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The American (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 1 Apr 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192833227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192833228
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,110,120 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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Amazon Review

Henry James' great theme is the collision of cultures, of New World American energy encountering Old World European aristocracy; and his supreme skill is in the delineation of the unspoken subtleties that govern human interaction-- the meanings behind people's words, the delicate signals by which people communicate more than the conventions of conversation or society allow.

The American is built around a moral dilemma that dramatises this clash of cultures. Wealthy, open-hearted Christopher Newman (the New Man in the Old World) visits Paris and falls in love with impoverished French aristocrat, Claire de Cintre. However, her snobbish family bully her into breaking off the engagement. When Newman discovers that his former fiancée's family are hiding a dark secret, corrupt Old World morals suggest he should use it to take his revenge; but his simpler American sense tells him that this would be wrong. What should he do? The fine touch with which James explores the complexities of this scenario markes an extraordinary advance over his first novel, Roderick Hudson; and The American looks forward to the mature classics of James' middle period, books like Daisy Miller and Portrai t of a Lady--all novels that explore the classic Jamesian theme of Americans in Europe. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Henry James was born in 1843 in new York, with Scottish and Irish ancestry. Having studied in New York and Europe, he became a lawyer, and started writing in 1865. Spending time in Paris he knew Flaubert and Turgenev, before moving to London and then Sussex. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


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ON a brilliant day in May, of the year 1868, a gentleman was reclining at his ease on the great circular divan which at that period occupied the centre of the Salon Carre, in the Museum of the Louvre. Read the first page
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wealthy Christopher Newman, a self-made not-yet-middle-aged American business man, visits Paris on a long holiday in order to enjoy immersion in the art and culture of the `Old World.' He's the `ideal' American, tall, good looking, friendly and with a sense of fairness; so right from the beginning we take an interest in his wellbeing. The interest deepens when by Chapter Three the reader learns that Newman is looking for a wife. No delay here; James moves on quickly. Through the auspices of Mrs Tristram, a friend's wife, Newman meets Madame Claire de Cintre, the alluring widowed daughter of the de Bellegardes, an old highly aristocratic albeit impecunious family. Will his suit be successful? Will his millions compensate for his commercial background? Will the crabby old Marquise and Claire's haughty brother the young Marquis de Bellegarde allow the marriage? Can they lower themselves to that extent?

James' third novel continues the theme introduced in its predecessor, that of Americans in Europe and the consequent interaction of New World culture and manners with the Old. Newman's good nature elicits our sympathy as he struggles against blatant rudeness and ambivalent hostility for acceptance by the family who control the woman he loves. And he has no allies save for the Tristrams, and Valentin the younger de Bellegarde brother whose tragic demise Newman brings about quite unconsciously having introduced him to the provocative Madamoiselle Noemie Nioche.

It's a novel with a plot, unfolding smoothly with each chapter taking the story forward from the previous in an unbroken line. It's couched in clear unadorned prose that is an absolute joy to read. The sub-plots, barely noticeable as such, interact relevantly with the main thrust and are an interest without being a diversion.
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By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This edition is the New York Edition version, where Henry James had revised the original story (as he did with most of his tales). The story already shows the main theme that James always came back to time and time again, the disparity between the New and Old Worlds.

It is 1868 and Christopher Newman has arrived in Paris after selling up all his business interests in the US. Feeling that he neeeded a change in life Newman has decided to visit Europe. Whilst arranging to buy a copy of a painting he meets up with an old acquaintance and has dinner with him and his wife. It is his friend's wife who gets Newman interested in Claire de Cintre, a widower from a unhappy previous marriage. Claire de Cintre is from a very old family, the Bellegardes, who have fallen on hard times. Although things look like they are going all right between Newman and Claire can her family reconcile themselves to an alliance between a nouveu riche with no title?

