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Post originally published May 27, 2015

The-AmbassadorsTitle: The Ambassadors
Author: Henry James
First published in 1903

Summary from Goodreads:”I’ve come, you know, to make you break with everything, neither more nor less, and take you straight home’

Concerned that her son Chad may have become involved with a woman of dubious reputation, the formidable Mrs Newsome sends her ‘ambassador’ Strether from Massachusetts to Paris to extricate him. Strether’s mission, however, is gradually undermined as he falls under the spell of the city and finds Chad refined rather than corrupted by its influence and that of his charming companion, Madame de Vionnet. As the summer wears on, Mrs Newsome concludes that she must send another envoy to confront the errant Chad–and a Strether whose view of the world has changed profoundly. One of the greatest of James’s late works, The Ambassadors is a subtle and witty exploration of different American responses to a European environment.

Part of a series of new Penguin Classics editions of Henry James’s works, this edition contains a chronology, further reading, glossary, notes and an introduction by Adrian Poole discussing The Ambassadors in the context of James’s other works on Americans in Europe in Europe, and the novel’s portrayal of Paris.

I am not particularly a fan of Henry James, although I’ve read very few of his books. I recall reading, and rather enjoying, The Portrait of a Lady. I think I’ve possibly read The Bostonians. To me, his work is reserved to the point of impenetrability, and nearly completely emotionless.

Which is exactly how I felt about The Ambassadors. No one ever really does anything – the writing is bloodlessly beautiful, and unaffecting. There were moments, for me, where it felt like the characters might consider doing something (anything!), and then they never did.

Henry James makes me feel like I am missing the point. It’s not unenjoyable. I may read more, just to see if a deeper understanding of his writing helps me to get him. But, generally, I much prefer his contemporary Edith Wharton. Anything but bloodless, reading Wharton is, to me, like opening a vein.

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