The Ambassadors
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The Ambassadors

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  6,033 ratings  ·  325 reviews
The second of James's three late masterpieces, was, in its author's opinion, "the best, all round, of my productions."
Paperback, 503 pages
Published December 12th 1985 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1903)
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“The Ambassadors”, by Henry James

This is Daisy Fuentes Miller, reporting to you live from the set of MTV’s “Real World Gay Paree”. Six strangers, from totally different backgrounds, thrown together, forced to live under the merciless glare of the Hankcam, which documents their every move for posterity. Let’s see what happens when the gloves come off, and things get real.

Strether: Hi. I’m Strether. I’m engaged to Chad’s mom. She’s pissed at him, and sent me over to bring him back to Connecticut...more
It is important to remember that Henry James's later works (his "major phase") are very much the roots of "modern literature" (whatever that means), and should be read in the same way as Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, Joyce's Ulysses, Woolf's The Waves and Mrs. Dalloway: which is to say: slowly savored. James himself was cognizant of this and admonished his readers to read only five pages a day (a challenge which I found impossible, but rather read in small-ish bits over each day). In B...more
Jee Koh
A Perched Privacy

I finish reading this novel feeling exalted and cowed by what a man may accomplish in a work of fiction. Human relationships, so various, so changing, so beautiful, are so variously, changeably and beautifully conceived here that they constitute a cause for moral uplift and terror. Flying from an apparent bedrock of ethical certainties, fine discriminations flutter in the air, and cannot find a sure place to land. All (a word that punctuates the novel like an orgasmic cry) is gu...more
Elizabeth Urello
I’m sure Henry James is a genius and all, but untangling his prose is like trying to talk to a verbose, over-educated person who’s drunk off his ass but refuses to pass out. For example, he might start off with “The effect of the man’s speech was as if he were a tippler who…” then meanders here, there, and over there to the other bar, and then wanders back toward you, but veering off at the last second, borrows several drinks (by which I mean to imply words) off surrounding tables (by which I me...more
What a tremendous load of over-articulated crap.
The only reason to write such shite in the era of early Picasso, Freud, Einstein and many other giants of early 20th century is to try to carve out some sort of semblance of a reason to exist...when there really is none. It's one idiot writing about his brethren and sisters for his brethren and sisters. It was published as a serial in The North American Review for minor (read: wannabe) intellectuals in New England in 1903.
Truly an example of the b...more
Genia Lukin
That's it. I must accept this. I am chronically unable to understand what he's actually saying. It's as though he is writing in a language I haven't studied; some sort of pidgin that throws in a few words of English here and there. I freely admit defeat, and add James-lexia to my store of Kafkaphobia and Joyce-pathia.
This book was an unfortunate first read of Henry James.

