The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 1, Chapter 3 | Summary



The concluding chapter of Book 1 continues the narrative of the opening trio of characters in Chester: Strether, Waymarsh, and Maria Gostrey. All three are headed to London soon, but this chapter focuses on their outing together in Chester. Before the three characters take their walk through the town, Strether delights in the hotel's "ordered" English garden. At breakfast time, he chats with Maria about her work as a guide for foreigners visiting Europe. Throughout the chapter, Strether seems to have an easier time talking with Maria than Waymarsh has in conversing with either of his two counterparts. Strether comments that Waymarsh is decidedly averse to European culture. As the three of them walk around town, Waymarsh suddenly detaches himself to visit one of the shops in the Rows. He does not divulge what he purchases, but Strether describes Waymarsh's sudden impulse as a "sacred rage."


Chapter 3 completes James's leisurely introduction to the novel. At the beginning of the chapter there is a literary allusion to the British author William Makepeace Thackeray's (1811–63) mid-19th-century novel Pendennis (1848–50), a work that James seems to assume many of his readers will know (compare this to the allusion in Chapter 1 of this book to Honoré de Balzac's second-rank novel, Louis Lambert, introduced in connection with Strether's name). In Chapter 3 James also alludes to Anglo-Irish author Oliver Goldsmith's (1730–74) novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) when he mentions Mr. Burchell "at Dr. Primrose's fireside."

Chapter 3 delves deeper into one of James's overarching themes, not only in The Ambassadors but also in much of the rest of his fiction: the comparison and contrast between American and European culture. Waymarsh is presented as intolerant of anything European. Strether, at this point, is presented as neutral, although the reader must assume that he carries with him the prejudices of Woollett—a town that he described in Chapter 1 as not "sure it ought to enjoy." Only Maria Gostrey seems open to the liberating, constructive possibilities of the European scene.

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