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The Ambassadors (Anglais) Poche – 1 février 1960

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--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché.

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Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock, that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to himself--there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive--the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe. Mixed with everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a sufficient degree.

That note had been meanwhile--since the previous afternoon, thanks to this happier device--such a consciousness of personal freedom as he hadn't known for years; such a deep taste of change and of having above all for the moment nobody and nothing to consider, as promised already, if headlong hope were not too foolish, to colour his adventure with cool success. There were people on the ship with whom he had easily consorted--so far as ease could up to now be imputed to him--and who for the most part plunged straight into the current that set from the landing-stage to London; there were others who had invited him to a tryst at the inn and had even invoked his aid for a "look round" at the beauties of Liverpool; but he had stolen away from every one alike, had kept no appointment and renewed no acquaintance, had been indifferently aware of the number of persons who esteemed themselves fortunate in being, unlike himself, "met," and had even independently, unsociably, alone, without encounter or relapse and by mere quiet evasion, given his afternoon and evening to the immediate and the sensible. They formed a qualified draught of Europe, an afternoon and an evening on the banks of the Mersey, but such as it was he took his potion at least undiluted. He winced a little, truly, at the thought that Waymarsh might be already at Chester; he reflected that, should he have to describe himself there as having "got in" so early, it would be difficult to make the interval look particularly eager; but he was like a man who, elatedly finding in his pocket more money than usual, handles it a while and idly and pleasantly chinks it before addressing himself to the business of spending. That he was prepared to be vague to Waymarsh about the hour of the ship's touching, and that he both wanted extremely to see him and enjoyed extremely the duration of delay--these things, it is to be conceived, were early signs in him that his relation to his actual errand might prove none of the simplest. He was burdened, poor Strether--it had better be confessed at the outset--with the oddity of a double consciousness. There was detachment in his zeal and curiosity in his indifference.

After the young woman in the glass cage had held up to him across her counter the pale--pink leaflet bearing his friend's name, which she neatly pronounced, he turned away to find himself, in the hall, facing a lady who met his eyes as with an intention suddenly determined, and whose features--not freshly young, not markedly fine, but on happy terms with each other--came back to him as from a recent vision. For a moment they stood confronted; then the moment placed her: he had noticed her the day before, noticed her at his previous inn, where--again in the hall--she had been briefly engaged with some people of his own ship's company. Nothing had actually passed between them, and he would as little have been able to say what had been the sign of her face for him on the first occasion as to name the ground of his present recognition. Recognition at any rate appeared to prevail on her own side as well--which would only have added to the mystery. All she now began by saying to him nevertheless was that, having chanced to catch his enquiry, she was moved to ask, by his leave, if it were possibly a question of Mr. Waymarsh of Milrose Connecticut--Mr. Waymarsh the American lawyer.

"Oh yes," he replied, "my very well--known friend. He's to meet me here, coming up from Malvern, and I supposed he'd already have arrived. But he doesn't come till later, and I'm relieved not to have kept him. Do you know him?" Strether wound up.

It wasn't till after he had spoken that he became aware of how much there had been in him of response; when the tone of her own rejoinder, as well as the play of something more in her face--something more, that is, than its apparently usual restless light--seemed to notify him. "I've met him at Milrose--where I used sometimes, a good while ago, to stay; I had friends there who were friends of his, and I've been at his house. I won't answer for it that he would know me," Strether's new acquaintance pursued; "but I should be delighted to see him. Perhaps," she added, "I shall--for I'm staying over." She paused while our friend took in these things, and it was as if a good deal of talk had already passed. They even vaguely smiled at it, and Strether presently observed that Mr. Waymarsh would, no doubt, be easily to be seen. This, however, appeared to affect the lady as if she might have advanced too far. She appeared to have no reserves about anything. "Oh," she said, "he won't care!"--and she immediately thereupon remarked that she believed Strether knew the Munsters; the Munsters being the people he had seen her with at Liverpool.