I was impressed by his elegent prose, his literary techniques like the way he wrote the dialouge, how the writer/narrator came in to the story. "our friend Mr Strether" here and there. I could appreciate intelligently what what he was doing technically but his storytelling in this novel didnt work for me. The surface story was weak to me and the themes,ideas he wrote about have been done better.
Its a novel imho that haven't dated nearly as...more
Are you a Henry James fan? Well, one has to be a bit possessed and a very good parser of the Jamesian sentence to qualify. I just finished The Ambassador one of his last three books: the other two are The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. No doubt he is the most intellectual and introspective of writers, but I adore him. He is absolutely his character, Lewis Lambert Strether sent as an ambassador by his New England Doyen friend to retrieve her wayward son from the clutches of an evil Frenc...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 01, 2014 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Good Reading: 100 Significant Books
I'd read that Henry James had a very distinct split in styles, and that accordingly readers often differ greatly in which style they like. The only other book by Henry James I had read before this was Washington Square, one of his early novels, and it's a favorite--but that made me all the more reluctant to try one of his later novels and feel disappointed. I don't know if disappointment describes how I feel about The Ambassadors, one of his late and most celebrated novels. Bored and frustrated...more
This is the most difficult James I have read yet. Unlike his other books, "The Ambassadors" was not easy and engaging. I feel like this book was dedicated to a pursuit of complexity in conversation - I regularly reread passages to understand his meaning. Despite that and perhaps because of this conversational bent, the book itself is immensely enjoyable. It was like reading a play - there is a great deal of time devoted to setting scenes and frames of mind, internal soliloquys, and copious inter...more
Bill Hammack
I love Henry James, but he is an acquired taste. I have read the Ambassadors three times, and parts of it many times. While working in DC - 2005 - I got two copies: One for home and one for my office - a few years ago I added a third copy to my office at home.. I followed James advice and read it five pages a day being careful "not to break the thread." I did break the thread twice - so I read it in three extended chunks. (I read five pages a day at the State Department -- if anyone saw me I was...more
William Ramsay
I've decided to read Henry James. He's considered one of our greatest writers, after all. Up until now I've found him almost impenetrable. But I've decided to try. This is the first in the eight books I've chosen.
Two impressions came to mind as I was reading. One was remembering as a young man my friends telling me I just had to meet these certain people who were oh so interesting and advanced. Meeting them never lived up to expectations. They were always just ordinary - or worse utter bores f...more
I didn't finish this book. I would have pushed on through it, but I was reading a collection of Henry James essays at the same time, and when I got to the point where he was criticizing Joseph Conrad (my beloved Joseph Conrad!!) for demanding too much concentration from "the common reader," I figured to heck with it. James demands WAY more concentration from readers of The Ambassadors than Conrad has ever asked of anyone, and with absolutely NO reward of a delicious plot or anything AT ALL excit...more
Henry James and I have what might best be termed as a slightly troubled relationship. I adore The Portrait of a Lady, having read it with pleasure several times, but struggle (not literally, but metaphorically) with his intensely self-centered characters in his later works, The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. Perhaps now is just not my time for the latter two. Whatever the case may be, I fail to comprehend how an author as life-affirming as the Henry James who wrote The Ambassadors could...more
"Nessun privilegio del narratore di storie e del burattinaio é più delizioso, o ha piú della sospensione e dell'eccitazione di un giuoco difficile giuocato senza fiato, di questo cercare l'invisibile e l'occulto, in uno schema afferrato a metà, con la luce o, per così dire, l'aroma persistente, dell'oggetto che si ha in mano." (Dalla prefazione dell'autore)

Un americano di provincia viene mandato dalla ricchissima donna che vuole sposare e che é anche sua datrice di lavoro a recuperare il figliol...more
The Ambassadors Henry James (1909) #27

January 25, 2008

If James were to get paid, say, a dime for every comma, and a quarter for every semicolon that he ever wrote, I’m sure that he would have made more money off this fictitious punctuation propriety than he ever got paid for all of his books. Check this out (form the second page of the novel):
“There were people on the ship with whom he had easily - so far as ease could, up to now, be imputed to him – consorted, and who for the most part plunge...more
Chad Walker
Holy Christ, this thing took me forever. Not sure if I just don't have the attention span I used to, but I remember reading Portrait of a Lady in college and kind of enjoying it. At least being able to understand it. Now, I love reading Proust from time to time, so I'm no stranger to run-on clauses that split apart and spiral away and take you far away from where the sentence began, but I just could not keep up with whole pages of this book. I liked the interesting twist on the coming of age tal...more
I'm still not entirely sure what this book was about.I had a very difficult time following the conversations between the characters and sifting through ALL of the words to even catch the general plot. This one was a lot of work, with little payout.
Constance A. Dunn
I found some obscure article (forgive me, I can't remember where) that stated James wanted the reader to only read five pages of "The Ambassadors" at a time. That's what I did and it took an eternity.
The language is rich, maybe too rich, too aware of its richness, too well-chosen to be a true stream-of-counsciousness, but nevertheless I did have to look up a word or two and notate them down to reuse myself later.

Our friend Strether is the picture of the 20th century American upper class male,...more
Henry James said The Ambassadors is his best novel and it deserves a place among the greatest novels written by American authors. Yet it probably is not the novel that American readers in particular should begin reading James, for James writes not in the American idiom, but in the rather foreign—to American ears—Received Standard English (RSE) of the British Isles.

