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The Ambassadors

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  9,408 Ratings  ·  438 Reviews
The Ambassadors, which Henry James considered his best work, is the most exquisite refinement of his favorite theme: the collision of American innocence with European experience. This time, James recounts the continental journey of Louis Lambert Strether--a fiftysomething man of the world who has been dispatched abroad by a rich widow, Mrs. Newsome. His mission: to save he ...more
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 1903)
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Henry Avila
Lewis Lambert Strether,55, a prim widower, considers himself a failure, completely dependent on the kindness of wealthy widow, and still attractive, Mrs.Newsome, from fictional, Woollett, Massachusetts, his fiancee, for a living (set circa 1900) , he's the editor of a small magazine review, that is financed by her, owner of a company that manufactures.... it is never said, in the novel. Sent by Mrs. Newsome ( thus the title ,"The Ambassadors," there will be others), to get her son, the immature ...more
Jun 29, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
“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
Henry James has taken circumlocution and obfuscation to new heights in this novel. I don’t often rate a book an ungenerous two stars, but this novel was in many ways an impossible book for me. I appreciate the architecture of James’s novel: the beauty of Paris as a backdrop for temporarily exiled Americans to meet and discover, or not, the underlying theme: ‘knowing how to live’. But I never felt the intended drama, or the sudden discovery of self, partly because I nearly drowned in James’s nebu ...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
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
Jun 09, 2015 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: henry-james

I have been reading quite a bit of James. Last year, I audio’d The Bostonians and Washington Square. I read The Aspen Papers, reread Beast in the Jungle, and read Turn of the Screw (which I disliked -- found it excruciating). And then this spring read a large collection of James’ stories (ed. Fadiman), then Wings of the Dove, and now The Ambassadors. I love the late James... Even though these books are long, and there is a certain degree of artificiality in the dialogue (much worse in Dove; much
Reading The Ambassadors is like progressing through a circular maze. The reader roams around the edges at first, coming up frequently against dead ends. Why is Chad Newsome so difficult to figure out? What are the author’s intentions for Maria Gostrey? Will Mrs Newsome, or even her more formidable-sounding daughter Mrs Pocock, make a physical appearance in the story? The enigmas in this early stage are such that if the reader found herself accidentally back at the start she might be tempted to a ...more
Jee Koh
Dec 30, 2008 Jee Koh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 24, 2016 Sketchbook rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: currently
An eternal situation. When I lived in Paris the worried mum of an American girl arrived to get her back to the US. Her daughter, a close friend then, had developed, in one year, a style and manner -- a chic, if you will, far beyond her suburban Baltimore roots. She soon had a romcom with a visiting, married US pol that resulted in a Paris abortion, which we treated w hilarity, and, after a 3d year, returned to America and married. She now lives in the midwest. Is that Jamesian or not?

It's not,
Dec 23, 2008 Johan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Genia Lukin
Oct 16, 2011 Genia Lukin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
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.
Aug 29, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m torn over this one. There is so much to love and admire, and yet so much that annoys.

Regarding the good: the story sophisticatedly deals with a number of very big issues. In particular, how subtle and complex moral relations have become in the modern era. Strether’s gullibility, while a bit too contrived, allows James to spread his narrative out and fill it full of contrasting and elusive subjectivities. Strether is a kind of ideal type: instead of making up his mind and delivering a settle
Mar 06, 2014 Bettie☯ rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC radio listeners
Classic Serial R4x

This novel was originally published as a serial in the North American Review.

BBC BLURB: THE AMBASSADORS, adapted by Graham White from the Henry James novel centres on the predicament of Lambert Strether, a fifty-something New Englander lately arrived in Paris. Henry Goodman stars as the hapless protagonist in a novel many critics find James' finest.

Lambert Strether - Henry Goodman

Directed by Peter Kavanagh.

On the theme of 'retrieving e
I'm a big James fan. Have read and relished him early and late: "The Bostonians," "What Maisie Knew," "Portrait of a Lady," "The Spoils of Poynton," "The Europeans," "Washington Square," "Daisy Miller," "The Turn of the Screw," "The Aspern Papers," and also (late) "Wings of The Dove" and "The Golden Bowl." So was surprised how many times I had to restart "The Ambassadors," how many times I wanted to throw the book aside.

And was it worth it, finally? Only in exposing a crack in my admiration--wh
Sep 03, 2013 Gina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 22, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 25, 2012 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 01, 2014 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was ok  ·  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
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
Bill Hammack
Jan 05, 2013 Bill Hammack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Doreen Petersen
Mar 19, 2016 Doreen Petersen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Very dry and drawn out. I wouldn't bother with this one.
Jul 03, 2013 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 10, 2013 Cat rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
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
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
Jun 29, 2009 Eva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2014 Faye rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
K.M. Weiland
Apr 10, 2015 K.M. Weiland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gets a bad rap, and I can understand why: in typical Jamesian fashion, it’s bloated and ridiculously talky. Everything that happens in it could easily have happened in about a third the space. But the plot is delightful: perfectly paced, thought-provoking, and ultimately surprising. Thematically, it’s a gem, and I totally get why Graham Greene and F. Scott Fitzgerald went against the grain to proclaim their appreciation for it.
Mar 08, 2009 Jenn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub, 2009books
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.
Dec 06, 2016 Ted rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-books
There is a moment in the 2001 film "Zoolander" when fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu, in complete bewilderment at how male model Derek Zoolander can be celebrated for his many "looks," says, "Magnum? Blue Steel? They're the SAME LOOK! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

Such was my response in my attempt to read "The Ambassadors", given its reputation and placement as one of the great novels of the 20th century.

A bit of context before I'm written off as a cretin without the refined sensibilities nee
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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
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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?” 178 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!” 41 likes
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