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.)