In American literature after Mark Twain, hardly anyone other than William Faulkner has routinely written sentences of the complexity...more
Mitchel Broussard
Did I finish it? Not gonna lie: no. But did I get farther than I ever got for any book I never wanted to read for school? Hell yes. 73% farther according to Goodreads. And I get all the hubbub about James. His style in this book forces the reader to slow down, go back over, re-evaluate how you see what you're reading just like Strether is re-evaluating his entire life. I get it. It's so meta I might barf. But that doesn't excuse the way it comes off as pious and disgustingly pretentious. I mean...more
When I finished The Ambassadors last year, I felt too ambivalent to write a review. I still feel that ambivalence strongly, and am ready to hazard that its source is James' own ambivalence about his subject matter. I'm convinced there's a deep vein of romanticism in his make-up, by which I mean the conviction that life is a glorious and joyous affair if only one has the courage to hold fast, and live according to certain key values. As evidence, he loved the play Cyrano de Bergerac. But somethin...more
My word – what a compositionally dense book! Even the dialogue requires a level of energy and attention to innuendo and nuance that discourages any hopes of a light read. The sentence structure inflects the heaviest meaning on a single pronoun at times, which requires an ever vigilant awareness.

Strether’s own perception must be copied by the reader to notice and appreciate the minutae of inferences and unspoken languages. Marie (Madame de Vionnet) is a mesmerizing figure simply because we see he...more
The Ambassadors is not a charming book, though it is full of charm. The syntax is notoriously difficult in places, though not beyond the pale of what was being done by more emotionally direct authors like Proust. The plot is simple and almost classical in its staging, with an elegance that is absent in the stereotypically sprawling, 'loose, baggy monsters' of 19th and early 20th century fiction. From one angle, this simple, almost predictable story (a predictability that James addresses in one o...more
Dec 27, 2010 Veronica rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Veronica by: Modern Library's 100 Best Novels
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
"I seem to have a life only for other people." JAMES!

There is nothing like the way James gets at what is unspoken. And, how very little "happens" in a James novel as one typically thinks of plot; still, so much has happened in the interior lives of his characters. What "happens" to the central characters is partly manipulated by, arranged through, and also "happens" to all the other characters surrounding them. It's scary work: this positioning and repositioning--what is going on with you is goi...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in July 2000.

One of James' late novels, The Ambassadors is in some ways an experiment in minimalism. The plot is rudimentary (a rich woman sends emissaries from Wollett, USA to Paris to disentangle her son from an unsuitable relationship), background virtually non-existent (most chapters are principally dialogue), and the characters ciphers. It is only the interactions between the characters which are interesting - and even these tell us virtually nothing abo...more
When Strether travels to Paris in order to rescue his fiancée's son (if Mrs Newsome is not Strether's fiancée, then I understood this book less than I thought) from an undesirable situation involving a dubious woman (or so everybody thinks), he thinks he will be able to control everything. Only that, he's not counting on Chad Newsome's cunning, some women's charms and, of course, Paris with its marvels. And nothing will go according to plan.

This is the general view of what this book is about; it...more
This is not a review so much as a reaction. This is a great and surprising book. BUT, not one to take with you as your only book on a three-week Italian vacation: you need time, commitment, and above all focused attention to get anything out of it. You may think you'll want to do the whole Jamesian youngish-female-American-in-Europe thing, and have his lovely thoughts mirroring your own inevitable self-revelation, but in fact, when you aren't busy DOING the whole youngish-female-American-in-Euro...more
Ginny Sharkey
Ok, I KNOW this is great literature and all, but it was like reading through a bowlful of jello - lots of effort to slog through a dense medium.
After reading the forward, I knew I was going to need some help - so I read the synopsis ahead of time - which I highly recommend. Knowing what was happening (It wasn't a complicated story line) allowed me to simply pay attention to the language and the occasionally very sharp humor that James sprinkles through this too-long novel. Written on the theory...more
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the...more
More about Henry James...
The Portrait of a Lady The Turn of the Screw Daisy Miller The Wings of the Dove Washington Square

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“Live all you can: it's a mistake not to. It doesn't matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had?” 138 likes
“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? … I haven’t done so enough before—and now I'm too old; too old at any rate for what I see. … What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. … Still, we have the illusion of freedom; therefore don't be, like me, without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don’t quite know which. Of course at present I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. … Do what you like so long as you don't make my mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!” 31 likes
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