But he didn't, it happened, know the Munsters well enough to give the case much of a lift; so that they were left together as if over the mere laid table of conversation. Her qualification of the mentioned connexion had rather removed than placed a dish, and there seemed nothing else to serve. Their attitude remained, none the less, that of not forsaking the board; and the effect of this in turn was to give them the appearance of having accepted each other with an absence of preliminaries practically complete. They moved along the hall together, and Strether's companion threw off that the hotel had the advantage of a garden. He was aware by this time of his strange inconsequence: he had shirked the intimacies of the steamer and had muffled the shock of Waymarsh only to find himself forsaken, in this sudden case, both of avoidance and of caution. He passed, under this unsought protection and before he had so much as gone up to his room, into the garden of the hotel, and at the end of ten minutes had agreed to meet there again, as soon as he should have made himself tidy, the dispenser of such good assurances. He wanted to look at the town, and they would forthwith look together. It was almost as if she had been in possession and received him as a guest. Her acquaintance with the place presented her in a manner as a hostess, and Strether had a rueful glance for the lady in the glass cage. It was as if this personage had seen herself instantly superseded.

When in a quarter of an hour he came down, what his hostess saw, what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the lean, the slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and something more perhaps than the middle age--a man of five--and-fifty, whose most immediate signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face, a thick dark moustache, of characteristically American cut, growing strong and falling low, a head of hair still abundant but irregularly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold free prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been called, of which, had a certain effect of mitigation. A perpetual pair of glasses astride of this fine ridge, and a line, unusually deep and drawn, the prolonged pen--stroke of time, accompanying the curve of the moustache from nostril to chin, did something to complete the facial furniture that an attentive observer would have seen catalogued, on the spot, in the vision of the other party to Strether's appointment. She waited for him in the garden, the other party, drawing on a pair of singularly fresh soft and elastic light gloves and presenting herself with a superficial readiness which, as he approached her over the small smooth lawn and in the watery English sunshine, he might, with his rougher preparation, have marked as the model for such an occasion. She had, this lady, a perfect plain propriety, an expensive subdued suitability, that her companion was not free to analyse, but that struck him, so that his consciousness of it was instantly acute, as a quality quite new to him. Before reaching her he stopped on the grass and went through the form of feeling for something, possibly forgotten, in the light overcoat he carried on his arm; yet the essence of the act was no more than the impulse to gain time. Nothing could have been odder than Strether's sense of himself as at that moment launched in something of which the sense would be quite disconnected from the sense of his past and which was literally beginning there and then. It had begun in fact already upstairs and before the dressing--glass that struck him as blocking further, so strangely, the dimness of the window of his dull bedroom; begun with a sharper survey of the elements of Appearance than he had for a long time been moved to make. He had during those moments felt these elements to be not so much to his hand as he should have liked, and then had fallen back on the thought that they were precisely a matter as to which help was supposed to come from what he was about to do. He was about to go up to London, so that hat and necktie might wait. What had come as straight to him as a ball in a well--played game--and caught moreover not less neatly--was just the air, in the person of his friend, of having seen and chosen, the air of achieved possession of those vague qualities and quantities that collectively figured to him as the advantage snatched from lucky chances. Without pomp or circumstance, certainly, as her original address to him, equally with his own response, had been, he would have sketched to himself his impression of her as: "Well, she's more thoroughly civilized--!" If "More thoroughly than whom?" would not have been for him a sequel to this remark, that was just by reason of his deep consciousness of the bearing of his comparison.

