Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Chad Newsome of Woolett, Massachusetts, is in Europe, where he has gone for an extended stay. He has become entangled romantically with a Parisian woman. Chad views himself as a freewheeling man-about-town. His mother views his identity in another way. She thinks he should come home, marry well, enter the family business, and become responsible.
To achieve this end, Mrs. Newsome dispatches her ambassador, Lambert Strether, a fifty-five-year-old widower, a writer who is her protégé and fiancé, to Paris to rescue Chad. Strether never liked Chad, but on meeting him in Paris, he is struck by Chad’s improvement. Mme de Vionnet captivates Strether, who assumes that Chad’s interest is in her daughter, who is approximately Chad’s age.
This illusion is shattered when the daughter marries. When Strether meets Chad and Mme de Vionnet, who is separated but not divorced from her husband, in the south of France, it becomes clear that the older woman is Chad’s mistress. Strether begins to feel sympathy for the two, believing that Chad has a moral responsibility to Mme de Vionnet.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Newsome, growing impatient, has dispatched four additional ambassadors to Paris with a mandate to bring Chad home. Among them is Mamie Pocock, whom the Newsomes presume Chad will marry. The arrival of this quartet from Woolett throws into striking contrast the manners and morals of Paris against those of Massachusetts. To Strether, continental...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Lambert Strether is engaged to marry Mrs. Newsome, a widow. Mrs. Newsome has a son, Chadwick, called Chad, whom she wants to return home from Paris and take over the family business in Woollett, Massachusetts. She is especially concerned for his future after she hears that he is seriously involved with a Frenchwoman. In her anxiety, she asks Strether to go to Paris and persuade her son to return to the respectable life she planned for him. Strether does not look forward to his task, for Chad ignored all of his mother’s written requests to return home. Strether also does not know what hold Chad’s mistress might have over him or what sort of woman she might be. He strongly suspects that she is a young girl of unsavory reputation. Strether realizes, however, that his hopes of marrying Mrs. Newsome depend upon his success in bringing Chad back to America, where his mother can see him married to Mamie Pocock.
Leaving his ship at Liverpool, Strether journeys across England to London. On the way he meets Miss Gostrey, a young woman who is acquainted with some of Strether’s American friends, and she promises to aid Strether in getting acquainted with Europe before he leaves for home again. Strether meets another old friend, Mr. Waymarsh, an American lawyer living in England, whom he asks to go with him to Paris. A few days after arriving in Paris, Strether goes to Chad’s house. The young man is not in Paris, and he temporarily gave the house over to a friend, Mr. Bilham. Through Bilham, Strether gets in touch with Chad at Cannes. Strether is surprised to learn of his whereabouts, for he knows that Chad would not dare to take an ordinary mistress to such a fashionable resort.
About a week later, Strether, Miss Gostrey, and Waymarsh go to the theater. Between the acts of the play, the door of their box opens and Chad enters. He is much changed from the adolescent college boy Strether remembers. He is slightly gray, although only twenty-eight years old. Strether and Chad are pleased to see each other. Over coffee after the theater, the older man tells Chad why he came to Europe. Chad answers that all he asks is an opportunity to be convinced that he should return. A few days later, Chad takes Strether and his friends to a tea where they meet Mme and Mlle de Vionnet. The former, who married a French count, turns out to be an old school friend of Miss Gostrey. Strether is at a loss to tell whether Chad is in love with the comtesse or with her daughter Jeanne. Since the older woman is only a few years the senior of the young man and as beautiful as her daughter, either is possibly the object of his affections. As the days slip by, it becomes apparent to Strether that he himself wants to stay in Paris. The French city and its life are much calmer and more beautiful than the provincial existence he knew in Woollett, and he begins to understand why Chad is unwilling to go back to his mother and the Newsome mills.
(The entire section is 1203 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Ambassadors, the first-written but second-published of James’s final trilogy, resurrects his early preoccupation with the effect of European travel on Americans. James’s handling of the theme here, however, is infinitely richer and more nuanced than in his earlier fiction. Above all, the ambiguous relationship between aesthetic sensibility and conventional moral values is rendered with consummate skill.
