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The Ambassadors by Henry James
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The Ambassadors (1903)

by Henry James

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I read this in college, in a seminar on Dickens and James with Prof G Armour Craig (later interim Pres of Amherst College). I know I wrote one of my best papers on this novel, culminating in revelations at the ending: of course, Jamesian narrators are very surprised by sophisticated European affairs that more naive Americans are drawn into. Once home, I shall find my copy and look for my notes, to fill out a review.
I still haven't found my copy of the novel, though I did locate my essay on it for Armour Craig's Eng 68, AmColl '65, which I dust off and--beware--publish. Start with some quotations, "Was it after all a joke that he should be serious about anything?" (124, dif ed). There was "simply a lie in the charming affair"(311). "'Ah prepare while you're about it,' said Strether,"to be more amusing.'Well, you are amusing--to me.' 'Impayable, as you say, no doubt,'But what am I to myself?'"(132)
And I write, "James's education for Strether I suppose to work from a seriousness to an appreciation of art in human [French] terms, to a final, higher seriousness, the seriousness of personal core beyond art, known through revealing intimacy." "The critical problem with this novel focuses in the ending. I take the ending to be meant as 'serious,' a high American magnanimity manifested in final self-sacrifice. What Strether has learned is sufficient for his deepest happiness. But I think this is contrived. James ends the novel so completely that Strether is going back to a world which can in no way be seen in the novel; it is an 'other' world. 'Yes, he goes back other, and to other things," James says in his project for the novel.
Strether has been offered the opportunity to live, but he sacrifices it 'to be right.' Yet he sacrifices for no alternative; he is gaining nothing but an escape from the world he has rejected. His education is a joke; he has learned that he is 'grey,' but he chooses to become even greyer. It is a joke that James's highest seriousness fails to open Strehter's path to intimacy."

Oh, as for this edition I did not use in 1965, edited by Harry Levin, I once had a great discussion with him over lunch at the Shakespeare Association of America, or possibly the RSA. We happened to sit next each other at a round table for eight. I had quoted, depended on Levin as a T.A. in a Minnesota Joyce courses, as well as for my knowledge of comparative lit, and I had recently heard his fine talk on Shakespeare and certain other classics. But at the table we largely discussed my Amherst Coll Shakespeare prof, Theodore Baird, who had invented a great Freshman Writing course, he and my own freshman teacher, Armour Craig. On leave from Amherst, Craig had taught a Harvard novel course though his Ph.D. there had been in 17C lit. Baird was a renegade from Harvard, doubted its teaching of writing and sometimes its scholarly writing, too. Baird had been a student of Kittredge's, and always joked about his often dreaming of examinations: "Sometimes I do very well." ( )
  AlanWPowers | Feb 25, 2017 |
Written after The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and Daisy Miller, the writing here is distinctly different. Much more obscure in terms of writing style and plot, the thinking of the protagonists only becomes clearer at the end. Though written in the point of view of the Ambassador Lambert Strether, one is even hard-pressed to know what he really thinks and feels. As Strether himself puts it, "I don't explain myself even to myself. How can they then understand me?" It is this deliberate plot device that keeps you going though the book is so hard to read. Finally, Strether reveals that he is returning home only "to be right". This is the attitude then that has guided Strether when he decided that Chad is best left in Paris and perhaps when he decided to "save" Madame de Vionnet. This is the attitude then that Henry James has left for his readers to carry away. ( )
  siok | Aug 20, 2016 |
I have a love/hate relationship with Henry James, in that I like his characters and the situations he puts them in, but his writing style can really turn me off. Way too much work to figure out all the odd syntax and dozens of commas in really long sentences. Despite this, [The Ambassadors] really worked for me.

The story is fairly simple. An American, Strether, travels to Europe to attempt to convince a young man, Chad Newsome, to give up his European lifestyle and return to America to run his family's business. Strether is involved with Chad's mother, probably going to marry her. When he gets to Europe he meets the wonderful Miss Gostrey who sort of takes him on as a project and tries to help him along the way. He also discovers that Chad is involved with an older woman, Madame de Vionnet, who is married. The thing is that once Strether sees Chad in Europe, he realizes that his lifestyle really suits him and sees a marked improvement in Chad's style and personality. So he's not so sure he wants to convince Chad to go back to Woollett, MA, even for all the money the business would bring. He also thinks Madame de Vionnet is pretty awesome. So he waffles. This leads Mrs. Newsome to send her formidable daughter, Sarah Pocock, to bring Chad back herself.

The whole thing is very clever and subtle. There is a lot of dialogue where the characters sort of talk around what they mean and things are left very vague, but I thought that was sort of true to life. I think often people have "conversations" where they are really just putting forward their own point of view and not necessarily listening, and certainly not being influenced by, the other person. I thought the dialogue was fantastic.

There were certainly long descriptive passages where my eyes were glazing over, but all in all, I really enjoyed this. It must have caught me at just the right time because it does take quite a bit of concentration to read Henry James. Definitely recommended to "classics-lovers". ( )
  japaul22 | Aug 18, 2016 |
quirky and endearing
Sturla Jòn is engaging in a quiet way, as is the whole story. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
Early on, I contemplated giving up on this novel, since not very much seemed to be happening very, very slowly. Yes, James' language is felicitous, and yes, his examination of complex relationships is delicate in the extreme, but the longeurs almost defeated me. I had, however, got interested enough in the characters to stick with it, and in time the whole thing wrapped itself into my imaginatioin. Once I stopped complaining about the slowness of the journey, and started to take the book on its own terms, I began to enjoy the wit, and the descriptions, and the misapprehensions. That said, I feel rather as if I had accomplished a major literary task. Going forward, I expect I will remain considerably fonder of Edith Wharton than of James. ( )
  annbury | Mar 14, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Edel, LeonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levin, HarryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Poole, AdrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallman, R.W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140432337, Paperback)

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. --Rhian Ellis

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:26 -0400)

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Sent to Paris by a wealthy matron to retrieve her son, Strether becomes sidetracked by an intriguing complication.

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