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The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors by Henry James
By: (1843-1916)

Henry James considered The Ambassadors his best, or perhaps his best-wrought, novel. It plays on the great Jamesian theme of Americans abroad, who finds themselves in an older, and some would say richer and more sophisticated, culture that that of the United States. The protagonist is Lambert Strether, a man in his fifties, editor of a small literary magazine in the manufacturing town of Woollett, Massachusetts, who arrives in Europe on a mission undertaken at the urging of his patron, Mrs. Newsome, to bring home her son Chadwick. That young man appears to be enjoying his time in Paris rather more than seems good for him, at least to those older and wiser. The novel, however, is really about Strether's education in this old world. One of his teachers is the city of Paris and its society, in which Chad Newsome has become so immersed. Yet for all its beauties and attractions, this is a real Paris, not an idealized one, a Paris with its own superficialities and dangers. From it Strether has much to learn, and its lessons are perhaps not always those that Chad himself has drawn, pleasant as they might at first seem.
Had Strether his life to live over again, knowing what he has now learned, how different would it be?

NOTE: The Gutenberg text, from which this is read, is that of the 1909 New York edition of James's works, and includes his own long Preface at its start. This is less a conventional preface than an essay by James on the novel and its making, and indeed assumes some familiarity with the work. A listener, therefore, might prefer to start right away with the first chapter, saving the Preface for later.

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