The amusement, at all events, of a civilization intenser was what--familiar compatriot as she was, with the full tone of the compatriot and the rattling link not with mystery but only with dear dyspeptic Waymarsh--she appeared distinctly to promise. His pause while he felt in his overcoat was positively the pause of confidence, and it enabled his eyes to make out as much of a case for her, in proportion, as her own made out for himself. She affected him as almost insolently young; but an easily carried five--and-thirty could still do that. She was, however, like himself, marked and wan; only it naturally couldn't have been known to him how much a spectator looking from one to the other might have discerned that they had in common. It wouldn't for such a spectator have been altogether insupposable that, each so finely brown and so sharply spare, each confessing so to dents of surface and aids to sight, to a disproportionate nose and a head delicately or grossly grizzled, they might have been brother and sister. On this ground indeed there would have been a residuum of difference; such a sister having surely known in respect to such a brother the extremity of separation, and such a brother now feeling in respect to such a sister the extremity of surprise. Surprise, it was true, was not on the other hand what the eyes of Strether's friend most showed him while she gave him, stroking her gloves smoother, the time he appreciated. They had taken hold of him straightway, measuring him up and down as if they knew how; as if he were human material they had already in some sort handled. Their possessor was in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon--holed her fellow mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor scattering type. She was as equipped in this particular as Strether was the reverse, and it made an opposition between them which he might well have shrunk from submitting to if he had fully suspected it. So far as he did suspect it he was on the contrary, after a short shake of his consciousness, as pleasantly passive as might be. He really had a sort of sense of what she knew. He had quite the sense that she knew things he didn't, and though this was a concession that in general he found not easy to make to women, he made it now as good--humouredly as if it lifted a burden. His eyes were so quiet behind his eternal nippers that they might almost have been absent without changing his face, which took its expression mainly, and not least its stamp of sensibility, from other sources, surface and grain and form. He joined his guide in an instant, and then felt she had profited still better than he by his having been, for the moments just mentioned, so at the disposal of her intelligence. She knew even intimate things about him that he hadn't yet told her and perhaps never would. He wasn't unaware that he had told her rather remarkably many for the time, but these were not the real ones. Some of the real ones, however, precisely, were what she knew. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Présentation de l'éditeur

"[...]observation there listened to and gathered up had contained part of the "note" that I was to recognise on the spot as to my purpose—had contained in fact the greater part; the rest was in the place and the time and the scene they sketched: these constituents clustered and combined to give me further support, to give me what I may call the note absolute. There it stands, accordingly, full in the tideway; driven in, with hard taps, like some strong stake for the noose of a cable, the swirl of the current roundabout it. What amplified the hint to more than the bulk of hints in general was the gift with it of the old Paris garden, for in that token were sealed up values infinitely precious. There was of course the seal to break and each item of the packet to count over and handle and estimate; but somehow, in the light of the hint, all the elements of a situation of the sort most to my taste were there. I could even remember no occasion on which, so confronted, I had found it of a livelier interest to take stock, in this fashion, of suggested wealth. For I think, verily, that there are degrees of merit in subjects—in spite of the fact that to treat even one of the most ambiguous with due decency we must for the time, for the feverish and prejudiced hour, at least figure its merit and its dignity as POSSIBLY absolute. What it comes to, doubtless, is that even among the supremely good—since with such alone is it one's theory of one's honour to be concerned—there is an ideal[...]". --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Détails sur le produit

  • Poche
  • Editeur : Signet Classics; Édition : NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY (1 février 1960)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0451500121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451500120
  • Dimensions du produit: 17,8 x 2,5 x 12,7 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.2 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (4 commentaires client)
  • Table des matières complète
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3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Dolphin TOP 50 COMMENTATEURS le 23 juin 2012
Format: Broché
I'll be honest: this book does not ''flow''. Many years ago I read James' short stories, ''The Portrait of a Lady'' and ''The Wings of the Dove'', and carried with me the memory of a fabulous word-smith with a knack for making the inconceivable gradually become the inevitable. I was fascinated by his sardonic and non-judgemental insight into human behaviour as shaped by the stony rules of society. These qualities are still present in ''The Ambassadors'' but their immediate impact is nearly submerged in a narrative style so full of incidental and parenthetic sentences that I had to read each paragraph several times to fully comprehend it. As James excelled at social satire, I am tempted to conclude that this late work (which he apparently declared to be his best) is in fact a huge joke to see just how much he could get away with in over-bloated prose before any of his admirers called his bluff.

