Lewis Lambert Strether
The protagonist of the novel. A 55
editor of an intellectual magazine in Woollett, Massachusetts, Strether
has a mustache and a gray-speckled full head of hair and he wears
glasses. Strether is engaged to Mrs. Newsome, a wealthy widow who funds
the magazine he edits. A widower himself, Strether lost his wife
and young son many years ago. He feels guilty about these loses
and wonders what life experience he has missed by not having a wife
or child. Mrs. Newsome has sent Strether to Paris to find her son,
Chad Newsome, and bring him back to Massachusetts. Once he returns
with Chad, she will marry Strether. She chose Strether as an ambassador not
only because he is an old, trusted family friend but also to test
his loyalty to the Newsome family. If he were to marry Mrs. Newsome,
Strether would come into a great fortune and secure his status in
the upper-class community in Woollett. To some degree, Mrs. Newsome
wants to make sure that Strether is worthy of both the wealth and
the social status.
Compulsively self-reflexive, Strether quickly realizes that
his life in Woollett has entrenched him in boring routine. As he
travels, Strether comes to appreciate the freedom and openness he
finds in Europe, and he begins to feel as if his new, full European
life makes up for many years of personal stagnation. Strether takes
to warning everyone he meets that they may turn out like him—old
and inexperienced—if they do not live life to the fullest while
they are young. Strether is predisposed favorably toward most people:
he finds a close friend in Maria Gostrey, a type of protégé in little
Bilham, a replacement son in Chad, and a feminine ideal in Madame
Marie de Vionnet. At the end of the novel, Strether chooses to return
to Woollett, but his outlook on life is forever changed by his late-in-life
experience in Europe.
in-depth analysis of Lewis Lambert Strether.
The focus of the novel and the reason for Strether’s
visit to Paris. Chad is a handsome, debonair, and independently
wealthy bachelor currently involved in a love affair with the older
Madame Marie de Vionnet. At first, it seems that Paris affects Chad
in only positive ways: Chad has grown from the callow, immature
boy he was in Woollett into a polished, gentleman, comfortable in
Parisian high society and often host to a wide, interesting group
of friends. But Chad has no real attachment to Europe or to his
lover. Instead, Chad subscribes to the American ideals of monetary
success and to the social status that comes along with it. He wants
to return to the United States to take over the family business,
even after Strether encourages him to stay in Europe. Paris affects
Chad only superficially, and he looks forward to returning home
to Woollett after his enjoyable, but not profound, experience in
in-depth analysis of Chadwick Newsome.
unmarried expatriate who lives in Paris and works as an informal
“guide” to Europe for American visitors. Miss Gostrey takes an immediate liking
to Strether when they first meet in England. Separate from the Woollett
society, she offers Strether keen and objective analysis of situations
and people, and Strether relies on her wise counsel. Although she
is young and sprightly, she is more world-weary, more socially skeptical,
and warier of people’s motives than Strether. She knows Madame de
Vionnet from a school they attended as young women but steadfastly
avoids reacquainting herself with the other woman. At the end of
the novel, she all but declares her love for Strether, who rejects
her in favor of returning to the United States.
in-depth analysis of Maria Gostrey.
Madame Marie de Vionnet
The older woman with whom Chad Newsome has become
involved in a love affair. Madame de Vionnet has lived apart from
her “brute” husband for years. At age 15
she attended school with Maria Gostrey, but they have not seen each
other for a long time and Maria avoids contact with her. Now, at around
, Madame de Vionnet has become socially
distinguished, handsome, and so cultured that she casts a shadow
on Strether’s memory of Mrs. Newsome. Deeply in love with Chad,
Madame de Vionnet resolves to keep Chad in Europe—and in her life.
She captivates Strether, and he believes that her effect on Chad
has been only positive. He vows to help her by trying to convince
Chad to stay in Europe, even after Strether learns that Chad and
Madame de Vionnet have misled him about the nature of their relationship.
