Book #27-The Ambassadors by Henry James

Okay, so I had a bit of a sour taste in my mouth after reading James’ The Wings of the Dove, but I truly went into The Ambassadors hopeful that I would enjoy something from his repertoire.  Sadly, I did not.  As a matter of fact, it was akin to being stuck at a party listening to a  very dull person chattering on while trying to plan an escape route.

I again found my thoughts wandering and had to frequently reread several sentences and pages.  I admit I may have missed some excellent prose as I was far away throughout my read of this novel.

The protagonist, Lewis Lambert Strether is sent to Paris to collect the son of his fiance so he may return to Massachusetts where it is hoped he will run the family business.  I believe he was meant to be an aging gentleman who had reached a point in his life where he was questioning the value of his life.  I found him to be somewhat of a dullard.

Maria Gostrey befriends Strether in Paris and becomes his confidante.  She aids him in his endeavor and eventually falls in love with him (why is a mystery to me).  This could and should have been a very alluring and interesting character, but James failed to bring substance to her.

Chad Newsome is the sought after son of Strether’s betrothed who is enjoying the artist’s life in gay Paris.  The 28-year-old lad is having an affair with a 38-year-old French woman.  His character lacks true substance.  He inexplicably  leaves his mistress and life in Paris to return to the family’s business without ceremony.

A book riddled with lifeless characters whose actions dumbfounded this reader.


Four of the letters were from Mrs. Newsome and none of them short; she had lost not time, he now could measure the probable frequency with which he should hear.  They would arrive, it would seem, her communications, at the rate of several a week; he should be able to count, it might even prove, on more than one by each mail.  If he had begun yesterday with a small grievance he had therefore an opportunity to begin to-day with its opposite.  He read the letters successively and slowly, putting others back into his pocket but keeping these for a long tie afterwards gathered in his lap.  He held them there, lost in thought, as if to prolong the presence of what they gave him; or as if at the least to assure them their part in the constitution of some lucidity.

He wasn’t there for his own profit–not, that is, the direct; he was there on some chance of feeling the brush of the wing of the stray spirit of youth.  He felt it in fact, he had it beside him; the old arcade indeed, as his inner sense listened, gave out the faint sound, as from far off, of the wild waving of wings.

I’m now not really so certain that I would  enjoy speaking with Mr. James.  Dare I say, If I saw him sitting in a corner alone at some such gathering, I think I’d have the wits about me to make a retreat, post haste!

My rating for The Ambassadors is a 4 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.



Filed under The Ambassadors

2 responses to “Book #27-The Ambassadors by Henry James

  1. All I know about this book is that it was the inspiration for The Talented Mr. Ripley. Bummer you didn’t like it 😦

    • vsudia

      I didn’t see the film, but with Matt Damon, its likely a good one. Unfortunately, I have not become a fan of Henry James after reading 2 of his novels, back to back.

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