Back to the novel: the premise is that a wealthy young American, who has been living in splendid idleness in Paris, must now return to his provincial home town to assume control of the family business. Strether, who is engaged to the young man's widowed mother, is dispatched with strict instructions to detach Chad from the unsuitable French lady he is suspected of being entangled with, and to bring him back to face his responsibilities, upon penalty of losing a fortune. Character development is interesting but superficial. Most of the characters are pretentious stereotypes and, on closer acquaintance, hold no surprises and, since morals and socially correct behaviour have changed so much, it requires a huge amount of imagination to understand the motivation that moved these people to act the way they did. Consequently I did not develop any great interest in their doings or their fate.
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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Jason2345 le 20 juin 2010
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
C'est un des chefs d'œuvre de Henry James. Ce roman vous tient en haleine du début jusqu'à la fin.
Le sujet est simple : l'héritier d'une grande famille d'industriels américains de la fin du 19ème siècle est parti à Paris pour un voyage d'agrément. Mais il est retenu par le charme de la vie parisienne bourgeoise de l'époque et aussi semble-t-il par une femme mystérieuse. Sa mère a besoin de lui pour mener les affaires en Amérique. Lassée de ne pas recevoir de réponse elle envoie un ami, un "ambassadeur", avec mission d' aller le chercher. Mais la situation se complique car l'Ambassadeur est lui aussi pris au piège du charme parisien. Il s'ensuit une étude fouillée des personnages et des mœurs de cette époque. On pense à Proust, avec un style et une présentation différente. On aime aussi les descriptions de Paris.

C'est un roman à lire absolument si on aime la belle littérature..
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Par D. Legare TOP 1000 COMMENTATEURSVOIX VINE le 20 février 2012
Format: Broché
Un des meilleurs romans de Henry James, probablement, tout en subtilité et en non-dits, c'est le seul roman qui a réussi à m'accrocher dans une période de grande fatigue et de désintérêt pour la lecture, c'est dire !
Lambert Strether, un Américain du Massachussetts arrive à Paris en mission pour essayer de ramener un fils de famille, Chad Newsome, à la raison. Il est envoyé tel un ambassadeur par Mrs Newsome, la mère du jeune homme qu'il doit épouser une fois sa mission menée à bon terme. Celle-ci soupçonne Chad de s'être amouraché d'une femme peu en rapport avec son rang social et souhaite qu'il rentre à Woollett pour prendre la tête de l'affaire familiale. Mais voilà que Strether trouve la vie parisienne douce, épanouissante et riche de rencontres, si bien qu'au fil du temps sa détermination faiblit. Il s'interroge alors sur cette mission et sur sa propre vie. Mme de Vionnet, une `amie' très proche de Chad, n'est pas étrangère à ce questionnement et à la complexité des sentiments qui émergent dans l'esprit de Strether. Mais voilà que Mrs Newsome s'impatiente et envoie un second ambassadeur en la personne de sa très convenable fille, Sarah....

James a modelé d'étonnants personnages dans ce roman, étonnants par leur complexité, leur dérive progressive et assumée par rapport aux conventions, celles qui sont propres aux lieux, à l'époque, mais aussi celles plus normatives encore d'une logique de vie. Car c'est de cela qu'il s'agit, au fond, vivre pleinement hors des normes ou subir un schéma de vie convenu.
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0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Beigbeder Yves le 5 mars 2011
Format: Broché
Le livre est un classique. Le style est très détaillé et touffu, un peu à la manière de Proust: il devient passionnant après le premier effort de lecture, et la compréhension de l'anglais de James, qui parait suranné et précieux pour un francophone, mais charmant.

Bien évidemment, à recommander.

