Ambassadors (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Ambassadors (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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The Ambassadors, by Henry James, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. One of Henry James’s three late masterpieces, and an exemplar of his complex, mature style, The Ambassadors is considered by many the author’s finest work. James himself judged it to be “frankly, quite the best, ‘all round,’ of my productions.”

The story follows Lambert Strether, a staunch and stoical New Englander, as he travels abroad to rescue his employer’s prodigal son, Chad, from the seductive pitfalls of existence in Paris. Yet the social pleasures of the European capital awaken new urges in the fifty-five year old, and he begins to reconsider his own inadequately realized life. He soon beseeches Chad, “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?”

As Strether himself becomes involved in a relationship with the fascinating Maria Gostrey, a second, more determined, ambassador is dispatched. An ultimatum is delivered—and resisted—but then an accident reveals surprising truths to Strether, and he must decide whether his loyalties lie with old Europe or new America.

A bittersweet paean to the life not lived, The Ambassadors is one of the most achingly beautiful and moving novels ever written. Kyle Patrick Smith was raised in San Diego, California, and educated at Harvard. A writer and critic, he lives in Manhattan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593083786
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2007
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 65,524
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.24(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England


Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

From Kyle Patrick Smith’s Introduction to The Ambassadors

As for the terms of success, rather than correlating it with esteem or wealth, as James had done early in his career, he began, in a new frame of mind after the failure of Guy Domville, to associate it with frustrated ambitions. This viewpoint forms the hallmark of the proudly abysmal players of The Ambassadors. Maria Gostrey tells Strether when she first meets him, “‘Thank goodness you’re a failure—it’s why I so distinguish you! Anything else to-day is too hideous. Look about you—look at the successes. Would you be one, on your honour?’” “‘The superiority you discern in me,’” she continues, “‘announces my futility. If you knew,’ she sighed, ‘the dreams of my youth!’” Gostrey and Strether have failed, in her eyes, precisely because they do not follow common dictates, nor are they pleasing to common people. This sort of failure marks a superiority to the rank and file, and James had come to see his own commercial futility in the same way.
Just as Gostrey and the members of the Paris set keep their distance from those who find fault with them—they seek refuge at the home of the sculptor Gloriani, where “fewer bores were to be met than elsewhere”—James turned his back on the public in a number of ways in the years preceding the composition of The Ambassadors. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, as he prepared for and composed the novel, James quit the theater; he deserted London and its teeming masses for the rural, secluded Rye House, where he spent the rest of his life; and he abandoned his relatively lucid way of writing for an increasingly meandering, deferential, and obtuse manner of composition that has confounded generations of readers. The change in prose style, in fact, forms the main characterization of the three novels of James’s “major phase,” of which The Ambassadors was the first written and the second published. If readers had any trouble comprehending or remaining interested in the early works of James, he demonstrated, with his sudden change to a slower and even more difficult prose style, that he no longer cared.
James detached himself from public opinion over the course of many years. Similarly, Strether, who has spent his entire life seeking community approval, does not understand initially how Gostrey can live a life so disconnected from conventional mores; he reflects on how their initial encounter “struck him as requiring so many explanations.” It is precisely this slow adoption of the values of the Paris set that forms the substance of The Ambassadors. A number of small stimuli effect Strether’s change, but the influence of Chad’s friend Bilham, whom Strether meets shortly after encountering Maria Gostrey, goes a long way in seducing him toward his new outlook. Through spending time with the young man, Strether perceives that one can make a life out of doing nothing at all, observing, “Little Bilham had an occupation, but it was only an occupation declined.” Bilham had once been a student of painting, “but study had been fatal to him so far as anything could be fatal, and his productive power faltered in proportion as his knowledge grew.” Strether comes to see, as James did, that “productive power” for the commercial market comes at the expense of a higher calling—in Bilham’s case, knowledge, and, for the rest of the Paris set, living with a rich and satisfying appreciation of the mysteries of life: the subtlety, beauty, and irony in everyday existence. The Ambassadors defends unemployment as vigorously as it defends the single life.

