The Ambassadors

by: Henry James

Book Fifth

Formally, Strether’s realization acts as the novel’s first climax, or moment of great intensity and drama. Here, as elsewhere, James lets Strether describe his experiences, rather than using an impartial narrator. This narrative choice increases the moment’s drama, because Strether clearly struggles to articulate his new consciousness and life lessons to Bilham. He speaks slowly, “with full pauses and straight dashes.” He tries to put this profound disappointment and startling fresh outlook into words. The dénouement, or tidying up of the messiness of the climax, will take place in the sixth book. James repeats this structure in the penultimate and final books of The Ambassadors: the second climax occurs in the eleventh book and its dénouement in the twelfth. The first climax allows James to demarcate the sum of the small changes Strether has been experiencing throughout the first half of the novel. While in Europe, Strether’s perspectives on propriety, on society, and on Europe have changed. Now, in one theatrical moment, he presents his changed life view to Bilham. He also foreshadows the end of the novel, at which point Strether leaves Europe and returns to Woollett.