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Lambert Strether is a middle-aged American who has been sent to Paris on a mission: he is to repatriate Chad Newsome, the son of his wealthy fiancée, who she suspects is living wildly under the city’s sensuous spell. But Strether quickly discovers that, far from being corrupted by Paris, the young man has in fact been refined by it. Here begins Strether’s own metamorphosis—his own belated process of refinement.
One of James’s late masterpieces (and his favourite among all his novels), The Ambassadors takes us into the lives of Americans living in Paris at the start of the 20th century. Behind its central question of what Europe can do for Americans lie questions of broader scope: What roles should beauty and pleasure play in our everyday lives? Can there ever be a question of caring about these too much? What is the relationship, if any, between visual and moral beauty? We will grapple with these questions and others as we work through the challenges of James’s style and explore this rewarding novel.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular
so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?”
– Henry James, The Ambassadors