Having known all too well the consequences of ignoring convention, James demonstrates what Gostrey and Bilham lose by deserting traditional expectations. Strether sees Bilham’s life as a “shipwreck,” from which nothing has been retained save “his beautiful intelligence and his confirmed habit of Paris.” Similarly, Strether sees how Maria Gostrey’s abstensions from both regular work and marriage have affected where she must live, observing, “Her compact and crowded little chambers, almost dusky, as they at first struck him, with accumulations, represented a supreme general adjustment to opportunities and conditions.” No character in the novel, however, doubts that Bilham and Gostrey have made the correct decisions. Despite the shipwreck, Bilham lives, as Strether notices, completely exempt from “alarm, anxiety or remorse” and possesses an “amazing serenity.” And Gostrey would accept nothing less than her abysmal state.
But how did they achieve this poise? Strether does not have it. Frightened as he realizes that he will fail in bringing Chad home and thus lose the security of marrying Mrs. Newsome, Strether despairs that his buoyant friends do not share his sober outlook. During a conversation with Bilham’s female counterpart, Miss Barrace, he despairs at the light-heartedness of his Paris companions:

Was it after all a joke that he should be serious about anything? He envied Miss Barrace at any rate her power of not being. She seemed, with little cries and protests and quick recognitions, movements like the darts of some fine high-feathered free-pecking bird, to stand before life as before some full shop-window. You could fairly hear, as she selected and pointed, the tap of her tortoise-shell against the glass.

The sublime Miss Barrace stands utterly detached from even her own life, to the extent that Strether imagines a glass window separating her consciousness from her actual existence in the world. Delaying for a moment the question of how the Paris group achieves serenity in the face of privation, it is important to note that Strether connects Miss Barrace’s disengaged attitude with “quick recognitions” and, more specifically, the act of seeing. He tells Bilham and Miss Barrace a few pages later, in the same vein, “‘You’ve all of you here so much visual sense that you’ve somehow all “run” to it. There are moments when it strikes one that you haven’t any other.’” Bilham clarifies Strether’s thought, remarking that the Paris set lacks a “moral” awareness, which, of course, Mrs. Newsome and her daughter Sarah possess in spades.

