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The Ambassadors

Henry James

Book Eighth

Book Seventh

Book Ninth

Summary

Strether feels tense as he waits for the arrival of the Pococks. He spends a lot of time alone. He is suspicious of Waymarsh, because he now knows that Waymarsh has been in touch with Woollett, and he is not spending as much time with Miss Gostrey. One day, knowing that Chad is out of town, he visits Madame de Vionnet and discovers that she is out of town as well. For reasons he cannot explain, this coincidence shakes Strether’s confidence. The Pococks arrive in the port of Havre and then take the train to Paris. Chad, back in Paris, and Strether take a cab together to the Paris station to meet them. Strether describes himself as an “outgoing ambassador” and speaks openly to Chad during the ride about how he feels. He asks Chad if he intends to introduce Sarah Pocock to Madame de Vionnet, and Chad replies that he does. Chad then asks Strether if he intends to introduce Sarah to Miss Gostrey, and Strether replies that he does not.

In the next scene, Strether and Jim Pocock, Sarah’s husband, return from the train station together in a carriage. As they weave through town, Jim and Strether discuss the state of things in Woollett and Jim’s expectations for his time in Paris. Strether is in very good spirits, because he is convinced he saw Sarah smile at him when they met her at the dock. He interprets this smile to mean that Mrs. Newsome still trusts him and is happy with his actions in Paris. He is a little disconcerted, however, and a bit disappointed, that the new arrivals did not notice as significant a change in Chad as Strether had noticed when he first saw Chad at the theater. Even though Jim is a successful Woollett businessman, Strether finds him to be a bit of an odd man out. Jim is in a good mood and has high hopes for a very enjoyable Parisian vacation. He even thanks Strether for acting in such a way as to facilitate his trip.

Jim goes on to imply that Mrs. Newsome is still interested in Strether, both as an ambassador and as a potential husband. Strether want to trust Jim but suspects that Jim is not actually fully aware of the state of things in Woollett. The next day, Strether gets the opportunity to find out more about Mrs. Newsome’s opinions. He visits the apartment where Sarah Pocock is staying and finds her in congress with Madame de Vionnet and Waymarsh. This meeting startles Strether, and he is thrown off guard. Madame de Vionnet makes a big show of how close she is with Strether. She suggests that they should see each other more often alone. Then she asks him if her daughter might be able to meet Mamie, and finally Madame de Vionnet brings up Miss Gostrey, referring to the intimacy between Miss Gostrey and Strether. This conversation topic greatly embarrasses Strether and he begins to turn bright red. Waymarsh adds insult to injury by explaining to Sarah Pocock, as if to clarify, that Miss Gostrey is an intimate friend of Strether’s. He also claims that Miss Gostrey “no doubt” loves Strether. Regardless of all this, Strether leaves with the belief that Madame de Vionnet has made a good impression on Sarah.

Analysis

As elsewhere, Strether’s thoughts and emotions subsume description and narrative emphasis, but this particular book focuses on the fallibility of Strether’s thoughts and emotions. His view might predominate in the novel, but this view is not always the correct one. The most significant event in Book Eighth is the arrival of the Pococks. Yet the narrator does not describe this scene. Instead, the narrator focuses on the drive back from the seaport, in which Jim and Strether discuss life. This absence places the focal point of the important event on Strether’s impressions of the incident instead of on the reader’s potential interpretation of it. As we have seen often in the novel, in place of description, the narrator gives readers a stream-of-consciousness representation of Strether’s thoughts. But here we see it subjectively: just as Strether originally assumed Waymarsh was his ally, Strether now assumes Sarah Pocock’s smile at the docks to mean that all is well with Mrs. Newsome. But readers of The Ambassadors must beware of Strether’s unadulterated impressions. The fact that the narrative voice often speaks from Strether’s perspective does not mean that Strether sees things as they actually are.

When Sarah Pocock enters the novel, she becomes the embodiment of Mrs. Newsome. As a character, Mrs. Newsome never appears. For a long while after her arrival, Sarah exists only as an image and a name, much like Mrs. Newsome has throughout the course of the work. Stether mentions her, but readers do not encounter her. Sarah Pocock does not even meet with Strether until long into her time in Paris, at the very end of this book. Like Mrs. Newsome, her presence is felt more because of the influence she has on other people than because of the action she takes in the work. Strether, for instance, has already spent much time tense and worried because of her impending arrival. Now that she is in town, he remains overtly aware of her activities. As readers, we hear about these activities rather than see them for ourselves. When Strether does come face to face with Sarah, he assumes that Chad’s Parisian life has charmed her to the same degree as it charmed him when he first arrived in Paris. What he fails to remember is that Sarah now operates under the same orders as Strether once did—namely, to bring Chad home to Woollett. Unlike Strether, Sarah remains hyper-attached to and hyper-aware of her role as ambassador. Sarah believes strongly in Mrs. Newsome’s cause, and she is not susceptible to the influences of Parisian culture that Strether found so compelling.

The new ambassadors bring Woollett fully to life in Paris. Jim represents an average Woollett businessman, alienated from the women’s society that is clamoring to bring Chad home. However, he still brings the coarse cultural values of the young America. In Paris, Jim desires merely to have a good time and enjoy the exotic fruits of the European capital. Mamie, likewise, represents the simple-minded marriage-driven culture of the female New England socialite. In this context, Mrs. Newsome’s and Sarah Pocock’s drive to bring Chad back to Woollett makes more sense. They wish to couple him with the single-minded Mamie and reproduce the social world within which they thrive. The arrival of the Pococks also opens up a new perspective on Waymarsh, particularly his reticence about enjoying Europe and his enduring allegiance to New England. Like them, he understands only American culture. He has never understood the appeal of Paris nor of Madame de Vionnet. Waymarsh quickly helps Sarah form opinions of the place and the woman that are similar to his own. Under Waymarsh’s guidance, there is little chance that Sarah will sympathize with Strether or Strether’s view of what is best for Chad.

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