The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Books 11-12

Book Eleventh:

Section I:

Lambert Strether reminisces about the early days of his visit, as he walks down the Boulevard Malesherbes. Chad is distressed, meanwhile. In conversation, it is made clear to Strether that Sarah remains "crystalline" and obstinate in her position. Still, Strether admits that he "felt no remorse." Chad is saddened by the fact that Strether stands to lose a great deal.

Section II:

Strether tells Maria Gostrey that the Pococks have left Paris and that Chad will soon be leaving as well. Gostrey appreciates the fact that Madame de Vionnet did not make an attempt to separate Gostrey from Strether, although it is not clear precisely how de Vionnet might have done this. Of course, Maria's primary concern is for Strether's welfare. There does not seem to be the option of a "last mercy," now that Strether has offended Sarah Pocock and obstinately rejected Mrs. Newsome's generous offer. Strether says that he will have the comfort of self-knowledge, but Gostrey is not convinced that this is a true "comfort." Gostrey argues that, if anything, Strether has "treasures of imagination." Indeed, Strether has imagined beautiful details more than he has analyzed the actual facts.

Section III:

Strether seems to have absorbed the full consequences of his actions. For comfort, Strether decides to make a day-trip into the banlieue (the countryside of the surrounding suburban regions). Strether takes his stroll alone and thinks to himself. He assumes that he is isolated but in fact, there is a boat on the nearby river. A lady and gentleman are present on the boat.

Section IV:

Much to his surprise and embarrassment, Strether realizes that Chad is the oarsman and he is sharing company with Madame de Vionnet. It is awkward because Strether does not want to be recognized - though Chad soon apprehends him. All three are somewhat embarrassed though Strether feels far more mortified. At this point, Strether feels that he finally "hits bottom." Strether cannot determined whether this accidental meeting has been somehow orchestrated or contrived. He does feel that he has stumbled upon a performance and in a general sense, Strether feels "used" by Chad.


In Book Eleventh, we see that the turn of events has some effect on Strether's mental composure. Earlier in the novel, Strether walked down Boulevard Malesherbes, searching for Chad and wondering whether he would recognize Chad when he saw him. Strether has enjoyed more than a few walks through Paris' more fashionable quarters and his walks have brought recollections of a previous visit to Paris. In Book Eleventh, Strether's walk does not bring relief: escape from thinking about his present situation. Indeed, the "idyllic retreat" of the suburbs becomes a cruel irony when Strether discovers Chad and Madame de Vionnet.

Here the boat imagery has been altered. After his experience in the Notre Dame cathedral, Strether sees himself sharing a boat with Madame de Vionnet. While there were no hints of romance, there was the idea that Strether willingly bound his fate to de Vionnet's. The boating scene suggests that in spite of the evitable separation, de Vionnet was by no means already separated from Chad. Her desperation was simply a mask worn as a means of buying time. The "performance" suggests the extent of the dishonesty displayed in the character's strategies. Strether does not believe that Chad and de Vionnet have deliberately arrived on scene as a means of creating a performance for Strether (who they supposedly knew was taking a day-trip). However, it does seem reasonable to assume that Chad and de Vionnet, seeing Strether, performed in the manner most profitable to their interests.

Strether has been surprised by the "vision." This time, Strether was not able to pre-determine a romanticized vista. Indeed, some of the romanticized notions are held no longer, rejected, as the visual medium becomes more clear (as a form) to Strether. He might have learned this much from the Newsomes' advertising business. In this scene, an unpleasant shock has been smoothed over. Strether cannot help but think that a similar sort of smoothing over must have occurred throughout his involvement with Chad and Chad's friends.

Perhaps Strether has been "used." Certainly, Sarah Pocock's "crystalline" aspect indicates that she has not been used. By remaining firm, Sarah is able to achieve her desired ends. Chad and Madame de Vionnet never really reveal their truly desired ends. They strategically engage Strether, and we cannot assume that both have represented themselves truthfully. Strether, on the other hand, had vaguely defined ends. Because Strether had not decided upon an argument, arguments were drawn for him. Gostrey tells the doomed man that his 'treasure of imagination' are valuable. Strether has done plenty of imagining instead of investigating and analyzing.

