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by Henry James
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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
Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers of the Rue Scribe to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had crossed from London two days before. They had hastened to the Rue Scribe on the morrow of their arrival, but Strether had not then found the letters the hope of which prompted this errand.
Chad Newsome has gone to Paris. He is charmed by Old World fascinations and caught up in the leisurely craft and bohemian direction of European worldliness. An older woman of rank and adventurous but subtle skill, Madame de Vionnet, strokes his ego and does her best to keep Chad in Paris indefinitely. Chad's mother lives in Woollett, Mass., and wants her son to return to run the family business. Mrs. Newsome is an invalid and cannot go to Paris to fetch her son herself, so she employs Lambert Strether and Sarah Pocock to return Chad to Massachusetts. Sarah has been to Paris before and is aware of its attractiveness, so her determination to succeed in this task is fixed and uncompromising. Strether is of later middle age, however, and inspired by the fairytale of a beautiful life in Europe. Mrs. Newsome has promised to marry Strether if he can bring Chad home. Strether is completely enamored by the Parisian character and its enchantments and has a difficult time completing his mission. The drama of reestablishing Chad in business in America and of coming to terms with the mythological romance of France leaves the reader unbalanced, trying to recover equilibrium in the real world. Those involved with Chad's rescue are compelled to recognize the deep intimacies of personal attachment and the accepted proprieties of direct consequence. The success and failures of such an undertaking are unpredictable. The result of every character's attempt to steer Chad rightly is a strange conglomeration of role reversal, fantasy, and truth. Please Note: This book is easy to read in true text, not scanned images that can sometimes be difficult to decipher. The Microsoft eBook has a contents page linked to the chapter headings for easy navigation. The Adobe eBook has bookmarks at chapter headings and is printable up to two full copies per year. Both versions are text searchable.
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