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The Ambassadors (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Mar 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (27 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441320
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 454,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry James was born in 1843 in Washington Place, New York, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father was a prominent theologian and philosopher and his elder brother, William, is also famous as a philosopher. He attended schools in New York and later in London, Paris and Geneva, entering the Law School at Harvard in 1862. In 1865 he began to contribute reviews and short stories to American journals. In 1875, after two prior visits to Europe, he settled for a year in Paris, where he met Flaubert, Turgenev and other literary figures. However, the next year he moved to London, where he became so popular in society that in the winter of 1878-9 he confessed to accepting 107 invitations. In 1898 he left London and went to live at Lamb House, Rye, Sussex. Henry James became a naturalized citizen in 1915, was awarded the Order of Merit and died in 1916.

In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote some twenty novels, the first published being Roderick Hudson (1875). They include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.


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?He is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry.? ?Graham Greene

Book Description

Henry James considered his late novel The Ambassadors (1903) 'quite the best, 'all round'' of all his works. This volume based on the first book edition provides extensive annotations, a detailed textual history of the work and a full introduction exploring the novel's literary, cultural and historical contexts. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Huggenkiss on 11 April 2011
Format: Paperback
I have never read a Henry James work that I haven't had to restart more than a couple of times before reaching the lightbulb moment of understanding. I was even afraid it would never come in 'The Ambassadors'. James's prose is at its densest and most convoluted here, and demands large amounts of concentration, but once you are 'in', you'll be glad you made the effort. It is a beautiful, comic, ironic, subtley-drawn story of a man's personal crisis in the afternoon of his life, set against the background of one of the most artistic, romantic and complex cities in the world.

Lambert Strether is 'our friend' - an amiable, naive, middle-aged American charged with the retrieval of his 'friend's' - the formidable Mrs Newsome's - son, Chad, from his suspected immoral lifestyle in Paris. Strether's personal, social and economic future all hang on his successfully prying Chad away and bringing him safely back to the family nest, where the family business and a strategic marriage await him. However, all does not go according to plan. Seduced by the charms of Paris and its delightful inhabitants, Strether experiences something of a second youth, throwing himself giddily into the social life of a city that is worlds apart from his conservative, uptight, native home of Woollett. So dazzled is Strether that he allows himself to be pleasantly manipulated and exploited by those around him, whose personal interests are in direct opposition to his own. Poor Strether is always several paces behind, and doesn't seem to know what's good for him, but this makes him all the more loveable.

James' linguistic style is at its most extravagant here - every utterance, glance, movement, or silence, is dissected, analysed, and contrasted ad nauseam.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dolphin TOP 50 REVIEWER on 23 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'll be honest: this book does not "flow". Many years ago I read James' short stories, "The Portrait of a Lady" and "The Wings of the Dove", and carried with me the memory of a fabulous word-smith with a knack for making the inconceivable gradually become the inevitable. I was fascinated by his sardonic and non-judgemental insight into human behaviour as shaped by the stony rules of society. These qualities are still present in "The Ambassadors" but their immediate impact is nearly submerged in a narrative style so full of incidental and parenthetic sentences that I had to read each paragraph several times to fully comprehend it. As James excelled at social satire, I am tempted to conclude that this late work (which he apparently declared to be his best) is in fact a huge joke to see just how much he could get away with in over-bloated prose before any of his admirers called his bluff.

Back to the novel: the premise is that a wealthy young American, who has been living in splendid idleness in Paris, must now return to his provincial home town to assume control of the family business. Strether, who is engaged to the young man's widowed mother, is dispatched with strict instructions to detach Chad from the unsuitable French lady he is suspected of being entangled with, and to bring him back to face his responsibilities, upon penalty of losing a fortune.

Character development is interesting but superficial. Most of the characters are pretentious stereotypes and, on closer acquaintance, hold no surprises and, since morals and socially correct behaviour have changed so much, it requires a huge amount of imagination to understand the motivation that moved these people to act the way they did. Consequently I did not develop any great interest in their doings or their fate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mike Collins on 13 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback
My review will not quote any of HJ's magnificently long-winded sentences, though it is tempting and others here have yielded. Neither will it reprise the story, which is best appreciated by reading the damned thing. No, I come with three huge spoilers which those of a nervous disposition may wish to heed before they decide whether to take the plunge or not. 1) The hero (Lambert Strether), while wandering around Notre Dame, bumps into someone he knows. 2) The hero, while paying a visit to the hotel room of his potential stepdaughter, finds his potential step-granddaughter there instead. 3) The hero (and this is the big one), while enjoying a day in the countryside, bumps into two people he knows and has dinner with them. If you can cope with such roller-coaster plotting then you may have nerve enough to enjoy the rest of this account of a middle-aged man struggling to make things out while having a ball as he does so. It's sobering to remember, though, that a mere 11 years and not so many miles separate this story of the idle Parisian beau monde from the bloodiest scenes of mass-killing Europe has ever witnessed. Read - it's a mistake not to!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William Shardlow on 3 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Like my fellow one star reviewer, Ruth O'D, I also found this too difficult. Like her, I'm happy reading big novels, like War & Peace. But I found James' sentences impenetrable to normal reading. Of course, given ten minutes, we can all parse the sentence that Ruth quotes into simpler sentences. But why doesn't James do that job? Writing long, difficult sentences doesn't add to the artistry. One sees why Hemingway was always making this point! Try the magnificent For Whom the Bell Tolls to see the contrast.
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