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The Ambassadors 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Professor_J_Denning More than 1 year ago
I suspect the review above was written by an Oxford editor. I say this because I possess the B&N Classic edition of The Ambassadors as well as the Oxford version, since I am a college professor and like to compare books before having the store order them in bulk for my classes. Not only is the B&N Classic $2 cheaper than Oxford -- no small consideration for my students -- it contains several editorial features found no place else: about a dozen book reviews from the early 1900s, a fascinating short essay on books "Inspired By" The Ambassadors (with a discussion of Woolf and Hemingway's reaction), and an introduction that is twice as long as Oxford's. Moreover, the B&N Classics intro is far more up-to-date, modern, and relevant to today's readers, whether they are students or a general audience. I found the Oxford introduction a bit outdated and skimpy, to be honest. As for Kate Croy's complaint about the footnotes -- it's true that the B&N Classics edition has fewer of them, but the other amenities of the book more than make up for it, and the Oxford notes are really not that interesting anyway. I don't usually comment on these sites, but wanted to balance what I felt was an unfair review by the pseudonymous Kate Croy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I wasn't riveted initially, the Master had plans for the patient reader. Even during the slow murky start (murky because it was probably over my head) I could proclaim that the prose was stellar, the best I've come across. This guy was a master of his craft. Ultimately, a fine fine book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
James captures the ambiance and ambivalence of Paris at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. He places Americans (as he often does) in the seductive milieu strikingly new to them--particularly to New Englanders--and shows us, in his slow, difficult prose (intentionally difficult, like Faulkner's, I think) how some yield to it and blossom; others are repelled and find the boat for home. The novel ends, not tragically quite, but wistfully, in regretful melancholy.
comett More than 1 year ago
The Ambassadors (1903) is one of the later works of Henry James, one of the great American writers of the late19th and early 20th century. The central character, Lambert Strether, is the consumate Jamesian hero; an American in Europe in the mould of Christopher Norman, Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer, who, for better or worse, finds himself at the mercy of more worldly Europeans and expatriots. The traditional and dependable Strether is a fifty-five year old widower who also lost a young son many years prior. His code of honour and open-mindedness, along with his insecurities, complicate and prolong his mission to retrieve his fiancee's twenty-eight year old son, Chad Newsome, whom the family believes has lingered too long in Paris (perhaps romantically detained) and ought to be home in Massachusetts minding the family business. Romantic interests surface and Strether himself is drawn to the two central female characters. It is easy to cheer for this very model of a New England gentleman, as well as the deep and perceptive Maria Gostrey and the charming and glamorous Marie de Vionnet. As an aside, this novel is excessively descriptive and requires careful reading. Sentences often extend for several lines and paragraphs frequently run in excess of a page. Subordinate clauses are the order of the day, especially in the middle of sentences:. often they are separated by dashes instead of commas. Perhaps it is best to read entire passages, including subordinate clauses, in order to appreciate nuances; then reread the main passages while omitting the csubordinate clauses, so as to better grasp the important aspects of the plot or subplots. In essence, readers who approach The Ambassadors in a workmanlike manner should come away with a sense of accomplishment derived from mastering a great masterpiece, which includes several well developed, three dimensional characters who enrich a well crafted plot
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
People who react adversely to the prose style (some of the sentences in this book, and others like "Wings of the Dove," can be a page long), should keep in mind that this is the late--or late style--Henry James, where he is doing what great authors ought to do--taking chances, expanding the power of language to explore psychological space, and experimenting. Mrs. Newsome (nuisance) dispatches Lambert Strether to Paris, to induce her wayward son, Chad Newsome, to return home so that he might take his part in his family's lucrative advertising company. Strether encounters Marie de Vincent, the marvelously cultured woman to whom Chad has become attached, and his mission becomes side-railed as he gradually comes to realize that Chad, although he is having a sexual affair with de Vincent, is much better off--indeed, under a finer moral influence with de Vincent--than he would be back in Massachusetts. From Mrs. Newsome's perspective, though, Strether fails. Strether does not fail, however; he is one of James' "children of light" who cannot compromise insight, compassion, and delicacy for the coarse calculations of the world, however much they might be ground down or diminished by them.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A tough read for me 40 years ago, but I'm so glad I persisted. "Live all you can!"
Atchoum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I hate leaving a book unfinished but the bore was unbearable. I just cannot understand where this author got his fame from : the story is nonexistent, the characters are totally forgetable and the style is so pompeous...
Stormrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Note: This book is the first of my quest to read 20 "significant" (as defined by me) books, not counting those for class and re-reads, this semester (spring 2010) Actual Review: I don't think I've fallen for an author this much since I started reading Jane Austen - which is quite ironic, since James disliked Austen! James' writing is intricate and playful, his command of the english language is astounding, and you can tell he's enjoying his own powers - for example, when he described Mrs. Barrace as "The unobscured Mrs. Barrace", or when we are introduced to Maria Gostrey as "Not freshly young, not markedly fine, but (whose features) were on happy terms with one another" The story itself is neither freshly young, nor markedly fine, but exceed all expectations. James excells in slowly revealing the complexity of people and their relationships with one another; one discovers people as one would solve a mystery, and that, indeed, is the inherant interest in the book, and what kept me flipping pages. His characters - even Lambert Strether - seem not to grow, but rather simply to reveal more of themselves, as one reveals the inner layers of an onion. It is impossible to characterize them in a single sentence - indeed, it seems almost impossible to describe them without re-writing the book! Nor can the theme of the book be so easily dissected - I've read that it's "about a man's late awakening to the importance of morality founded...on it's value per se", and it is, I suppose, but it's about so much more than that. I would argue that it's about life, and the value of living, and experiencing all you can - quite as Strether would say - and about being true to yourself (although in a much less trite fashion than usual. The book leaves us with no easy conclusions; and with that, it reminds me of Austen - entertaining and fun and gripping, but, at the same time, deep and probing.
branful on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i feel sentimental education for Strether will be incomplete until he learns that Maria Gostrey is best for him. But, from where did Maria come, i wonder.
ConfuzzledShannon More than 1 year ago
A young man, Chad, has been traveling Europe ending up in Paris, France.  His family wants him home to the States as they fear France has corrupted him. As you see above the rating for this is a one star and a DNF(Did Not Finish).  This is a first for me.  I really tried to get into The Ambassadors and to understand it.  I got to about 200 pages in and just could not continue.  Never have read a book like this where the words that are used I understand on their own but when they are combined with others I know do not comprehend  them together. I do not know if it is just the way Henry James writes since this the first I have read by him but I will not be returning to this book again.
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jgodpstr More than 1 year ago
While I like Jame's fantasy/horror works like The Turning of the Screw a little more, this was an interesting book to read. His writing style is a little to verbose (it's a little like reading Dickens) but the style works for the plot.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I wish I could be as kind as the reviewer below, but I can't. James's rambling went on far TOO long and I didn't find any of the characters particularly sympathetic. You're not missing much.
KateCroy More than 1 year ago
Henry James' masterpiece deserves a better editor than Kyle Patrick Smith. While most Barnes & Noble editions are edited by professors, Smith's sole qualification for this job is his bachelor's degree from Harvard; must we imagine that James' own brief attendance there confers the missing laurels? (He does inform us, however, that he was "raised in San Diego," and "lives in Manhattan." Ah, well never mind then.) Smith's annotations are almost sublimely poor. He tells us that the "Café Riche is a popular Parisian theater" and that "nearby is the Gymnase, a well known restaurant." One need look no farther than James' own text (and common sense. and historical sense.) to know that of course the reverse is true. Equally bad is his Spanish spelling of France's famous Opéra National de Paris: Smith gives us the comical Opéra Nacional. The list of errors continues, but before you discover them for yourself, I recommend you select the wonderful Oxford edition instead. Unless of course you want your copy of The Ambassadors to assure you that you too could be an editor. But then again, where do you live?