This is a romance that starts off quite light and frothy but by degrees becomes much darker, taking in family duty, a skeleton in the closet and, pride; becoming a serious melodrama that starts to show those subtlties that James is famous for. This isn't by any degree the best of James' novels but it is still way and above more eloquent and better than most novels.
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Format: Paperback
"The American" by Henry James is a romance for both people who love romances and those who do not. Set in late nineteenth century Paris, it combines a love story with the struggle between a new, wealthy American and an old, traditional French family over the lovely daughter of the family.
The story involves Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman, during the Paris portion of his European tour. Romance seems be a large part of what he is looking for. The first suggestion that he may have found it occurs in his encounter with the artist, Noemie Nioche. This turns out to be merely a passing fancy. Things get more serious when his American friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tristan put him in contact with an attractive young widow, Claire de Cintre.
Madame de Cintre, nee Bellegarde, whose first marriage had been arranged to an elderly nobleman who gave her a title, but little else. Upon meeting Newman, both seem to find what they are looking for in the world of romance. As the story develops it becomes clear that it is sufficient for Newman to win Claire but that he must also win over her family, which consisted of her mother, Madame de Bellegarde and her brother, Urbaine, the Marquis de Bellegarde.
The House of Bellegarde was full of pride and tradition, but short of money. As the Bellegardes size up Newman, it becomes obvious that they are weighing the sale of their pride for Newman's money. Ultimately they reach their decision. In their last meeting, Claire informed Newman of that she was to become a nun. Although shocked, Newman could not persuade Claire to break free of her family's rule and breath the free air which comes so naturally to an American.
Given one piece of evidence, Newman attempts to recover Claire back through blackmail.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x94d47990) out of 5 stars 34 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94d5f660) out of 5 stars Subtle Satisfying Brilliance 31 July 2001
By Mercy Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is long, but only because that's how James tells the story. It's like a soup that needs to boil all day, so it's kept on low, but when it's done, it's perfect. The book stays at the pace of "our hero" the American Christopher Newman. A smart, educated, rich, yet easy going, simple, and humane veteran of the Civil War and a self made tycoon, who goes to Europe to see the "treasures and entertain" himself.
He becomes entangled in what he thinks is a simple plan for matrimony, but is really truly a great deal larger and more treacherous and terrible than that.
We spend a lot of time in Newman's mind, paragraphs of character analaysis are sprung upon us, but nothing seems plodding or slow, nothing feels useless. By the end of the book we find that we think like the character and can only agree with what he does. We react to seemingly big plot twists and events as he does, without reaction, and a logical, common sense train of thought.
But don't misunderstand that. For a book that is so polite and the essence of "slow-reaction", it is heartwrenching and tragic. You will cry, you will wonder, and you will ask yourself questions. Colorful, lifelike, and exuberant characters fight for your attention and your emotions, and we are intensely endeared to them. Emotional scenes speckle the book and are just enough. And the fact that something terrible and evil exists in this story hangs over your head from the beginning. It's hard to guess what happens because James doesn't give us many clues, and the ending may come as a surprise to some people. And without us knowing it, James is comparing American culture to European culture (of the day), and this in of itself is fulfilling.
Indeed, James uses every page he has, without wasting any on detailed landscapes and useless banter. 2 pages from the end you have a wrenching heartache, but the last paragraph and page is utterly and supremely satisfying, and you walk away the way Newman walks away, at peace.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95326b7c) out of 5 stars Fabulous story, French vs. American culture shock 9 Feb. 2001
By lisatheratgirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have this friend who hates Henry James. I can't understand it. The style is dated, in that people dont write that way today, but as you get into the book you begin to enjoy the style, as well as the plot, characters, and French/American dual culture shock that still goes on today. (For an update on the theme, look at Le Divorce and Le Mariage by Diane Johnson). I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen to these characters and the description of Paris in the Second Empire were fascinating. If you watch the Masterpiece Theatre version without having read the book, you will be totally confused. They moved events out of sequence all over the place and after about ten minutes I shut off the tape and picked up the book. You have to know the whole story before you watch them throw characters and events at you in the first two scenes that only appear 2/3 of the way through the novel, after a foundation has been laid as to who they are and when and why things happened.
I couldnt recommend this more for a good read. The only caution I have is for readers who have never been to France. They may get an extremely negative impression of French people from many of the characters in this book. Go to Paris and you will find the city is wonderful, and so are the French people. These characters are not typical!! They belong to a certain class, and the book does take place 150 years ago. If this book doesnt get you hooked on James, I dont know what will. Try Washington Square and dont miss that movie, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney and Maggie Smith.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x957b4b40) out of 5 stars Beauty and the Beast 8 Dec. 2004
By Jane Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is about a successful American businessman in his thirties who leaves the USA, having made his fortune in copper and railroads, to travel around Europe and to find a wife. He encounters an old friend in the Louvre who takes him home and introduces him to his own interesting wife. Mrs. Tristram takes Christopher happily under her wing, absorbs him into her circle of friends, and tells him of an old friend who'd be just the perfect wife for him - a young and beautiful widowed countess of unimpeachable descent. Christopher meets Claire de Cintré and from that moment his one obsession is to marry her.

