The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Books 7-8

Volume II:

Book Seventh:

Section I:

Miss Gostrey is still gone, and Strether is beginning to flounder without her. Walking through Paris, Strether decides to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame. He is very surprised when he sees Madame de Vionnet is there as well. Both are seeking "help, strength, peace, a sublime support" and they begin to develop a friendship, or at least, a mutual understanding. Strether sees his situation as being so complicated that he is almost fated to doom. Still, Strether feels sorry for Madame de Vionnet and agrees that he will do what he can to save her. Strether tells Madame de Vionnet that he will write to Mrs. Newsome, "letting her know that I consider you [Madame de Vionnet] worth saving." Madame de Vionnet is very grateful and she hopes for the best.

Section II:

Strether has received a telegram from Mrs. Newsome and he is not at all pleased. He is waiting to speak to Chad, and in his anxiety, Strether shreds the telegram. Mrs. Newsome is uninterested in compromising her position. In fact, she has given Strether an ultimatum: if he cannot bring Chad with him, Strether is to leave Chad in Europe and return home alone. While Chad sees that he must now leave, Strether is reluctant to leave. With victory in his hand, Strether fails to bring Chad along with him. Chad appears ready to come home, but Strether is charmed by Paris and charmed by Madame de Vionnet. He tells Chad to delay and stay in Paris a little longer. Chad seems surprised by Strether's decision, but as it is agreeable to his original position, Chad does not object too strenuously.

Section III:

Miss Gostrey is surprised when she learns that Strether has stopped Chad from returning home. Waymarsh is also concerned and he morally disapproves of what Strether has done. Indeed, Waymarsh may have been communicating with Mrs. Newsome in order to hurry the mission along and also protect Strether. It seems that Strether intends to stay a little longer, just for the fun of it. At the same time, Strether realizes that he is behaving somewhat irrationally, that there will be some sort of "smash" at the end of things. At the end of Book Seventh, it becomes clear that Mrs. Newsome is sending more ambassadors to the scene. Chad's sister, Sarah Pocock, will be arriving soon, along with her husband, Jim, and Jim's sister, Mamie.


Volume II opens on a romantic note, but Sections II and III make it clear that Strether has failed. Section I offers religious imagery as a contrast to the ineffective and half-formed relief that Strether offers Madame de Vionnet. In a sense, Madame de Vionnet's reliance upon Strether alone is evidence of her actual weakness. Already, we find that Mrs. Newsome has replaced Strether with more abler ambassadors, and even Waymarsh has been looking out for Mrs. Newsome's interests. Though she is in America, "the ghost of the lady of Woollett [was] more importunate than any other presence." Mrs. Newsome is ghost-like in her material absence, but in terms of power, she is felt. Newsome has sent her daughter to accomplish what Strether has not.

In Book First, Maria Gostrey was described as a maternal figure akin to the Virgin Mary. In the absence of this figure, Strether has gone to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. What Strether is seeking is the assistance and mothering of a dominant female character (like Gostrey). Instead, Strether finds himself assisting Madame de Vionnet - who is dominant and powerful, but in need of rescue, nonetheless. Her hold on Chad has been temporary, for Chad now appears ready to leave de Vionnet. The Countess hopes that she can hold onto either Chad or Strether as a means of prolonging the status quo.

By the end of Book Seventh, Strether is unable to help anybody except perhaps himself. He has been replaced in his ambassadorial role. And Chad's new found common-sense prevents the young man from accepting Strether's idealized Paris. Already, Chad seems restless and increasingly bored. He stays with Madame de Vionnet out of obligation. Ultimately, we might expect this to be the conclusive development of the theme of youth and age. Chad has his life ahead of him and unwilling to submit himself to an impossible arrangement. Strether and de Vionnet have already lived through many experiences. They have less to lose than Chad, because they have already had much. In a surprising twist on the theme, we find the young man emerging as the conservative voice. With his future at stake, he has more to lose than either de Vionnet or Strether.

The narrative structure of the novel certainly creates a context for dramatic irony. Indeed, there is much that we cannot help but know, though it is obscured from Strether. The very fact of the title implies - from the very beginning of our reading - that Strether will not be the only ambassador. Second, the fact that we are only now in the beginning of Volume II forces us to reject Strether's passive anticipation of a swift and easy ending. Strether does not want to fulfill his duty. Having complicated the issue and compromised himself, he seeks justice and closure. He tells Madame de Vionnet: "my work, you see, is really done, and my reasons for staying on even another day are none of the best. Chad's in possession of our case and professes to do it full justice. What remains is with himself." Where Strether was once playing the role of a messiah, he has now turned over the reins.