Lambert Strether, a middle-aged bachelor from Woolett, Massachusetts, has been sent to Paris to bring home the son of the woman he is planning to marry, Mrs. Newsome. Strether, who has not been abroad for many years, discovers that Chad Newsome is amorously involved with a Frenchwoman, though Strether mistakenly believes at first that Chad’s love interest is the young Jeanne. Charmed by the manner in which Chad has matured during his time in Paris, Strether delays to the point that the Newsomes themselves (absent the mother) appear on the scene to take matters in hand. Strether is in a difficult position, as his material well-being depends significantly on Mrs. Newsome’s good will.
While on a solitary excursion into the French countryside, Strether fortuitously encounters Chad in a romantic interlude with his lover, who turns out to be the middle-aged Marie de Vionnet, Jeanne’s mother. Shocked, but finally persuaded that the principles by which he has lived have deprived him of a fulfilling life, Strether decides to...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Book 1 Summary and Analysis
Lewis Strether, a middle-aged magazine editor from the provincial and Puritanical town of Woollett, Massachusetts, arrives in Chester, England, intending to meet an acquaintance, Waymarsh, who does not happen to be there to greet him. As he waits, he notices a woman who looks familiar. She comes up to him and begins a conversation without introducing herself. Strether judges her to be more civilized, but he asks himself, “More civilized than whom?” When he explains his situation, the woman claims to know Waymarsh, even having visited his home in Connecticut. She invites Strether to walk with her in the garden, where she eventually introduces herself as Maria Gostrey, an American who shows...
(The entire section is 868 words.)
Book 2 Summary and Analysis
On his third night in London, Strether goes to dinner and the theater with Maria Gostrey. He is struck by her manner of dress, quite unlike that of the widow Mrs. Newsome, his fiancée. Strether had never previously dined with a lady before going to the theater as he believed doing so had serious implications.
Strether observes the people around him and determines that all of them can be categorized into types. In Woollett, Massachusetts, the only types were male and female. Here in Europe, there seem to be many more.
The play is about an older woman leading a younger man astray. This reminds Strether of his errand to Europe concerning Chad, Mrs. Newsome’s son, whom...
(The entire section is 954 words.)
Book 3 Summary and Analysis
At dinner that evening, Strether tells Waymarsh about his afternoon. When he went to Chad’s apartment, he discovered that Chad was not there. The concierge explained that Chad had gone to Cannes a month ago and is not expected to return for several days. Strether investigated the place to get some insight into his future stepson. A young man is tending the apartment in Chad’s absence. It is the same man who attracted Strether’s attention on the balcony. His name is John Little Bilham (called “little Bilham" throughout the novel), and he has invited Strether and Waymarsh to lunch.
Waymarsh is frustrated by the lack of information that Strether garnered during the visit with...
(The entire section is 1006 words.)
Book 4 Summary and Analysis
Strether bluntly gives Chad the message that his mother wants him to leave Paris immediately and return to New England. He takes care to explain to Chad that none of this is his idea. Chad listens calmly and politely, and then asks Strether if he strikes him as improved. Strether answers that he does not have the slightest idea, but inwardly he agrees that he has.
Chad, on learning that Strether and his mother have finally become engaged, sees that Strether’s bringing him home is a kind of wedding present to Mrs. Newsome. After Strether states that he has been consumed with his task, he says that he wishes Chad to accede immediately and now wants to go to bed. Chad exclaims that he...
(The entire section is 963 words.)
Book 5 Summary and Analysis
Chad invites Strether to go with him to the home of Gloriani, the renowned sculptor. Strether agrees, mainly because Madame de Vionnet and her daughter, the rumored women in Chad’s life, will be present. Strether is very impressed when meeting the artist, but feels he is somehow being put to the test, a test that he fears he has failed. Little Bilham, who is also in attendance, gives him some reassurance.
Little Bilham tells Strether that Madame de Vionnet’s husband is still alive, and he insinuates that Chad is in love with the daughter. Miss Barrace is excited to see them. She speaks of little Bilham as an American coming to convert the savages. The fact that he has been...
(The entire section is 967 words.)
Book 6 Summary and Analysis
At Madame de Vionnet’s home, Chad pleads another engagement and leaves her and Strether alone to get better acquainted. Strether looks around at Madame de Vionnet’s furnishings and sees the noble history of France. It had the “air of supreme respectability,” quite the opposite of what he had expected. In the midst of all the historical artifacts, Madame de Vionnet seems to him incredibly new. He sees a sadness in her, causing him to think of her as “the poor lady.”