Madame de Vionnet uses her beautiful daughter, Jeanne de Vionnet,
much like a prop in her attempts to keep Strether on her side.
in-depth analysis of Madame Marie de Vionnet.
older, widowed, wealthy matriarch to whom Strether is engaged. Even
though Mrs. Newsome never actually appears in the novel, she drives
the novel’s action and its significant events. She sends Strether
to Europe to collect her son, Chad, and return him to the family
business in the United States. When Strether fails in his ambassadorial
mission, she sends new ambassadors: her daughter, Sarah; her daughter’s husband,
Jim; and Jim’s sister, Mamie. Mrs. Newsome represents the world
of Woollett, Massachusetts, and the life that Strether has left
behind. Strether thinks constantly about Mrs. Newsome, and she occupies
a large place in his conscience, since she asked Strether to carry
out her wishes in Europe and Strether has failed to do so for complicated
reasons. Through Strether’s eyes, Mrs. Newsome is beautiful but
deliberately so, wise but incredibly stubborn, and kind but undeniably dominant
in relation to him. The interplay between Mrs. Newsome’s wishes
and Strether’s evolving needs often drives the novel.
old friend of Strether’s who has been living, unhappily, in Europe
for an unspecified amount of time. Waymarsh is married but has long
lived away from his wife. He is impulsive and curmudgeonly and finds
nothing in Europe to his liking. He maintains close ties to Woollett
and reveals himself as a close friend of and consistent ally to
Sarah Pocock when she comes to Paris to fetch Chad.
John Little Bilham
An expatriate artist and one of Chad’s closest friends
in Paris. Because he is physically small, he uses both of his last
names and goes by “little Bilham.” A friendly, unpretentious young
man, he maintains his loyalty to Chad even as he develops a close
bond with Strether. Ultimately, little Bilham lies to Strether about the
nature of Chad’s relationship with Madame de Vionnet to protect
Chad. Strether finds Bilham to be gentle and treats him like the
adult son he never had. Their conversations prompt Strether to articulate
some of the most profound life lessons he has learned in Europe.
Jeanne de Vionnet
Madame Marie de Vionnet’s charming and beautiful
daughter. Jeanne is impressively refined but lacks maturity. She
has great fondness for Chad, but not romantic love. He and Madame
de Vionnet play up Jeanne’s merits in an effort to distract Strether
from the truth of their relationship. Strether sees the well-raised Jeanne
as proof of Madame de Vionnet’s virtue and suitability.
older, married sister. Sarah is in charge of the second batch of
ambassadors sent to retrieve Chad from Europe. According to Strether,
Sarah has less charm and less beauty than her mother, but she is
still amiable and pretty. To a great degree, Sarah stands in for
Mrs. Newsome, who never appears in the novel. Sarah arrives in Europe
with her mother’s wishes firmly in mind and finds fault with much
of what has impressed Strether about European life. They clash almost
“of-the-minute” society girl in Woollett, Massachusetts. Strether
finds Mamie to be as physically beautiful as the girls in Europe,
as well as more sincere and sociable than most Woollett society girls.
Mrs. Newsome hopes Mamie will marry Chad. To Mrs. Newsome, the fact
that Mamie is Jim Pocock’s sister, and thus already technically
part of the family, only makes her more desirable. Mamie has known Chad
since childhood, but no romance exists between them. While in Europe,
Mamie falls for little Bilham.
leading Woollett businessman who is married to Sarah Pocock (neé
Newsome). Even though Jim is a prominent figure in Woollett, he
is only technically a member of high society. Casual and relatively
simple, he takes no interest in the social maneuverings of the women
and wants only to enjoy himself as much as possible, especially
friend of Chad and little Bilham. Miss Barrace is a proper American
socialite, and she helps present Chad in a good light by virtue
of her own elegance. Later Miss Barrace befriends Waymarsh as well.
famous French sculptor, Gloriani is part of Chad’s social set in
Paris. His grace impresses Strether, but he fails to connect with
Strether on a personal level. Little Bilham admires Gloriani’s fame,
artistic talent, and status in society.
Monsieur de Montbron
The man who is to marry Jeanne de Vionnet.