Book Twelfth:

Section I:

At this point, Strether wonders precisely what will happen at the end, how the Newsomes will separate with him. Strether wants to see Maria Gostrey, and he is glad that Gostrey is still there to help him sort through the details. As it turns out htough, Strether does not go to see Gostrey right away. Thinking about Paris, Strether is somewhat shocked at the "ugliness" and the stale aspect of the city. Certainly, these details had been present all along. Strether cannot help but feel a little disappointed in himself.

Section II:

Strether intends to see Maria Gostrey, but he sees Madame de Vionnet first. De Vionnet is worried about how Strether must see her now. She fears that she has disgusted Strether. At the same time, Strether realizes with certainty that he "will lose" everything. De Vionnet cannot help but feel guilty for having led Strether to damage his prospects in such a permanent way. Strether does not seem to hold any grudges against de Vionnet, accepting full responsibility for his actions. At the same time, there is very little good will remaining between the two.

Section III:

Strether waits to hear from Chad Newsome, but it seems that he never will. Though he expected some sort of finality, Strether is somewhat dismayed to realize that he has "been chucked" in such a manner - without Chad giving a formal goodbye. Strether goes to see Gostrey and he learns that Madame de Vionnet had visited. Several times, de Vionnet visited Gostrey but Gostrey would not receive her. This final time, however, Maria Gostrey was willing to host her old acquaintance.

De Vionnet had presumed that Chad left Paris with Strether; apparently, Chad had not bid farewell to de Vionnet either. Gostrey tries to get a sense of what Strether is thinking. It is clear to her that Strether has perceived the "shock" of his separation from the Newsomes. What surprises Gostrey is that Strether has not realized his error and rushed to return to Mrs. Newsome. Gostrey wonders whether "she might interfere to her profit," and make a move to keep Strether's company indefinitely. This does not seem likely, though.

Gostrey and Strether discuss Madame de Vionnet. De Vionnet is worried that Strether judges her and thinks that she is an immoral woman; she worries because she felt that she and Strether might have been friends had things not turned out so poorly. Gostrey makes a sympathetic remark and Strether asks her whether she was sympathizing with de Vionnet or with him. Gostrey replies "I'm sorry for us all."

Section IV:

Strether meets Chad to exchange goodbyes. Chad has been to London and he has surveyed the advertising business, which he will continue at home. In one sense, Strether realizes that Chad is too young to spend his life with Madame de Vionnet. If nothing else, his decision is a "rejection of the aged." Strether encourages Chad not to "be a brute" and to be merciful in his treatment of Madame de Vionnet. He also adds that it would make sense for Chad to get as much "improvement" from de Vionnet as he can.

Section V:

In the final section of the novel, Strether has not lost his characteristic "restlessness." In his discussion with Maria Gostrey, the final details of the novel are disclosed. It is likely that Mamie and Chad will be wed at some point in the future, and Chad will grow to become a great "man of business." In a sense, Chad's return home is not surprising because he is a man who has been "formed to please" the women around him. Ultimately, Chad's mother has her way. Strether is sure that his relationship with Mrs. Newsome - whatever it was - is certainly over.

Gostrey asks Strether what prospects he has in Woollett, and Strether replies that he is going "home to infamy." Gostrey cannot help but propose that Strether remain with her. Strether's reply is that is only consolation and justification is to "not, out of the whole affair, to have got anything for myself." Gostrey essentially argues that Strether has some right (if not an obligation) to look after his own interests, especially as the drama involving the other characters has concluded. Strether retorts that Gostrey herself would want him to do right. He could not justify a decision to remain in Europe with her because that would pollute his romanticism with strategy. Gostrey cannot really resist Strether's argument that he has been selfless and pure up to this point. And so, the novel ends with Strether declining Gostrey's invitation and deciding to return to Woollett.


The novel's conclusion brings together the ideas of fate and strategy. The motifs have already been developed; here, we see the concluding aspects of "character development." Madame de Vionnet's strategy was ultimately unsuccessful and like Strether, she submits to fate. Strether negotiated and bargained without even having a strategy. If Strether thought that he would be spared from harm on account of his good intentions, he was mistaken. Fate has overruled the strategies of the players. As a result, the end of the novel is not very dramatic. We have expected this ending.