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80 internautes sur 82 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Tough As It Gets, But Worth the Monumental Effort 6 janvier 2000
Par oh_pete - Publié sur
Format: Broché
THE AMBASSADORS demands more effort and concentration from the reader than probably any other novel written by an American. But the payoff is worth the effort, however we may begrudge James' frustratingly and intentionally thick prose. James does indeed describe intense human situations in great depth and detail: duty, honor, nostalgia; the contrast between the starchy-collared stiffness of Brahmin Boston (read: America) contrasted with the joie de vivre of Paris (read: Europe); how difficult certain of life's choices can be. These are just a few themes that make this book worthwhile. James' America is young and trying to assert itself (and so takes itself too seriously); his Europe is old and satisfied (and perhaps doesn't take itself seriously enough).
Lambert Strether, a fiftysomething turn-of-the-20th-century bourgeois Bostonian gentleman on an aristocratic lady's errand--she will not marry him until he convinces her son Chad to return to Massachusetts. We see his struggle with his uncomfortable position when he realizes Chad is no longer a spoiled young prep-schooler, but a young gentleman of increasing refinement and self-awareness. And if Strether is anything, by the way, he is one of the most supremely self-aware characters in literary history. Once that Paris air starts to play its magic with Strether himself, we are off to the races. Keeping in mind, of course, that with James' prose we are racing with tortoises. James invites us to ponder how many chances a person truly gets in this life to reinvent his or her self? And if we get the chance, do we always take it? How much should we weigh the consequences before we decide? How much are we willing to accept them after we have chosen?
For similar themes with clearer, faster-paced, and wittier prose, try Edith Wharton's marvelous homage to James, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE.
41 internautes sur 44 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An Aesthetic Triumph 7 décembre 2000
Par Daniel Myers - Publié sur
Format: Belle reliure
This is a novel about a man named Strether, who is as obviously an alter ego of Henry James as Ralph Touchett is of Mr. James in Portrait of A Lady or, to jump continents and switch authors, the main character in Remembrance of Things Past is of Proust. Strether is in Paris to retrieve his (hopefully?) future son-in-law Chad from the wiles of the City of Light and return him to New England so that Strether can marry, settle down and pass his waning years in Puritan New England (New England was still Puritan at the time.). At least, that's the plan. But once Strether arrives, something happens to him, and that mysterious something is what makes this work great. One could easily sum it up and say that Strether becomes enraptured by beauty, and one would be quite right. But to do so would be to miss the point....What is beauty? This is the question the novel essentially asks, all plotting and sub-plotting (and plenty of it) aside. Strether's paralysis because of his inability to grasp what is holding him there and why he becomes one of the greatest procrastinators in English literature (not excepting a certain Danish prince) is the great theme around which all else revolves. Strether is essentially a sensitive, cultured man with hyper-refined sensibilities. Alighting in Paris from the drab New England factory town awakens things in him that can only be perceived through the mind's eye of such a man. He is a sort of Geiger counter which registers things missed by others not so equipped (i.e., the rest of the characters.) "Strether had not for years so rich a consciousness of time-a bag of gold into which he constantly dipped for a handful." Ch.6 The beginning of Ch. 16 has a beautifully succinct line of his predicament, "How could he wish it to be lucid for others, for any one, that he, for the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the bright, clean, ordered water-side life came in at