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 October 6, 2023
September 29, 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.
Lambert Strether arrives in Chester, England, after a
long journey by boat from the United States. At the hotel, he asks
after his hometown friend, whom he is to meet there. Even though
Strether learns that Waymarsh has not arrived, he is not disappointed.
Meanwhile, he notices the familiar face of a young lady. They converse,
and she claims to know Waymarsh and to have visited Waymarsh’s hometown
of Milrose, Connecticut. She observes that the hotel has a garden,
and after ten minutes of conversation there, Strether agrees to tour
the town with her, after he has tidied up a bit in his room. After doing
so, Strether returns and passes into the hall of the hotel with the
young lady, where she asks if he knows her name. He admits that he
does not. She explains that she asked after him at the front desk and
gives him her card with her name, Maria Gostrey, and address in
Paris on it. Strether remarks oddly that he comes from Woollett, Massachusetts.
Miss Gostrey laughs. Strether displays mild embarrassment when speaking
of his New England hometown.
Gostrey and Strether set out to tour Chester, and walk
along the medieval wall that encloses the city. While walking, Strether
remembers that it was here, twenty-five years ago, that he walked
during his first and only other trip to Europe. At this thought,
Strether begins to think of Waymarsh and looks at his watch. Miss
Gostrey sees the gesture and asks if Strether finds their walk inappropriate. Strether
insists that he does not and explains that this is his weakness:
he is unable to focus on the present and is always considering unrelated
matters. Miss Gostrey calls this a failure to enjoy life. He asks
her to help him recover, and she agrees. When they arrive back at
the hotel, Waymarsh is waiting. All three speak together, but Strether
soon takes Waymarsh up to his room.
Later, neither man is able to sleep, so they reconvene
at midnight. Waymarsh reports that he is bored in Europe. His goal
is not fulfilled: he has not fully separated from his wife. She
continues to send him angry letters. He inquires as to Strether’s
reason for visiting Europe. He asks why Strether has traveled to
Europe alone and not with his fiancée, Mrs. Newsome. Strether reports
that he is there, rather, on her business. He urges Waymarsh to
let him explain the nature of the business at a later time. Strether
asks Waymarsh to travel with him to London. The next morning Strether
reports last night’s conversation to Miss Gostrey. Strether had
hoped she would show him Europe properly, and she explains that
guiding Americans through Europe is her unofficial profession. Her
specialty, she adds, is getting them to leave.
Miss Gostrey and the two men then take a walk together.
They walk for a long while, during which time Strether reflects
on his attitudes toward Europe. He hopes that in Europe he will
be better able to experience the sweetness and feeling of leisure
that is possible only on that particular continent. After a long
period of silence, Waymarsh suddenly runs away from the group and
into a shop. Alone with Strether, Miss Gostrey takes a moment to
compare the men. She finds Strether superior to Waymarsh. Strether
protests, pointing out that Waymarsh is more successful financially.
But money does not interest Miss Gostrey. When Waymarsh returns with
his purchase, Strether calls his action a “sacred rage.”
As in many of James’s novels, the opening paragraph of The
Ambassadors introduces many of the themes that will be
explored throughout the course of the novel. In this single paragraph,
we learn that Strether is an American visiting Europe, that in Europe
he feels a personal freedom he had not felt while in America, and
that he has come to Europe seeking certain American contacts (the
first being his friend Waymarsh). These facts help establish the
central focus of the novel: this is a story about the interaction
between Europe and America as dramatized through the experiences
of one man, Lambert Strether. Before we learn why Strether has traveled
to Europe, before we get the details about what he intends to do
there, and even before we know anything specific about the man,
we learn about how he feels different in Europe
than he had in America. In this way, James foregrounds an aspect
of the novel that may have seemed insignificant if it had been introduced
alongside the numerous specific details about Strether and his mission.
James clearly highlights the importance of this contrast between
Europe and the United States.
In addition to laying out a thematic focus, the opening
chapter of The Ambassadors also demonstrates the
roles to be played by both the narrative voice and the character
of Strether. From the opening pages, plot points, like setting,
time, and physical description, come second. Instead, Strether’s
thoughts are the focus of the narration. The novel opens with the
dramatization of Strether’s mental activity coupled with an intellectual
action: the opening three words of the novel are “Strether’s first
question,” followed by a discussion of how he feels about Waymarsh,
the friend he has come to meet. This beginning places Strether’s
consciousness at the heart of the work. Strether’s thoughts, feelings,
and perspective—that is, the way he sees the world and thinks about
it—are what the novel is about. Strether, the physical man, is just
a vessel for James’s stream-of-consciousness discussion. Put another
way, Strether is not the “main character” of the novel, but his
The Ambassadors begins in media
res, which means, literally, “in the middle of things,”
as a way of familiarizing readers with James’s somewhat convoluted
form. James’s novels take work to understand—and The Ambassadors is
no exception. James uses the first book to establish the type of
work the reader will need to perform to derive meaning from the
novel. It takes James many pages to explain the true purpose of
Strether’s time in Europe and to give the full history of Strether’s
life. The delay in explaining the plot lets James focuses microscopically
on Strether’s mental minutia. The narrator describes what is on
Strether’s mind and what passes before Strether’s eyes, rarely stepping
back to explain events that happened to Strether in the past or
that are occurring in places where Strether is not. Rather than
using the narrator to answer basic who-what-where-when questions
about Strether, James uses the narrator to emphasize the novel’s
main formal technique. This technique relies on Strether’s mental
gymnastics and dialogue to fill the reader in on details that exist
outside of the present moment. Only by following Strether’s early
conversations with Waymarsh and Miss Gostrey will readers be able
to understand the essential reason for Strether’s visit to Europe.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!