Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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. 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...

(The entire section is 669 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 869 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 976 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 686 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 922 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

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

Today: The internet is being...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 178 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 357 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 444 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 154 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 359 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

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

(The entire section is 606 words.)


(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.


(The entire section is 288 words.)