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The Ambassadors

Henry James

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full title ·  The Ambassadors

author · Henry James

type of work · Novel

genre · Dark comedy; social study; stream-of-consciousness narrative

language · English

time and place written ·  1903, England

date of first publication ·  1903

publisher · North American Review

narrator · An unnamed voice that relates the thoughts, feelings, actions, and observations of Lambert Strether as they occur over the course of Strether’s visit to Europe.

point of view · The novel is narrated in the third person, following the perspective of Lambert Strether throughout the entire book. The narrative voice is also subjective: although it relates the exterior actions and statements of all the characters, it relates the complete interior and exterior life of the subject Lambert Strether.

tone · The narrator is mostly detached from the story, with some sympathy for Strether’s plight.

tense · Past

setting (time) · Early 1900s

setting (place) · Chester and London, England; Paris, France

protagonist · Lambert Strether

major conflict · Strether is sent to Paris to retrieve Chad Newsome, to convince Chad to sever his ties to his European lover, and to bring Chad home to Woollett, Massachusetts. While there, Strether must battle his own realization that Europe may be a better setting for Chad, and for himself.

rising action · As Strether spends more time in Europe, he begins to feel enlivened by its culture and observes it as having a positive effect on Chad. He begins to doubt the virtue of sending Chad to Woollett, where he will become a member of the provincial Massachusetts business world and be apart from his lover, Madame de Vionnet.

climax · Strether, previously convinced of Madame de Vionnet’s virtue, spots her with Chad in an intimate and private setting, which forces him to question his perspective on relationships and on Europe’s influence on the young man.

falling action · Strether decides that even though Chad’s love affair with Madame de Vionnet is not virtuous, it would still benefit Chad to stay in Paris.

themes · The importance of place; the lived vs. unlived life; the American abroad

motifs · Water; the Virgin Mary

symbols · Gardens; Paris; Woollett

foreshadowing · When Strether first arrives in Paris, Chad is absent, but his charming and seemingly innocent friends—Bilham and Miss Barrace—have only good things to say about his character. Neither Chad nor Bilham ever refer to Chad’s lover by name. Waymarsh is bored by Europe, but Strether finds Europe immediately refreshing.

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