Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lambert Strether, the chief ambassador of Mrs. Newsome, his betrothed. Strether is sent to summon Mrs. Newsome’s son Chad back from Paris to the family business in Wollett, Massachusetts. The fifty-five-year-old editor of a review, Strether has all the tact and diplomacy necessary to accomplish his task, but his sensitivity will not allow him either to complete it or to take advantage of Chad’s situation to gain his own ends. He sees Chad as immeasurably better off in Paris and himself as somehow changed and strengthened by his sojourn abroad, though he will not allow himself to stay in Europe after having failed his benefactress. His heady experiences renew his earlier impressions, and he forms friendships, visits cathedrals, and lives easily for the first time since his wife died while bearing their son, also dead. His delicacy—in approaching young Newsome and his mistress, Mme. de Vionnet; in handling Chadwick’s sister, brother-in-law, and childhood sweetheart, and in breaking off from Maria Gostrey, who loves him—is the more remarkable when one considers that his own hopes of a rich marriage and great influence have been shattered by his actions.
Chadwick (Chad) Newsome
Chadwick (Chad) Newsome, the handsome, twenty-eight-year-old successor to a family business and the heir to a modest income from another source. Candid and open-hearted, the graying young man has been so improved by his...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
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Lambert Strether is more than the main character of The Ambassadors; the entire novel takes his point of view as a frame, leaving out what he does not see, hear, or discuss with other characters. This stylistic choice and its effects on the experience of reading the novel are discussed in more depth in the "Techniques" section of this essay, but it seems useful to point out here how integral Strether's character is to the structure and meaning of James's novel. As deeply interwoven as the personality of the protagonist and the form of the narrative are, it may be that understanding the latter depends on a comprehension of the former.
Though not old, the middle-aged Strether is a few steps behind the up-and-coming generation. He lives more in the early nineteenth century than the early twentieth. His gentile position as the editor of an outdated literary journal, which he repeatedly refers to as the journal with the green cover, underscores his distance from the day's culture, one dominated by bright magazines full of illustrations, ads, and provocative fiction. As mentioned above, the pace of modern life does not seem to agree with his constitution.
Strether is also an indecisive man. He ponders over decisions, seeing them from every possible angle before rushing to a conclusion. Unfortunately, he is also a naive man who fails to see the nature of Chad's relationship with Mrs. de Vionnet until it slaps him in the face. In a sense, he...
(The entire section is 786 words.)
Miss Barrace is a liberated woman who finds amusement in flirting with Waymarsh and who peers at the world through “her long-handled glass.” Miss Barrace has the power of “not being” and responds to seriousness with a “crescendo” of “Oh, oh, oh!”
John Little Bilham
Bilham has failed in his original purpose of becoming an artist by studying in Paris. Instead, he has adopted Parisian habits and struggles to stay there, but he has no purpose—he needs saving. Fortunately, Strether appears, and John finds a more appropriate role model than Chad. The relationship between Bilham and Strether builds to the point where Bilham accepts Strether’s mission to help Bilham be saved by Mamie. Consequently, Bilham will cease wasting his life and become Mamie’s suitor.
Jeanne de Vionnet
Jeanne is “an exquisite case of education,” who honors her mother with her beauty and grace. Her mother has raised her to have some American qualities, like “freedom.” This perfect representation of French femininity has entrusted herself to the protection of Chad (who eventually finds her a proper husband). Jeanne confuses Strether whenever she gets near to him.
Madame de Vionnet
The presumably horrible woman who keeps Chad from Mrs. Newsome turns out to be the muchadored Madame de Vionnet. In Gloriani’s garden, Madame de Vionnet...
(The entire section is 2320 words.)