“That’s what I mean by his chance. . . . And to see that he does not miss it is, in a word, what I’ve come out for.”
She let it all sink in. “What you’ve come out for then is simply to render him an immense service.”
Well, poor Strether was willing to take it so. “Ah if you like.”
This quotation comes at the end of the opening of Book Second. Here, Strether attempts to explain to Miss Gostrey the full extent of his involvement with Chad in Paris. Miss Gostrey relates to Strether in a knowing way, appearing to understand more about Strether’s mission than Strether himself does. In addition, Miss Gostrey seems able to foresee the true importance of the experiences Strether is soon to have in Paris. Strether, in contrast, seems unable to see any glimmer of what the future holds for him. Miss Gostrey speaks wryly, almost sarcastically, when she calls the potential effect of Strether’s mission an “immense service” for Chad. Her tone stems from the fact that she assumes that Chad is not only not in need of any service but also that he will be unable to appreciate Strether’s attempt at offering him help. Also, Miss Gostrey presents an awareness of the falsity of what those in Woollett seeas “service.” Miss Gostrey understands that Strether is espousing provincial, ignorant, meddling ideas. Miss Gostrey, who is aware that the social landscape of Woollett is quite different from that of Paris, is quietly mocking “poor Strether.” Throughout the novel, she will act as his translator—between two cultural languages, between two social worlds.
This exchange stands as the first instance of Miss Gostrey acting in her role as Strether’s confidant. Miss Gostrey serves as the voice of doubt that counter-balances Strether’s constantly overflowing enthusiasm. Initially, Strether needs her eyes and thoughts to process the events he witnesses and participates in. As an observer, he is naïve and too easily swayed by the manner in which people color the things they present to him. (For example, Strether immediately assumes that Chad has no lover when Chad arrives alone. Miss Gostrey, however, sees through Chad’s evasiveness and convinces Strether to think otherwise.) Under Miss Gostrey’s tutelage, Strether develops the ability to discern the truth behind the social interactions he observes. By the end of the novel, he will even see through Miss Gostrey’s actions and understand the motivations that lie underneath her willingness to dedicate so much of her time and energy to helping him. Indeed, he will discover the nature of her feelings for him and realize that she has fallen in love. But during the conclusion of The Ambassadors, Strether cannot give himself to Miss Gostrey, because he understands her too well. He sees right through her desire for him, just as she, ironically, has trained him to do.