The Ambassadors

by: Henry James

Book Eleventh

Unlike the climaxes in most popular contemporary novels, the climax of The Ambassadors is quiet, subtle, and lacking in any overt, boisterous action. In the climatic scene, no villain is captured and no character is killed. Instead, an obscure truth is revealed, a reality is recognized—and that is all: nothing more occurs. Strether stumbles upon Madame de Vionnet and Chad in an intimate moment on the boat, but the couple is behaving appropriately and with decorum. However, the manner in which they hold themselves—and the ease with which they relate to one another—reveals to Strether all that he had been ignoring for so long. All in one sudden moment the truth about their relationship becomes clear to him. The pair does not have an innocent, virtuous relationship, as Strether mistakenly believed, but rather a sexual relationship. This moment of realization represents the novel’s climax, because afterward Strether has no choice but to deal with what he has seen, noticed, and realized. The moment on the river is a point of no return. After he sees Madame de Vionnet and Chad on the boat, there is no new information that needs to come to light for the novel to reach its dénouement, or conclusion.