the open window?" Reasons, that is, to stay in beloved Paris. The denouement of the struggle between this sensibility and his deeply engrained New England morality becomes really beside the point. All the tergiversations and multiple reflections and subtle dialogue that convey the consciousness of a great soul constitute the book's undisputed prominence. I came away from the novel asking myself anew the question raised by Plato and other great philosophers and artists throughout history: What is beauty? What is the mysterious hold it has on us? And why do those who feel its power most acutely, such as Strether, suffer the most?
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Ambassadors: Worlds In Conflict & Readers In Conflict 15 août 2006
Par Martin Asiner - Publié sur
Format: Broché
If one were to choose just one novel from Henry James and say that this one is the quintessential example of a work that combines theme and style, one could do worse than to choose THE AMBASSADORS. James had a fascination with yanking Americans from their new world padded cells of insulation and transporting them to Europe, an old world that simply reeked of style and long held cultural givens. Lambert Strether is the ambassador of the title, an American who has grown up with typical American values, most of which relate to the Jamesian belief (often incorrect and exaggerated) that Americans were a breed of money mad social cretins who would not recognize class if they bumped into it. At the beginning of the novel, Strether is depicted as a basically good-hearted man who exists--but does not live--at least in the sense that he later comes to understand. It is he who is sent to London to retrieve a wayward Chad Newsome, a fellow American, son of the immensely wealthy Mrs. Newsome, who is eager for her son to return to America to take his rightful place as heir to the family fortune. In Europe, Strether is the fish out of water--at first. His job is to convert Chad or at least retrieve him from what Mrs. Newsome considers the clutches of a dissipated anti-Puritan and lascivious culture. But the conversion works in reverse. Lambert is affected by the openness of the European lifestyle, which compares refreshingly favorably to an American lifestyle that he now views as ponderous and stifling. He is further affected by a growing closeness with the target of his journey, Chad, a man that his mother assured Strether needed saving, but the only saving that Chad needs is to be saved from having to return to an America that will surely destroy Chad's new-found soul just as surely as it had stifled Strether's. Strether is finally affected by his relation with Mme. Marie de Vionnet, a lovely, elegant, and older European woman who is the girlfriend of Chad. This woman is another in a long line of Jamesian old-world icons of feminine exoticism who can seemingly float in mid air, so appealing is her capacity for infinite variety. Lambert concludes that she is RIGHT for Chad. Further, Europe is RIGHT for Chad, and finally, America is WRONG for Chad as well. By extension, Lambert learns the same lessons for himself. If he remains in Europe, he will suffer considerable sacrifice, not the least of which is that he has considered marrying Chad's mother, who suggests that at the successful conclusion to Lambert's journey, she will marry him, thus assuring him a share of her wealth. When Lambert delays in his mission, Mrs. Newsome sends yet another set of ambassadors, Chad's sister and her husband, both of whom prove invulnerable to the charms of Europe. Ironically, James shows that in the disreputable actions of the two in Europe (both engage in some tawdry behavior like drunken American sailors in a seedy Parisian saloon), that true class is a state of mind and not a function of where one hangs one's hat. At the end of the novel, James does not definitively wrap up all the loose ends. Presumably, Chad will eventually return to America--or perhaps not. Lambert will probably remain in Europe--or again perhaps not. Clearly, in THE AMBASSADORS, James leaves the door deliberately and ambiguously open, so that the resolution may need some unfolding after the words "the end."

