Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews September 28, 2023
September 21, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
*See discount terms and conditions.
Henry James was born in New York City into
an intellectually gifted and financially secure family on April 15, 1843.
His father, Henry James, Sr., was a well-known theologian and thinker,
and his mother, Mary Robertson Walsh, was the daughter of a wealthy Albany
cotton merchant and a devout Presbyterian. Henry was the second
of five children born to the couple. His siblings include the distinguished
philosopher and psychologist William James and the noted diarist
Alice James. The family spent Henry’s early years traveling back
and forth across the Atlantic, and he was subsequently educated
in Geneva, Paris, London, and Bonn. At 19,
he spent a year at Harvard Law School but did not find inspiration
or contentment in the study of law. Two years later, he published
his first short story, “A Tragedy of Errors” (1864),
and decided to dedicate himself entirely to writing literature.
Soon after, James became a frequent contributor to the Nation and Atlantic
Monthly magazines, where he published short fiction, essays,
and other types of writing for the next six years.
In 1876, after a short sojourn
to Paris as a contributor to the New York Tribune, James
settled in England, where he would reside for the remainder of his
life. As an American in England, James found not only the environment
that best suited his personal comfort but also one that fascinated
him enough to drive his greatest literary works. The publication
of Daisy Miller (1878),
the story of a naïve American girl attempting to navigate the complex
corridors of European high society, established James as a writer
of international success and set forth what would become one of
James’s most reoccurring topical concerns: the American abroad.
The post–Civil War economic upswing had made many wealthy Americans
eager to visit the Old World. The refined cultural trappings of
European culture, however, often left brusque Americans feeling
alienated and unsure. This common occurrence gave James’s interest
in the culture clash a potent currency and a contemporary relevance,
and it helped foster his subsequent popularity—one that extends
to The Ambassadors, a work that deals thematically
with many different American reactions to European culture.
Of the 20 novels, 112 stories
and 12 plays he published in his lifetime,
James considered The Ambassadors to be his most
perfect work of art. The novel was first published serially in 1903 in
the North American Review, and it was published
two more times—in altered American and British editions—later that
same year. The Ambassadors is in many ways a typical
Jamesian novel in that it deals with the psychological interior
of a character obsessed with self-refection and preoccupied with
regret. American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and French novelist
Honoré de Balzac were among the writers who most influenced James
and helped inspire James’s unique approach to novel writing. In
Hawthorne’s writing, James found a frank discussion of human psychological
complexity; in Balzac’s, James found elegant details of realist
description—both of which he would incorporate into his own work.
James’s other “late novels” resemble The Ambassadors stylistically
and structurally. Together, these three novels—The Wings
of The Dove (1902), The
Ambassadors (1903) and The
Golden Bowl (1904)—are often read
as a cohesive trilogy. Many critics see them as one masterpiece in
Throughout his life, James kept up voluminous correspondence with
many of the greatest thinkers and writers of the turn of the century,
including Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. Nowhere in the letters
is there evidence that James ever had a romantic relationship or a
consummate sexual experience, and nowhere in this large body of written
work is there any clear explanation as to why. Some biographers
speculate that James was a closeted homosexual, others point to
a traumatic childhood incident that left him with an “obscure hurt,”
and still others hypothesize that the early death of his beloved cousin
Mary “Minnie” Temple—who became the template for many of his early
female characters—left him romantically cynical. Whatever the truth
may have been, James often used his fiction to explore the terrain
of the life unlived. This topic, along with his interest in insular
psychological narrative and New World/Old World conflict, is the
most common theme James explores.
Besides short visits, and one extended stay from 1904 to 1905, James
never lived in America after his youth, but he continued to be an
American in spirit and on paper. Nevertheless, he was distressed by
the outbreak of World War I and the United States’s initial refusal to
enter the war. Consequently, in 1915, he
became a British citizen as a sign of appreciation to his adopted
country and as a protest against the country of his birth. While
in London on December 2, 1915,
James suffered a severe stroke and was put in the hospital. He died
three months later on February 28, 1916,
at age seventy-three, with two unfinished novels in his desk. These
novels, The Sense of the Past (1917)
and The Ivory Tower (1917),
as well as an earlier memoir, The Middle Years (1917),
were published posthumously. Henry James was the twentieth century’s
first truly international writer and one of modern literature’s
most astute stylists. Today, his impact can be felt in the work
of such contemporary writers as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!