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Ambassadors, The

by 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

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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. A telegram from him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock, that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old Waymarsh-if not even, for that matter, to himself-there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive-the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe. Mixed with everything was the appre-hension, already, on Strether's part, that it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a sufficient degree.

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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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