Sunshine's Reviews > The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors by Henry James
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's review
Jul 28, 2011

really liked it

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 her through Strether’s eyes. It would be more balanced to see her through another viewpoint – Waymarsh’s perhaps. Madame de Vionnet encapsulates all of the complexities and devotion of the best qualities in the female heart. Yet she is a tragic figure because her future is shaded with ominous tones, despite Chad’s vigorous assertions of his own allegiance. I think there is another woman in London that Chad is seeing, and Madame de Vionnet has let herself go too deeply in the waters of adoration. As Strether so characteristically observes in a moment of acute perception, she has lost herself to him forever to the degree that she is now afraid of him. She is afraid of the power that he now yields, whether consciously or not, over her.

Hence, she is a tragic figure. But this only adds to her appeal in the novel.

Paris itself yields more to the eye and mind than its stereotypical ‘face-value glamour’. Paris holds the opportunity for the range of moral sensitivity to be developed in a process of perusal and sifting. Verbal and bodily communication contrasts sharply with the American moral sensibility and restraint that Strether is used to in Woolet.

This is what Paris seems to ultimately represent beyond the face glamour that the media so often conveys. Well, to be more conclusive, I did enjoy the book, thought at times Strether’s narrative was so tedious and elaborate that I wished things could be more concise and direct.
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