The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 10, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

This final chapter in Book 10 narrates Sarah Pocock's long-awaited meeting with Strether. Sarah turns out to be icy, insulting, and unyielding. She reveals that she has come to receive Strether's submission. She says Waymarsh should have made it clear to Strether that she would not offer to accept anything less and that he would "acquit himself within the twenty-four hours." Strether surmises that Sarah has spoken with Chad and that Chad has let her know that he plans to leave Paris when Strether gives him "the word." Still, Strether refuses to commit to Sarah's request before speaking with Chad.

Sarah replies witheringly to every initiative Strether proposes. She refuses to admit to any favorable verdict on Madame de Vionnet and refers to her as "indecent." When Strether asks if Sarah notices the positive changes in Chad since he has been in Paris, Sarah becomes angry. She uses the adjective hideous to describe Chad's course in life. The conversation leaves Strether to believe that his and Chad's time in Paris is indeed coming to an end.

Analysis

The chapter presents (for James) a rare broadside of hostility and openly expressed emotion. Sarah Pocock is not only determined; she is extraordinarily offensive. The attentive reader is not overly surprised. After all, Strether has (in Chapter 2) pondered that he might be on the verge of being led "to the scaffold." The single-minded force of Sarah's attack leaves Strether aghast. During the conversation that presents itself as one-sided in Sarah's favor, it becomes clear to Strether that Sarah is immune to the pleasantries of Paris; she cannot become enraptured by the culture like Strether, Chad, and even her husband Jim have become. Her mission to Paris is just that; she is fully focused on the task of retrieving Chad. The stark final sentence of this chapter sums up the situation: "It probably was all at an end."

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