The imagery has changed from religious to legal. Maria Gostrey has left, and Waymarsh, a lawyer, now occupies a strategic role. Indeed, it is worth recalling that Waymarsh's "moral rage" has already earned him a comparison to "the old Hebrew prophet" Moses, earlier in the novel. Waymarsh is less of a lawyer and more of a law-giver. Though he remains on the periphery, he assumes enough authority to merit the description "Michelangelesque," which obliquely references both the Sistine Chapel's depictions of judgment as well as Michelangelo's towering sculpture of Moses. Previously we have seen motifs of Messianic salvation, refuge and intercession on the part of a maternal role. Now there is the idea of justice as relief, and a setting aside of the personal in favor of the religious. In Volume II, the idea of justice as "relief" develops into a major theme.

Book Eighth:

Section I:

Strether does not confront Waymarsh on the issue of whether Waymarsh has been communicating with Mrs. Newsome. He begins to worry that the Pococks will arrive and "dismiss him" and that he will suffer the "instant forfeiture of everything." Strether asks Waymarsh for his help, though it is unclear what sort of help Strether seeks. Chad is less amused than usual, at the prospect of his sister's arrival. Miss Barrace worries that Sarah will be unduly harsh, but Strether insists that Sarah Pocock is "wonderful."

Section II:

They arrive as a company of four: Sarah, Mamie, Jim, and the maid. Strether is worried but when he sees Sarah's face he is instantly comforted. Sarah is not visibly displeased. She is "gracious" and so, Strether may conclude that Mrs. Newsome has forgiven him. Sarah appears as an affable, intense, determined and forceful character. Mamie is described as being the quintessential beautiful American girl. Strether is confident that they will be successful, for they look like the perfect team.

Strether is surprised that the Pococks do not remark on Chad's difference, his visible change for the better. Jim takes in the scene and jokes to Strether that if he were in Chad's shoes, he wouldn't give up Paris to work in advertising.

Section III:

Retreating to her salon, Sarah has a discussion with Madame de Vionnet. Waymarsh and Strether are present as well. Throughout the exchange, Sarah proves herself to be a formidable "ambassador" and she remains unwilling to make a single concession. Both women use polite language though it is clear that they are at battle. Strether seems somewhat excessively supportive of Madame de Vionnet, and when Waymarsh casually gives the Countess a compliment, Sarah feels isolated. Strether then steps in to balance the conversation. His ambivalence prevents the issue from coming to closure. Madame de Vionnet hopes to meet Mamie, and she would like for Sarah to meet Jeanne. Sarah makes no real commitment. At the end of the Section, Madame de Vionnet gives a veiled threat, assuring Sarah that she (the Countess) will not be leaving Paris so long as the Pococks are in the city.


Sarah Pocock is more masterful in strategy than Strether is. One of Strether's most lucid observations of reality comes in Section I when he confesses: "I feel like the outgoing ambassadorÖdoing honour to his appointed successor." Book Eighth temporarily suspends the prospects of Strether's doom. Though Strether fears his fate, Sarah has arrived gracious and forgiving. Though Strether has been largely dismissed from his duties as an "ambassador," it is expected that he will remain loyal to Mrs. Newsome and the Pococks, in spirit. When Strether's failing is exposed as a compromise of his intention (as opposed to merely his ability), Sarah Pocock will be less gracious.

The Pococks bring more of a contrast to Strether's romanticized Paris. Chad's friends instructed Strether to look for the "improvement" in Chad; seeing a change in Chad, Strether interpreted this change as improvement. The Pococks do not view Paris and its denizens in the same manner that Strether has. Indeed, Sarah is rather unflappable when she is faced with the prospect of debating with a Countess. Furthermore, Sarah represents a position of uncompromising strength; behind Sarah Pocock, Mrs. Newsome stands. And 1 Mrs. Newsome has the power of 50 Sarah Pococks, we are told.

Henry James' earlier novella, Daisy Miller, looks at the idea of American youth being spoiled by the wordly and less savory aspects of European culture. In a sense, Sarah Pocock does well to protect Mamie from Madame de Vionnet and her Parisian society, a society that has already altered the stock of young Americans. When Sarah states "I know Paris," her understatement is that Paris is a sham glory. Indeed, the Pococks are in the advertising business. We would expect them to separate the romanticized ideal from the actual condition. Sarah performs better than Strether did because she is unwilling to perform any additional or auxiliary roles. She refuses to interact with the Parisian "society" according to their customs. She will not allow herself to be charmed. In terms of plot then, Sarah's arrival insures that Chad will leave Paris. Sarah also provides a moral and social critique of Strether's actions, implying that he will suffer punishment if he continues on his course.