Just as Henry James sets up a collision of cultural worlds in crisis, so does he do with a parallel collision of style in crisis. Many readers complain that James' style--ornate, ponderous, excessively prone to mutlti-pages of interminable dialogue--simply will not let them read a book that to them needs more plowing than reading. The problem here is that such readers have been taught to read conventional novels of slam-bang action, Hemingway-esque dialogue, and rapid pacing. In THE AMBASSADORS, James explores a different universe. His universe is the microverse, one is which most of the action is internalized. James wishes to unveil conscience and the intricacies of human dynamics. One might almost argue that the events in THE AMBASSADORS occur in real time. If it seems to take days to read, then perhaps that is the way that events occur in the fictional construct of any Jamesian novel. To read Henry James is to reread him as well. Just as human beings pause to use their memories of significant events to consider what to do for the future, so must the reader pause to reread passages to ponder past events. Thus, Henry James is one of the few authors (Proust is another) who has melded content to style. One does not read James merely to satisfy the requirements of a college class on the novel. One rereads James after the college class is over, and it is only then that one discovers the beauty of exploring the infinitely more beautiful world of the inner landscape over the outer.
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New England provinciality meets Parisian charm 29 mai 2002
Par A.J. - Publié sur
Format: Cahier
Was there any American more European than Henry James? "The Ambassadors" begins in England and takes place mostly in Paris, and even though most of its characters are American, it is only referentially concerned with its author's native country. At the same time, the novel is not about Americans frivolously sowing their wild oats in exotic ancestral lands, but rather how they use their new settings to break away from restrictive American traditions and conventions and redefine their values and standards of living.
The main character is a late-middle-aged widower named Lambert Strether who edits a local periodical in the town of Woollett, Massachussetts, and is a sort of factotum for a wealthy industrialist's widow named Mrs. Newsome, a woman he may possibly marry. Strether's latest assignment from Mrs. Newsome is to go to Paris to convince her son, Chad, to give up what she assumes is a hedonistic lifestyle and return to Woollett to marry a proper, respectable young lady, his brother-in-law's sister to be specific. There is a greater ulterior motive, too -- the prosperity of the family business relies on Chad's presence.
In Paris, Strether finds that Chad has surrounded himself with a more stimulating group of friends, including a mousy aspiring painter named John Little Bilham, and that he is in love with an older, married woman named Madame de Vionnet. Providing companionship and counsel to Strether in Paris are his old friend, a retired businessman named Waymarsh, and a woman he met in England, named Maria Gostrey, who happens to be an old schoolmate of the Madame's. When it appears that Strether is failing in his mission to influence Chad, Mrs. Newsome dispatches her daughter and son-in-law, Jim and Sarah (Newsome) Pocock, and Jim's marriageable sister Mamie, to Paris to apply pressure. Ultimately, Strether, realizing that he's blown his chances with Mrs. Newsome and that Chad has the right idea anyway, finds himself enjoying the carefree life in Paris, which has liberated him from his lonely, stifling existence in Woollett.
Not having cared much for James's previous work "The Wings of the Dove," I felt something click with "The Ambassadors." Maybe it's because I found the story a little more absorbing and could empathize with Strether; maybe it's because my reading skills are maturing and I'm learning to appreciate James's dense, oblique prose style. I realize now that, for all the inherent difficulty in his writing, literature took a giant step forward with Henry James; if the Novel is, as he claimed, "the most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms," it takes a writer like James to show us how.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great, but 20 août 2006
Par J. Wombacher - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
The Ambassadors is a novel that unravels itself continuously and feels in many ways like a mystery, yet nothing in the novel occurs in the way of crime or even baseness. Every other great novel I've read has dealt, in one way or another, with some weighty issue or theme; I feel The Ambassadors does not. Despite this I found myself mesmerized by its intricacies, its perpetual ability to surprise; yet I also frequently asked myself whether I cared enough about its subject matter to continue. In the preface James tells the reader that it's about a man who, late in life, reflects on what he's missed in his youth, and the possibility of recapturing it. This man, the main character, is Strether, who has been sent to Paris to bring back to New England the son of a wealthy widow he hopes to marry; if he fails to do so, his engagement falls through and the son loses a large chunk of his inheritance. The mission is viewed somewhat as a rescue since the son is believed to be ensnared in the throes of either an unsuitable woman or a dissipate lifestyle, or both. Europe, and especially Paris, awakens latent feelings in the provincial Strether, and what he discovers in Paris turns out to be full of surprises for him. Beyond this, I don't think it matters much what the novel is about - it seems to me that the broader one outlines it, the less palatable it appears. The novel is very subtle, and definitely the most dense and tedious of any I have read. I find the characters to be so intelligent and flawless in their manners that they become intimidating, oppressively so. I don't care about the outcome for any of them because I feel they lack humanity. It's as if regular people did not figure into James's universe. However, I do feel that, in technical terms, it is the most perfect novel I have read, and therefore deserves to be ranked among the greatest ever.
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