Literature Study GuidesThe AmbassadorsBook 4 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 4, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

The first chapter in Book 4 takes up the story exactly where Book 3 left off. After the play, Strether has a private conversation with Chad. He candidly summarizes his mission: Chad must return home with him to Woollett and assume his business responsibilities. Chad remains complaisant, remarking that Strether's errand had transformed Chad into a "sort of wedding-present" for Mrs. Newsome. The only point over which Chad takes serious issue with Strether is the assumption that Chad must be entangled with a woman, for otherwise he would not remain in Paris. Chad points out that he can make his own decisions, and that there other reasons why a person might want to stay in Paris. He denies any entanglements, past or present.

Chapter 2

Chad becomes extra-attentive to Strether, his mother's ambassador. For his part, Strether consults with Maria Gostrey, telling her what he thinks he knows, what he supposes, and how he feels. Gradually, he begins to see the other side of Chad's case, even though he knows that Woollett, and especially Chad's sister Sarah, will doubt the assertion that there is no woman involved in Chad's Parisian sojourn. Somewhat paradoxically, Maria Gostrey is also skeptical about this assertion, but she encourages Strether to keep an open mind.

Some days later, a small gathering attends a tea party at Chad's apartment. Strether takes the opportunity to chat with Little Bilham. The young artist tells him that Chad is indeed involved, but in a "virtuous attachment." His special friends, a mother and her daughter, are about to arrive in Paris. Maria Gostrey and Strether discuss suppositions and implications, such as if Chad is involved with the mother or the daughter, and they wonder if they can trust Little Bilham's description of the relationship as "virtuous."

Analysis

In Book 4, Strether's initial meeting with Chad begins conventionally, as Strether forthrightly conveys the goal of his journey to Paris from Woollett. But the interaction ends somewhat enigmatically, as Chad manages to plant doubts in Strether's mind regarding the effects of Paris and also about the inevitability of entanglements. Strether emerges from the encounter, and from his subsequent discussions with Maria Gostrey, a little less certain than before about Woollett and its values. Notably, he now corresponds with Mrs. Newsome somewhat less often.

Since Woollett plays a leading role in these chapters, it is worth noting that James often personifies the Massachusetts community as an exemplar of provincial prejudice, unchallengeable traditions, and soberly materialistic values. James's presentation of Woollett ("Woollett browsing in its pride," "dear old Woollett") occasionally blends humor with satire, as, for example, when Strether imagines excerpts of dialogue involving Mrs. Newsome and Sarah Pocock on the subject of Chad's relationships with women ("He says there's no woman ... ," "What is there then?").

The theme of marriage is seldom absent in Book 4, although it often lingers below the surface of events and dialogue. Plainly, part of Mrs. Newsome's intention in her goal of "rescuing" Chad is to ensure that her son will marry a suitable American bride: most probably Mamie Pocock, Sarah's sister-in-law. In the meantime, Chad may or may not be involved with as-yet-unnamed ladies who are his "special friends" in France. Strether and Maria Gostrey consider this issue in conventional terms, thinking it more likely that, if there is any attachment, it is with the daughter—considering the age differences. Yet Chad has already demonstrated to Strether that his inclinations may be unconventional.

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