Strether has tried to function in the role of a savior. He has arrived on the scene to "save" Chad Newsome, only to become entangled in trying to "save" Madame de Vionnet. Strether has failed on both counts: Chad has been saved by his sister, and Madame de Vionnet has not been saved by anybody. Strether has celebrated the idea of glory, and he has tried to become glorious by redefining his mission to include Madame de Vionnet. Strether had the opportunity to be "rescued" by Sarah Pocock, but having rejected this offer, Strether has no hope of "glory."

He is innocent and he argues that he has not gotten anything for himself. But because Strether has not strategized, he loses. James' The Ambassadors is not a novel in which the sacrificial turn out to be the winners in the end. Gostrey has the opportunity to keep Strether in her company and perhaps start a romantic relationship with him, but she follows a similar course of self-denial. Both characters are together at the end of the novel, and with no other characters on scene, Gostrey and Strether decide to separate. They are bound by their own ideals - not by the actions of the other characters. Both Strether and Gostrey try to keep the ideal of purity in mind. Throughout the novel, Gostrey and Strether have thought in terms of "types" and universal moral claims. The other characters have focused on their private and individual concerns.

At the beginning of Book Twelfth, Strether appears in danger of losing his idealism. He has become intoxicated by the idea of Paris - at this point, Paris now seems ugly. The beauty that Strether had imagined, was no longer there. Of course, Paris hadn't changed. Strether changed. Strether once glamorized Madame de Vionnet, but at the end of the novel de Vionnet does not appear so glamorous to Strether. She is in the same regrettable position that she has occupied throughout the novel - Strether seems to realize this only in the end. Like other works of Henry James - Daisy Miller, in particular, The Ambassadors continues the theme of Europe as a corrupted, corrupting force. Strether's realization that Paris is uglier and corrupt, immediately precedes his return to America. In a sense, small-town provincialism is the trade-off for purity and idealism.

Strether is a complex character because his idealism is youthful and out of place within the context of Strether's life. Strether returns to Paris hoping to relive the experience of his happier younger years. Further, Strether plays the idealist hoping to rescue young Chad Newsome. Chad Newsome appears older physically and mentally as well. Ultimately, Chad's own business sense wins out over Strether's attempts to make the young man behave in a youthful, idealistic manner. In the end, there is much more to youth than idealism. Chad may be headed for a life as a man of business, but he is headed for a life. His termination of the relationship with Madame de Vionnet is nothing less than the "rejection" of the "aged." Gostrey, Strether and Madame de Vionnet all suffer the ends of relationships without having future prospects ahead of them.

Finally, the character development of Book Twelfth allows us insight into James' critical views on characterization and development. Throughout the novel, Gostrey and Strether have discussed individuals in terms of "types." As types, individuals are readable, understandable, and not very surprising. What is surprising about the end of the novel is that Strether's information - the advice that he receives from Gostrey - goes unused. Strether has learned about "types," but he is the type to ignore what he has learned. Chad is a man who has been "formed to please" and in the end, he pleases his mother, Mrs. Newsome. The idea of "types" suggests that man has limited free will and that life is more determined by fate or predetermined. Strether is perhaps in a rut: for all of his knowledge he can't get himself out of the rut of his character. He is simply not a "type" cut out for strategy. Mrs. Newsome, on the other hand, is rather God-like: she keeps her distance from the human scene, she sends messengers - her prophets and children to rescue her children and bring them back home, and in the end, she gets what she wants, as it was written. There is a role reversal in the "God-head" being female (Mrs. Newsome) and the successful savior (Sarah Pocock) being the daughter, as opposed to the son. At the same time, the absence of sacrifice on Sarah's part makes this scheme all the less Christian. James' allusions are explicit throughout the novel, but he makes it clear that this is not the scene for the passion of spilled blood. Strether's task - the task he failed - was unbearably simple. Strether's inability to rescue Chad for America or rescue Chad for Paris fully explains why Strether has been unable to rescue himself from failure - whether in America or in Paris.