Yet even when a new direction seems full of promise, she still comes up against the same blind alleys as before and she despairs of ever getting to the centre. She may not understand all his thoughts and desires but she empathizes with him fully as he too circles the central facts of the story, enjoying the beauty along the way but encountering the same dead ends as herself. And while she enjoys Strether's company very much, her discomfort arises from a fear that he may come to grief before the end, and she herself alongside him. Silent support is what Strether requires at this point, especially as he is about to face the daunting Mrs Pocock, looming forth from what seems like another blind alley. The reader can only be in awe of the writers skill in delivering her, right alongside his main character, to the heart of the story - in one blinding flash. Now it has all come to mean something different; she has grown and changed just as Strether has changed: He had heard, of old, only what he could then hear; what he could do now was to think of three months ago as a point in the far past If Lambert Strether and the reader finally reach the point of brutal lucidity, it is thanks to the unassuming character of Maria Gostrey.
Theres a character who says, Oh I dont think anything now. Every sentence is a maze it takes two readings to get out of. In a sense every character in this novel has the keyed up sensibility of the lover, both wilfully deflecting and hungrily truth seeking. That said it baffled me when I read afterwards what Henry James thought was the defining passage of this book Live all you can: it's a mistake not to. Is this novel an exhortation to live life to the full? I dont understand how any character who circles around an answer to a simple question for four paragraphs could be seen as living life to full. In the time it takes the characters to arrive at any defining disclosure in this novel one could have caught the Eurostar to Paris and enjoyed lunch on the terrace of a brasserie. Theres one instance where a character answers a question by saying, Yes, and then adding as an afterthought, absolutely not. And of course James, again like Nabokov, can write a dazzling sentence
Sent by Mrs. Newsome ( thus the title ,"The Ambassadors," there will be others), to get her son, the immature Chad(wick) 28, living in Paris, for three years, back home and do his duty , run the family business, but there are complications, he is involved, his relatives believe, in a sordid affair, with a married woman, but quite a charming one, beautiful, Marie de Vionnet, 38, separated from her brute of a husband. Slowly it dawns on the always too trusting gentleman, that some inhabitants are lying to Mr. Lambert Strether, shocking him, it makes him think, has he, been a simpleton...Besides our would -be hero has to go back home to America, and face the music, his life will never be the same...This novel will be enjoyed by fans of Henry James, the European and American differences, that the author writes about...
I dont 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 Jamess novel: the beauty of Paris as a backdrop for temporarily exiled Americans to meet and discover, or not, the underlying theme: knowing how to live. Lambert Strether goes to Paris on behalf of Mrs. Newsome, who wants her son back in the fold in New England. Strether finds Chad Newsome in Paris, and he is, they all say, an altered man. I had seen the mixed ratings among my GR friends (from 2 to 5 stars) but approached the novel, seeing as claimed on GR that Forster had appreciated it. Reading the novel was a stubborn struggle to me, and the only thing that comforted me in my inability to appreciate it more was that a much missed friend here on GR, whose literary judgment I completely trusted and usually agreed with, had also rated it two stars. So while I want to applaud Jamess total and utter disbelief in more modern advice (though Hemingway was around the corner) to leave out anything superfluous and to deliberately go for the overwritten style, the story was lost to me in the fogs of oblique language rather than rendered crucial via clear and vibrant language.
The Ambassadors, by Henry James This is Daisy Fuentes Miller, reporting to you live from the set of MTVs Real World Gay Paree. Im engaged to Chads mom. Strether: Damn, that countess is one hot MILF. Chad no rush about going home. 6 weeks later: Sarah: This is Sarah, Chads older sister. Chad, Mother expects you to do your duty. Strether: Dude, dont go! Maybe catch a little menage-a-trois action with Chad and the Countess. 2 weeks later, Strether, alone in the confessional room: So Sarah and Jim are on the way back home, with no hanging Chad. But at least I can be happy about getting Chad to do the right thing, to avoid the money trap, and to choose life! 2 weeks later, Chad, alone in the confessional room, very drunk: You know, Ive always thought that advertising was where the future is at..... ******************************************** OK, I'll come clean and admit that Ive had a definite prejudice against Henry James for as long as I can remember. It also changed my opinion of James though I doubt Ill ever achieve fanboy status, it was a far more interesting read than I had anticipated. But his penchant for convoluted sentences means that hes not particularly easy to read. On any given page, there is likely to be at least one sentence that you will have to read three times over, and still not be sure you understand what he was trying to say. At least James wasnt writing in German, so there is a limit to how convoluted things get. A book that was far more interesting than I had anticipated, and which definitely changed my mind about Henry James.
There is a painstaking and almost painful subtlety to James's "major phase" (which is canonized in the present work, The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl), a subtlety which was growing in power in his Portrait of a Lady but is in full force in Ambassadors. The "Ambassador" is Lewis Lambert Strether, an American man from Woollett, a conventional but fictional Massachusetts town, where he is engaged to be married to the cold and absent figure, Mrs. Newsome. In this work, James presents us, rather than a central heroine, a central man who is affected on all sides by a covey of women (this approach is foreshadowed in James's treatment of Merton Densher in Wings of the Dove) The three powerful women which both charm and control him are: Maria Gostrey, Marie de Vionnet, and Mrs. Newsome; Strether's nuanced relationships with these women constitute the web and drama of James's masterpiece. To call Marie (Mme. de Vionnet) the story's "villain" is to misread the novel, and would be much too explicit for a work by James (she is the more nuanced, more subtle Mme. Merle, a la ). Mme. de Vionnet is in the knowing camp, she deceives Strether and keeps him in the dark about the unvirtuous nature of her relationship with the young Chad. Maria is Strether's confidant, and Strether's growing affection for her makes his ultimate return to Mrs. Newsome that much more poignant to the reader. We may hate Osmond and Mme. Merle for betraying Isabel's innocence, but she remains a strong figure; we must hate with equal, or increased, vigor Mrs. Newsome, who stifles the chance of happiness for Strether, which he is so expressly aware of, which he knows full well are within his grasp, which he urges upon Little Bilham, upon Chad.
Catching up with the classics # 20 I am not a fan, but I WILL finish I hate this book. I read this entire book with the main male character, Strether, making everything his business, for him only at the end to say that that none of it his his business.
But he convinces himself (somewhat) that maybe the sons relationship with the married woman isnt technically sexual, and then (spoiler alert?) at the end, he has this big realization when he cant pretend anymore that it isnt. Except, being a modern young woman, I didnt get that AT ALL, and read the whole thing assuming that he knew they were a full-fledged couple, but that he didnt, in these particular circumstances, think it was immoral.
I have been reading quite a bit of James. Even though these books are long, and there is a certain degree of artificiality in the dialogue (much worse in Dove; much more economical in The Ambassadors), these two late novels represent a form of psychological thriller, the patient unraveling, layer by layer, of the inner drives (and narrative outcomes) of some remarkably rich characters. The one thing I would add that makes the Ambassadors a bit difficult -- is that it is NOT (as Dorothea Krook correctly saw) actually a tragedy (as one expects from James).
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. As he says to Little Bilham, "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to." Strether having failed in his mission, Mrs. Newsome arrives with ambassadorial family in tow to ratchet up pressure on delinquent Chad.
His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allowed him to explore the phenomena of consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.