chad will choose the more comfortable option of settling in Woollett in the family business marrying Mamie, and Strether's hopes of marrying the rich widow, Mrs Newsome, won't materialize. and he also refuses Maria Gostrey's virtual proposal for marriage. But his European experience we know, has changed him. He has no more illusions about america as well as Europe. He now judges every situation on its merit but perhaps because he has perceived the truth and does not have any misconceptions and illusions about life and people around him that he remains isolated and lonely at the end. Strether is partly successful and partly defeated and says ruefully that he does not get anything for himself "out of this whole affair" except a better understanding of people and situations in life.--Submitted by Sutirtha Roy Ghatak


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Anyone want to discuss this book?

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Deciphering 'The Ambassadors'

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