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Ambassadors (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593083786
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/1/2007
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 391,597
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Kyle Patrick Smith was raised in San Diego, California, and educated at Harvard. A writer and critic, he lives in Manhattan.

Biography

Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines. In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907). During his career, he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 15, 1843
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      February 28, 1916
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      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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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2009

    outstanding edition

    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.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2009

    Get a new editor!

    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?

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A young man, Chad, has been traveling Europe ending up in Paris,

    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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  • Posted November 14, 2013

    The Ambassadors (1903) is one of the later works of Henry James,

    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

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A little wordy but a good read.

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2004

    Sluggishly D-U-L-L

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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