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The American

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  5,691 ratings  ·  354 reviews
Henry James's third novel is an exploration of his most powerful, perennial theme - the clash between European and American cultures, the Old World and the New. Christopher Newman, a 'self-made' American millionaire in France, falls in love with the beautiful aristocratic Claire de Bellegarde. Her family, however, taken aback by his brash American manner, rejects his propo ...more
Mass Market Paperback, Signet Classics, 400 pages
Published January 4th 2005 by Signet Book (first published 1877)
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Are you the kind of person who enjoys fast-paced melodrama? Fortified castles where dreadful deeds are carried out at midnight? A beautiful heroine who is destined to be buried alive? Evil villains straight out of a gothic romance? No?

Perhaps you are instead the kind of reader who prefers a more sedate narrative full of realistic depictions of everyday life. If you are, you share a trait with Christopher Newman, the American of the title. Though his story is set in the 1860s, Newman
Henry Avila
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An American millionaire businessman arrives in Paris, Christopher Newman, in 1868, to get "Culture," and find the perfect wife, after all he's 36 and lonely, and while walking through the gigantic Louvre museum, the tired man sits down, he views the magnificent paintings surrounding him on the walls. Newman notices too, young, pretty girls, copying these exquisite works, particularly the highly ambitious Noemie Nioche efforts, making an offer to buy the picture, and does, for a greatly inflated ...more

I have felt with "The American" as if I had been watching a balloon inflating. As it gradually gained shape, as this shape expanded and expanded, and as its surface became more and more tense, I experienced a similar tension in my nerves. I was absolutely glued to the pages of this novel out of which this extraordinary balloon was swelling. The strain on its stretching rubber was also elating my expectations. But just as I was anticipating for this balloon to take off and reach the sky and fly i
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels


On a lovely day in May, 1868, Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman, sits down in the Louvre with an aesthetic headache, having seen too many paintings.
A young Parisian copyist, Noémie Nioche, catches his eye, and he agrees to buy the painting she is working on for the extravagant price of 2,000 francs.


Money don't buy everything it's true
But what it don't buy, I can't use
Here's 2000 francs
I wasn't sure I would like any of Henry James' work after reading the acclaimed The Portrait of a Lady and being unable to finish it. Even now, I pulled it off my shelf to give it another go and still, I can't just yet. Portrait of a Lady is a novel said to be one of the greatest 19th Century American realist novels. So pardon my reader obstinacy and humble opinion, James fans, when I say that no, I did not see Isabel as a "realistic invention of female psychology."

But now that James has given me
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A ‘connection’: I chose this book to take with me on travels not too long ago, not realizing I would see the real-life version of its cover near the end of my trip:

A connection: If I hadn't recently reread Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I wouldn't have noted this novel’s obvious debt to it. And I do mean obvious, though James employs a different setting and different nationalities to create another theme (“I’ve never met an American before” is a literal or almost-literal quote, said to Newman (the New Man)
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Issicratea by: Fionnuala
Shelves: 1800-1900, reviewed
The American was my second dip into early Henry James, after Roderick Hudson, his very first, published in 1875. The American is a little later; it appeared in 1877, although James seems to have rewritten it quite extensively in 1907 for the New York edition of his collected works. I read it in the 1907 version, in a very good Oxford World’s Classics edition, which contains a fascinating essay by James, written at the time of his revision, recalling the work’s composition and retrospectively critiquing his work.

What saves this from a lesser rating is that this is Henry James. If someone else had written it, it might barely garner a "just plain awful" rating. But as with all James, there are layers upon layers to peel back and so one discovers lovely seams of sweetness hidden between the dried, stale cake.

I didn't much care for anyone in this novel, except perhaps Mlle Noémie, for at the least there is no pretense with her. Like the erstwhile Becky Sharp, she knows what she wants, and pursues it with vigour. The
Feb 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of 19th-century literature
Shelves: classics
In the most recent installment of my review of the short story anthology I'm currently reading, I couldn't resist being quite snarkily critical of the (to me) unreadable Henry James selection there, which I noted shows him at his worst. So I thought it only fair to offer a review of a work that shows him at his best (or as far as I can determine that, from my limited reading of his corpus). IMO, his ghost stories exhibit some of his best work; but this mainstream novel (which I read as a high sc ...more
130811: i decided to read henry james one summer a few years ago (decades...) and decided to approach him with one book from each ‘era’: early, middle, and late. this was the early. 'middle': portrait of a lady, 'late: the ambassadors actually an easier read than i thought, i understand it is an early version, a draft, of james’ architectonic and archetypal story: contrasting the innocent, honest, open american, with various layers of corruption of the old world, of europe. some readers really ...more
Another book where it's all about the money. In this case those who were born to it although they no longer possess it and those who have earned it through their own sweat and tears.

The third novel by this author that I've read to date. A better read then my previous foray into James but it didn't manage to reach the heights of The Turn of the Screw.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strangest book I have read by Henry James thus far.
Was he trying to create a commercial success with a contemporary gothic novel?
Lots of plot. Ending saved it. Udolpho vibes.
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of classics
Shelves: high-brow
My first introduction to Henry James was having to read THE AMBASSADORS for a course in college. I wouldn't recommend starting his novels with that one. It's an exceedingly difficult book; thick prose with many clauses and asides, swimming in commas and dashes, to the point that one is easily frustrated and lost. You know it's supposed to be a classic, but who the hell cares anymore. Thankfully, years later, I decideded to give THE AMBASSADORS another read and actually enjoyed it. I then read TH ...more
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
The novel summary does not capture this: of course it is CLASS that divides the New-Man from his aristocratic innamorata and her 800 year French family. Bellegarde confides that occasionally the men in the family descended to marrying down, bourgeoisie--"lawyers' daughters." Newman offers, "that's very bad, is it?"(Buccaneer, 99)
And now we are trying to institute class in America, with money = class. But it assuredly does not. Many European aristocrats are now, as they were a century ago
From BBC radio 4 - Drama:
Love Henry James: The American Ep1/2
Dramatised by Lavinia Murray

Humour and heartache collide in this early James novel. When Christopher Newman, an American and self-made millionaire businessmen arrives in Paris he falls in love with Claire de Cintre. A wife from an aristocratic French Family is exactly what he's looking for, but he's unaware of the dark mystery surrounding her family, and the misery and mayhem they have yet to cause.

