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The Ambassadors ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (27)

    Dennis Barlow:  Through no wish of my own I have become the protagonist of a Jamesian
    problem.  Do you ever read any Henry James, Mr. Schultz?

    Mr. Schultz:  You know I don't have the time for reading.

    Barlow:  You don't have to read very much of him.  All his stories are about the same
    thing--American innocence and European experience.

    Schultz: Thinks he can outsmart us, does he?

    Barlow:  James was the innocent American.

    Schultz:  Well, I've no time for guys running down their own folks.

            -Evelyn Waugh (The Loved One)(see Orrin's review)

Lewis Lambert Strether, a middle-aged widower from Woollett, MA, has come to
Europe at the request of Mrs. Newsome, who he hopes to marry, in order to fetch
her son Chad home to help in the family manufacturing business. Finding Chad in
Paris, Strether realizes that he is not being corrupted, but is rather being
improved by his experiences. In fact, Paris awakens something in Strether too,
& he urges: "...don't forget that you're young-blessedly young; be glad of it on
the contrary and live up to it. Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It
doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life.
If you haven't had that what have you had? ... This place and these
impressions-mild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my impressions of
Chad and of people I've seen at his place-well have had their abundant message
for me, have just dropped that into my mind. I see it now. I haven't done so
before-and now I'm old; too old at any rate for what I see." He also finds that
Chad has fallen in love with Mme. de Vionnet, a woman of quality & he agrees not
to force Chad to return home.

Meanwhile, Strether has become enamored of Maria Gostrey & she of him, but he
refuses to marry her & returns to America as a kind of penance for not forcing
Chad to leave.

Strether: I must go...to be right.

Maria: To be right?

Strether: That you see, is my only logic. Not, out of the whole affair, to have
got anything for myself.

Maria: But, with your wonderful impressions you'll have got a great deal.

Strether: A great deal. But nothing like you. It's you who would make me wrong!

Thus Henry James.

What is there that a repressed (or closeted homosexual), who loathed his own country, has to tell us, that we need to hear? I think nothing. I sort of liked Turn of the Screw & I'll review it in lieu of The Golden Bowl & I'll give Wings of the Dove a shot because it actually has a decent plot, but I am just mystified by the Henry James revival. His characters are so emotionally constricted and warped that reading him is like climbing into the closet with him. It's an experience I encourage you to avoid.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)

  

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