The Ambassadors by Henry James Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

The Ambassadors

Graham Greene and E.M. Forster marvelled at it, but F.R. Leavis considered it to be ‘not only not one of his great books, but to be a bad one.’ As for the author, he held The Ambassadors as the favorite among all his novels.

Sent from Massachusetts by the formidable Mrs. Newsome to recall her son, Chad, from what she assumes to be a corrupt life in Paris, Strether finds his

Sent from Massachusetts by the formidable Mrs. Newsome to recall her son, Chad, from what she assumes to be a corrupt life in Paris, Strether finds his intentions subtly and profoundly transformed as he falls under the spell of the city and of his charge. He is quick to perceive that Chad has been not so much corrupted as refined, and over the course of the hot summer months in Paris he gradually realizes that this discovery and acceptance of Chad’s unconventional new lifestyle alter his own ideals and ambitions.

One of Henry James’s three final novels, all of which have sharply divided modern critics, The Ambassadors is the finely drawn portrait of a man’s late awakening to the importance of morality that is founded not on the dictates of convention but on its value per se.
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    Fionnuala

    Reading The Ambassadors is like progressing through a circular maze. The reader roams around the edges at first, coming up frequently against dead ends. Why is Chad Newsome so difficult to figure out? What are the author’s intentions for Maria Gostrey? Will Mrs Newsome, or even her more formidable-sounding daughter, Mrs Pocock, ever make a physical appearance in the story? The enigmas in this early stage are such that if the reader found herself accidentally back at the start she might be tempte

    At this stage she stops worrying about finishing. She’s enjoying the convoluted paths, taking her time and appreciating every twist and turn. She is blissful in the face of the beauty of certain passages and asks for nothing more than to spend the rest of her life deciphering Jamesian sentences.

    Her bliss is soon disturbed by a new preoccupation. In her circling she has picked up a companion. Lambert Strether, the main character in this third person narrative, seems to be walking in her footsteps or she in his. 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.

    There are many pitfalls in Strether’s path: he is being used by almost every other character in the narrative while nevertheless trying to serve everyone to the best of his abilities. The reader wants to warn him of the dangers, to whisper, watch out, Strether. But she has learned something from Maria Gostrey. 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.

    But Mrs Pocock’s bulk fails to hide the opening leading to the centre of the maze:

    the jump was but short to supreme lucidity. Light became indeed after that so intense that Strether would doubtless have but half made out, in the prodigious glare, by which of the two the issue had been in fact precipitated. It was, in their contracted quarters, as much there between them as if it had been something suddenly spilled with a crash and a splash on the floor.

    The reader can only be in awe of the writer’s skill in delivering her, right alongside his main character, to the heart of the story – in one blinding flash. She looks back at the manner in which she read the earlier sections and realises she was an innocent then, incapable yet of understanding. 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. We wondered at the beginning about her role in the story. It is very simple: James needed her to keep the thread. Without her, there would be no way, happy or unhappy, for the reader to exit the maze that is The Ambassadors.
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