William Leight
Jan 29, 2014 rated it liked it
The most prominent difference between the early and the late works of Henry James is, I think, subtlety. Not only did his writing style become more subtle, to the point that some passages require multiple rereadings just to figure out what he's driving at, his characters and stories became subtler, with more nuance in the former and less open conflict in the latter. "The American" is a quite early Henry James novel (either his second or his third, depending on whether you refuse, as James did la ...more
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I suffered but I was happy about it
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
The third novel from Henry James that I've read. The previous two, from both his earliest and last periods, and this one conform to the theme of un-fulfillment--either in life or love or both.

James, as always, is rather subtle--there is rarely much of a dust-up in the books of his that I've read; this one might come as close to it as any of them, with the skeletons in the closet which are briefly trotted out for an airing (and a duel too!). Otherwise: Newman, a self-made man, the eponymous Amer
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was a reread, I think the third time, but I haven’t read it since the mid-Seventies at the latest. Rereading, I must say, was a huge enjoyment. This is James at the best of his earlier period, where he was exploring the naïve American in Europe, packing enormous meaning in every sentence, but before he began with the super subtle detail and very long and complex sentences that characterize his later masterpieces like A Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove and The Golde ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Christopher Newman, a wealthy, good-natured Western magnate, has retired to Europe in order to better himself. There he is introduced to Claire de Cintré as a representative of his ideal woman. He does prize her, and determines to marry her, though the nobility of her family, the Bellegardes, seems to preclude such a bond. His friendship with her brother and easy democratic feeling make Newman regard himself as “noble” as they, though of course he isn’t.

It’s quite a subtle and clever
M Tariq
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
3 and a half stars to be specific
The ending was such a disappointment
I liked his writing style though.
Justin Evans
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I'd only read 'the Europeans' of the early James before this. That was good, but hey, it's really short, not much he could do. This is justly celebrated. Not one to read if you're after a black and white morality tale about the evils of American Commercialism - which does end up looking a bit empty - or the evils of European stuffiness - which does end up looking more than a bit evil; or the great goodness (both also look good in their own way) of either of them. And that's what the book is abou ...more
Robin Friedman
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Christopher Newman, 36, an American who has become wealthy in commerce and manufacturing following the Civil War, is the hero, in "The American", an early novel by Henry James. Most of the story is set in France in the late 1860s as Newman, vaguely dissatisfied with his life of making money, wants to learn what Europe has to teach. Newman is also lonely and in search of a wife; but the "bar", as he puts it, for a prospective wife is high. Through American friends in Paris, Newman is introduced t ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: paris
James first novel, written in 1875 in Paris. At first a hilarious depiction of an American living abroad, he is a spectacle just because of his nationality. His favorite part of the Louvre museum is the divan and thinks he should be able to smoke amongst the great art.
This novel started out something I could understand, someone wandering around Europe, even though he is young and rich and has everything he chases after a woman who is a French aristocrat in pursuit of marriage. This isn't what I
Stuffy reserved Europe. Boorish commercial America.
Paula Gonzalez
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I started reading this book, my expectations were not set very high. It started as a slow paced classic that I was not very interested in. At this point, I had read several other books by this author and I was ready to give up on the tragic touch he usually gives his stories. Luckily, as the stubborn reader that I am, I decided to finish this book and give the author another chance. After all, there are some aspects of his writing that I like.... And I was not disappointed this time. I'm so ...more
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Henry James writes beautifully and entertainingly. The book is very slow to unfold and at times tests one's patience, but is ultimately rewarding. It is, on the surface, a comedy of manners about the culture shock experienced by an American entrepreneur in Paris. At a deeper level, it is a sharp analysis of the American psyche - about boundless (and perhaps unmerited) optimism, about persistent egalitarianism in the face of rigid social structures, and ultimately about a folly of innocence and n ...more
Doreen Petersen
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
To be honest this is the first Henry James book I have ever liked. To me most of his books fall kind of flat and dry. This one was different. I found myself getting into the story and was really surprised at the ending. This one I would recommend.
Dean Cummings
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’d just completed the opening chapter of “The American,” already knowing that Christopher Newman, the hero of the story, would “live out” Emerson’s above-mentioned quote. Newman is an independently wealthy American, luxuriating in the wonders of the great city of Paris, more specifically, the Louvre. As can be expected, Newman finds himself surrounded by the beau
Paul Spence
The good and bad of Henry James are both on display in this, his first major novel, published in 1877.

An American named Newman finds himself facing a blank wall in pursuit of a desirable bride in Paris. The young woman, an aristocratic widow named Claire de Cintré, seems amenable enough, but the culture around her proves more difficult to traverse, even for someone as accustomed to success as Newman. Can Newman win over Claire, or will he succeed only in making life worse for everyon
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2017 Reading Chal...: 1877 / 1879 1 15 Apr 16, 2015 09:18AM  

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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
“He was holding his breath so as not to inhale the odor of democracy.” 7 likes
“He himself was almost never bored, and there was no man with whom it would have been a greater mistake to suppose that silence meant displeasure.” 6 likes
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