Madame de Vionnet says that she hopes Strether has not found her “impossible,” and asks if Mrs. Newsome has given him up because he has not sent Chad home. He says that she has not yet. Madame de Vionnet...
(The entire section is 949 words.)
Book 7 Summary and Analysis
Strether often goes to the cathedral of Notre Dame as a quiet refuge from his problems. He is alone, as Miss Gostrey has been away for three weeks. He continues to see the de Vionnets, Chad, and little Bilham frequently, but it is his times alone at Notre Dame that he most treasures. He often sees a woman there, deeply involved in her meditation and worship. He contemplates his mission, in which he has willfully failed, when he realizes the penitent woman is Madam e de Vionnet. She is pleased to see him. He brings up his promise to save her, which he has done by writing positively about her to Chad’s mother, telling how much she has helped Chad. She begs him to stay and keep Chad in Paris as...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
Book 8 Summary and Analysis
Strether avoids Waymarsh, although neither has mentioned the telegram. Strether is also fearful that, by being in close proximity to Waymarsh’s New England narrow-mindedness, he will reawaken his own. No longer tied to Waymarsh’s company, Strether feels even more liberated than before. He travels around France and is free to be a mere tourist.
As he awaits the arrival of the new ambassadors, Strether is overcome by a fear of Sarah Pocock. He goes to visit Madame de Vionnet, but finds that she has gone to the country for a few days (Chad is also absent from Paris during this time). Strether feels less confident, and he also feels a sense of being bereft by the French woman’s...
(The entire section is 962 words.)
Book 9 Summary and Analysis
Visiting Madame de Vionnet, Strether expresses his frustration with the Pococks and their continued refusal to admit the change in Chad. He directs his frustration at Sarah, whom he cannot see as charming, despite Madame de Vionnet's high opinion of the girl. She is resigned to Chad’s infrequent visits now that his family has arrived. Chad is spending most of his time with Jim. Strether warns Madame de Vionnet that Jim thinks of her as a delightfully “bad” woman of the world. He also believes that Jim does not want Chad to go back to Woollett because he feels overshadowed by Chad’s stronger personality. In Mrs. Pocock’s view, everyone has been paired off: Madame de Vionnet and Chad,...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)
Book 10 Summary and Analysis
Chad has a large dinner party in order to display his life in Paris more fully to his family. Strether talks with Bilham about the effect of this on the Pococks. Although Sarah is impressed with such an occasion, she believes that it could be done just as easily, and perhaps even better, in Woollett. Bilham offers Strether his help, which Strether gratefully accepts. Although at one time Strether wanted Bilham’s help in convincing Chad to marry Mamie, now he wants his help to do the exact opposite. He wants Bilham to be the one to marry Mamie. Strether promises to leave him all his property in his will. Mamie, like Strether, had come to Paris to save Chad, in her case by marrying him. Now that...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
Book 11 Summary and Analysis
Strether goes to Chad’s apartment repeatedly, only to find him out. Finally, he stays and waits for Chad’s return. When Chad at last comes in, Strether confronts him with Sarah’s report that has placed all the blame on him. Chad reveals that it was he who has pushed Sarah to go see Strether. It is Strether’s belief that it was not Chad whom the Pococks came to Europe to see, but to find out what Strether was doing. Strether tells Chad that he must see Sarah again, and that he wants to end it on better terms with her. They both remind each other that they stand to lose a great deal of money should Mrs. Newsome cut them off. Chad believes that his return home will mean that Sarah will win...
(The entire section is 944 words.)
Book 12 Summary and Analysis
After Strether returns to Paris, he receives a telegram from Madame de Vionnet asking him to come to see her at 9:30 that evening. Ignoring the added message that she would come to him at any time should he find that more convenient, he sends her a reply that he will be there.
Madame de Vionnet informs him that she knew she had not fooled Strether. She tested him and he passed. Chad had let her do this; Chad always let her have her way. She knows Strether will view her as selfish and vulgar, but she asks him to stay with her anyway. She also knows that his life has changed because of her. She starts to cry, and all of a sudden it strikes Strether how old she looks. She tells him that...
(The entire section is 961 words.)