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Henry James describes the character of Miss Gostrey as
the “reader’s friend” in the preface to the New York edition of The Ambassadors.
In the plot of the novel, of course, she is Strether’s friend. Her
unique role as confidant helps Strether to confront and analyze
his experiences after the events have already occurred and his first
impressions have already been solidified. Readers too must decode
and analyze Strether’s experiences to derive meaning from The
Ambassadors. Helping Strether do this work also lets Miss
Gostrey help the reader confront and analyze. In this way, Miss
Gostrey offers invaluable help to both Strether and the reader.
When Strether first arrives in Paris, Miss Gostrey clarifies his
confusion about Chad’s world and teaches him to overcome his American
bias. Likewise, she sees through the complexities of each situation
and distills it down to an explicit analysis that both Strether
and the reader can easily digest. Later, as Strether gains a better
grasp of Europe, Miss Gostrey serves as a sounding board for his
new ideas. Her presence allows the reader to revisit each episode
of the novel and, as a consequence, to take note of Strether’s changing
personality. Therefore, Miss Gostrey is both a central character
and an essential narrative tool in The Ambassadors.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!