The Ambassadors

Heroic Isolation: Rowland Mallet, Lambert Strether, and the Experience of Estrangement

One of Henry James' outstanding qualities is that, to a greater extent than with most writers, the only way to really understand him is to simply read a great deal more of him. This statement takes one thing largely under its assumptive stride, that is that there is something to understand, something suggested and promised by, but not contained within, his immaculate and elegant prose. Again, to a greater extent than with most novelists, with Henry James it is safe to say that the real story unfolds not fully in the light thrown off by the explicit story-telling; no matter how elaborate or complete the narrative web, there is always something beyond it, a greater significance that we are pointed to by a constant inability fully to explain to ourselves, at least within its own terms, the story we are reading. Taking Roderick Hudson from the earlier years, and The Ambassadors from the later, we can trace a certain evolution in the way James handled the themes that pervaded his work as well as his life, namely, disengagement, isolation, difference. Comparing, in these two novels, the portrayal of this resigned but not fully explicated isolation, each comes to shed an enormous light into the hidden recesses of the other, and...

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