Study Guide

The Ambassadors

by Henry James

The Ambassadors Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*England

*England. The book opens at Chester, England, where Strether—Mrs. Newsome’s “ambassador”—arriving from Liverpool to meet his friend Waymarsh, has a first encounter with Maria Gostrey, who will become his confidant. This brief English scene constitutes a prologue that strikes the theme of Europe—the Europe of old houses and crooked streets which was being stamped upon American imaginations by Henry James’s fellow expatriate, painter James Whistler. London launches Strether’s eager growth through first impressions, but Paris will complete it.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital, the centerpiece of the novel, is a jewel-like city. The initiation of Strether into a Parisian mode of life so different from that of his native Woollett leads him to symbolic gambols through winding passages of darkness and light to a realization, as James put it in his preface, of “more things than had been dreamed of in the philosophy of Woollett.” Metaphorically, then, Paris rules Strether’s discriminations and attitudes, the only ones to which the reader is privy. At no time does Strether take on his mission with fervor. As the “ambassador” partakes of Paris’s enchantments—its natives, streets, and especially its gardens—he becomes subtly aware of how much the city’s eternal spring has broadened Chad Newhouse, his charge, and now he himself. For a time, Strether forgets Woollett and all he has left behind, as his eyes scan the picture of Paris, the stir and shimmer of life in the rue de Rivoli and the gardens of the Tuileries. It is to these scenic frames, and the ways in...

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The Ambassadors Historical Context

Transatlantic Travel
The days of the speedy Clipper ship were numbered once Robert Fulton launched a successful...

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The Ambassadors Literary Style

The Psychological Novel
The impression that external stimuli and events make on a character or the thoughts and...

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The Ambassadors Literary Techniques

Though arguably the greatest American novelist of all time, James did not write great stories. As was the case with other Realists—William...

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The Ambassadors Ideas for Group Discussions

Without question, The Ambassadors is one of the most challenging works written by an American author. Nevertheless, when properly...

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The Ambassadors Social Concerns

Those who find Henry James's writing obtuse and difficult sometimes say in criticism of the great American author that he did not like to...

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The Ambassadors Compare and Contrast

1903: Radio is being developed for transmission of news and music.

Today: The internet is being...

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The Ambassadors Topics for Further Study

Paying particular attention to the women in the two novels, compare Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness...

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The Ambassadors Literary Precedents

From the signing of the Declaration of Independence, American authors have been anxious about the difference between their culture and the...

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The Ambassadors Related Titles

James constantly tried to push the bounds of literary realism, endeavoring to convey through language a more authentic representation of...

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The Ambassadors Adaptations

The Ambassadors is available on audiocassette. Walter Zimmerman reads the unabridged novel on thirteen ninety-minute tapes published...

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The Ambassadors What Do I Read Next?

One of James' most popular novels was the story of Isabel Archer, Portrait of a Lady (1881)....

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The Ambassadors Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Alden, H. M., “Memorandum on ‘Project of a Novel by Henry James,’”...

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The Ambassadors Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Bell, Millicent. Meaning in Henry James. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. Examines James’s novels in reference to narrative theory. Analysis of The Ambassadors focuses on narrative techniques and shows the relationship between narrative and meaning.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. A classic biography. Places The Ambassadors in the context of James’s biography, showing its place in James’s life and in his stylistic development. Good for those interested in biographical criticism.

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