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The Ambassadors

Henry James

Book Twelfth

Book Eleventh

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Strether waits for a message from Chad. Instead, he receives one from Madame de Vionnet. In the note, she asks him to visit her that evening. He chooses not to visit Miss Gostrey beforehand and goes to see Madame de Vionnet at the time she requested. While with Madame de Vionnet, Strether informs her that he plans to leave Paris. First, she breaks into tears, because she is so frightened of losing Chad. Strether notices that when she cries, she seems much older than he thought she was. Later, she invites Strether to stay in Paris to be her companion. She insists that she has wanted him all along. He explains that she has had him—and he leaves abruptly. He expects to hear from Chad soon after this visit but does not. Meanwhile, he finds himself so accustomed to Paris that he acts as a guide to Miss Gostrey for a few days. Apparently Chad has left Paris for several days, and Strether imagines he may have taken another intimate trip with Madame de Vionnet.

A few days later, Miss Gostrey informs him that Madame de Vionnet came to visit her after not seeing Chad for days. Strether explains that he assumed they had gone out of town together. Miss Gostrey explains that she had earlier left Paris because she did not want to have to conceal the true nature of Madame de Vionnet’s relationship with Chad. Next, Miss Gostrey and Strether discuss Bilham. Strether admits that he knows Bilham lied about the virtuousness of Chad’s relationship, but that the lie was only “technical.”She also explains that Madame de Vionnet assumes that Strether is done with her and that she will never see him again. Strether clarifies that he still cares deeply for Madame de Vionnet, but that she is right: regardless of how he feels about her, they will never see each other again.

Strether leaves Miss Gostrey and sits at a small café. After some time there, he decides to walk by Chad’s apartment on his way home. He finds Chad in the same spot he once found Bilham: on the balcony. Running up the stairs to meet Chad, Strether gets exhausted and feels old. Strether is forthright and blunt. He insists Chad stay in Paris or else he will be a “brute.” He begs Chad by all he holds “sacred.” Chad, however, speaks only about advertisements and his ideas for improving the family business in Woollett. Once Strether is sure Chad understands the seriousness of his request that Chad give up Woollett and stay in Paris, Strether leaves. Strether’s last visit in Paris will be to Miss Gostrey. In her apartment, he explains that even though his prospects with Mrs. Newsome have expired, he must head home and restart his life. Strether points out that although he has changed such a great deal, Mrs. Newsome and all of Woollett will be exactly the same when he returns. Miss Gostrey asks Strether if he will stay with her. It is clear she loves him. But he tells her that he cannot. He must return to America, for better or for worse.

Analysis

The conclusion of the novel reinforces the idea that not all of Strether’s personality changes have positive effects. Here, in his final meeting with Madame de Vionnet, Strether realizes that he has idealized women in general, but particularly the madame. This painful realization affects his last conversation with Miss Gostrey—and causes Strether to understand that he has fallen in love with Madame de Vionnet. But, during the point in the conversation in which she realizes that she might lose Chad, Strether notices how old Madame de Vionnet actually is. As with the climax in the suburbs, this moment is yet another instance of Strether recognizing the truth after a long period of self-delusion. However, unlike the climax, here Strether has no reason to regret his misunderstanding. By idealizing Madame de Vionnet, he treated her kindly throughout the novel and genuinely tried to help her. His relationship with Madame de Vionnet symbolizes the way he kindly viewed and, later, genuinely embraced European culture and society. Being in Europe made him capable of loving the extraordinary Madame de Vionnet—and he feels grateful toward the continent and the woman.

At the end of the novel, Strether deepens his understanding of Bilham and of the complexity of human relationships. Just as Strether learns the truth about the nature of the relationship between Madame de Vionnet and Chad, he discovers that Bilham repeatedly lied to him. Strether terms the relationship between the lovers an “eminent ‘lie.’” Nevertheless, Strether does not lament or regret his close relationship to Bilham. In fact, to some degree, Strether admires Bilham for remaining loyal to his friend Chad. When Strether remarks that Bilham’s assurance that Chad and Madame de Vionnet were involved in a “virtuous” relationship was untrue, but only technically so, he displays a great change in his character. Upon first arriving in Europe, he was unable to even concede to Miss Gostrey that Chad might be better off in Europe or that Chad’s lover might not be a bad influence. Having realized the truth behind both these assertions, Strether has become much more open to the complexity of relationships. As a loyal friend to Chad, Bilham had no choice but to willingly lead Strether to a misunderstanding. The Strether that arrived in Chester, England, would most likely have seen this as a grave fault, a result of the impure influences of European culture and vice. However, the Strether at the end of the novel sees Bilham’s actions as more proof of Bilham’s goodness, his loyalty, and his honesty.

Ironically, Strether succeeds in his ambassadorial mission at the novel’s end: Chad decides to return to Woollett. By the final book, Strether desperately wants Chad to stay in Europe, but ultimately the young man decides to return home. Strether’s failure to convince Chad to stay disillusions him greatly. In the end, he urges Chad upon all that he holds sacred to stay in Europe, but Chad holds nothing sacred—that is, nothing but his own material and personal interests. After Chad rejects Strether’s most selfless and noble plea—that Chad to stay with Madame de Vionnet and honor the love she shares with him—Strether is no longer able to see Chad as the same ideal youth. However, even though he realizes and accepts Chad’s flaws, Strether still does not want the young man to return home. At the end of the novel, Strether has no regrets and does not long to change any of his actions performed in Europe. The fact that he cannot accept the companionship of Miss Gostrey at the end attests to this. To be true to himself and his noble character, he must return to Woollett without having any direct personal gain. Therefore he cannot stay in Europe with Miss Gostrey. His gain, however, is inside. Strether has grown tremendously as a person: in goodness, in wisdom, in life experience, and in emotional depth.

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