An attractive hero, he possesses remarkable talents. In fact he has pretty well every virtue except exalted antecedents; he is, for example, tall, good-looking, urbane, well-mannered, forthright, intelligent, thoughtful, considerate, persistent, good-natured, generous and rich. At their first meeting he conquers Claire sufficiently to be allowed to continue to visit her, instead of being shown the door. Actually, his dogged audacity is pretty amazing; he simply asks her to marry him after about the fifth meeting, because he wants everything to be above-board. She says No and he promises not to mention the matter for another six months. He then succeeds in making a bargain with her mother and brother, the most rigid and narrow dyed-in-the-wool aristocrats, that they will not stand in his way or say anything against him until she accepts his hand. Marquise and marquis make no secret of their dislike of him ("a commercial person"), nor of their horror and disgust at the entire proposition. These are two different worlds. Christopher is aware of it but is confident that their differences can be overcome; after all he is very rich and he knows this is important to them. He sees no reason why sensible individuals would not agree in time to a straightforward and sensible offer.

Matters seem to proceed well or better than can be expected, and when the six months are up Claire graciously accepts Christopher's proposal. A dramatic turn of events, however, obstructs their happy plans.

Henry James is a joy for those who like a sedate plot to unfold slowly, carefully and thoroughly. His psychological observations are minute; his characters drawn with deftest strokes, and one or two lighter subplots fill out the general late-Victorian picture. Bigoted aristocrats, unprincipled upstarts, impulsive young noblemen, impassive secret-keepers, loquacious duchesses, these and many other finely-drawn characters fill the pages of this enthralling story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94d5f9fc) out of 5 stars When Man Meets Woman, and Money and Social Status Clash . . . 27 Nov. 2007
By Lloyd Sakazaki - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What does a confident, energetic, single, self-made American millionaire do after amassing a fortune while still in his thirties? In the case of Christopher Newman, the good-natured, optimistic protagonist in Henry James' The American (published 1877), our hero (as James labels him) takes his money and makes on an extended visit to Europe, in search of culture, amusement and excitement to complement his exceedingly practical commercial past. The primary storyline centers on Newman's tireless efforts to marry a French woman, Claire, who is the woman of his dreams. Although the relationship goes passably well at first, despite obvious differences between Newman's straightforward American ways and Claire's aristocratic family, events abruptly take a turn for the worse about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Ultimately, Newman's "commercial side" is too much for the class-conscious Bellegardes to bear, and Claire is forced to reject Newman and retreat to the confines of a nunnery.

For anyone with an interest in understanding the clash of American and European society, values and culture, particularly in the late 19th century, The American is a worthwhile read. While the language and style of the work are at times a bit tedious, James' classic novel succeeds in elevating a common literary theme--man meets woman--onto a higher, more expansive cross-cultural stage. Though a happier resolution may have made for a more popular work of fiction, the realistic, less romanticized ending, with Newman pensive and melancholic and Claire cloistered away and out-of-touch in the nunnery, is exemplary of our universal human condition--a bittersweet affair in which openness and honesty do not necessarily win out over the inevitable prejudices, societal norms and sometimes even ill intentions of others.

One element of the story that I was hoping to find but did not was at least an inkling of how Newman, Claire, the Bellegardes or any other character in the novel go about finding a sense of "deeper meaning" in life. Newman has money but seeks an ideal wife. Claire appears to have the choice of marrying but is really being controlled by her family and ends up seeking solace (and maybe even emotional freedom?) in religion. The Bellegarde family have social status but are too embroiled in internal strife to be content. Beyond his cross-cultural (American versus European) social commentary, could James also be hinting that neither money, nor status, nor family, nor religion can bring us lasting satisfaction? If not any of the above, toward what higher objective should we all--individuals and societies alike---spend our waking hours striving toward?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94d5fabc) out of 5 stars Still True Because it is Great Literature 20 Feb. 2001
By K.E. Culbertson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Having recently been exposed to European aristocracy, I found reading this book, as an American, irresistible. I disagree with reviewers who say there is no longer tension between French and American ideology as manifest on a daily interactive level. It's still there. Many Americans view the French as rude and cynical (not unlike the reviewer from Jamaica, New York), whilst the French, perhaps rightly, view Americans as hopelessly naive and 'gauche'. As James's book attests, this isn't a recent phenomenon, and the exploration of the roots of it is fascinating. I do agree that much of the conflict stems from class distinction, but James' own interpretative notes indicate an interest in exploring the clash of ideologies, and he chose the aristocracy because it was that facet of European civilization most "entrenched" in the old ways of thinking vis a vis' the new, American viewpoint. The narrative style is smooth. I thought the prose more attractive than that in 'Portrait of a Lady', for instance, which was almost Teutonic in its abhorrence of placing verbs at the beginning stages of the sentences.
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