Friday, March 25, 2011

The Ambassadors by Henry James

I'm not sure if it was James' intent to get me to totally dislike the main character of The Ambassadors, but I do.  Lewis Lambert Strether is a mess of a man.  Charged by his fiance to go to Paris and retrieve her son, Chad (from a previous marriage,) Strether stays so long in Paris, immersing himself into society there, that a second wave of relatives show up to attempt to complete the job.  Ultimately, Strether and the reinforcements sent in fail to bring Chad home.  Chad is in love with a married woman living in Paris apart from her husband so she's got her own complications to content with.  Just the same, it takes an entire novel overflowing with confusing plotting and speculating to see Strether arrive at this noble act of allowing himself to fail so love can prevail.

In the middle of all this, Strether seems to fall out of love with his fiance as a new Parisian friend, Miss Gostrey, falls in love with him.  While encouraging love to take top priority with Chad, Strether ultimately refuses to accept the love of Miss Gostrey and returns home to his unloved fiance.

Confused yet?  This just scratches the surface of a story overpopulated with characters (some referred to by two different names) and jam-packed with three-page paragraphs and seriously long run-on sentences.  The style gets so tedious I found myself letting my mind wander as I read, which led me to be pretty confused through most of the book.  I almost question why I read The Ambassadors for fun.  I just loved The Bostonians so much, I wanted to try something else from James.  I can honestly say I think Henry James writes women better than men.

Few characters in classic literature really annoy me.  I can tell you that Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) is at the top of my list and that Emma Woodhouse and Hester Prynne linger in the top 10.  It has been a while though since this list has grown, but I have to add whiny Lambert Strether to my #2 spot and close the book (ha, ha) on Henry James for a while.

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