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The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 9, Chapter 3 | Summary



Still apprehensive about Sarah Pocock's failure to meet with him, Strether attempts to visit her at her hotel. She has gone out, however. Strether glimpses a letter from Mrs. Newsome to her daughter—a sight that triggers inner reflections on Mrs. Newsome's remarkable and forceful presence, despite her literal absence from the scene in Paris.

The bulk of the chapter focuses on Strether's conversation with Mamie Pocock, whom he discovers on the balcony of Sarah's hotel room. This conversation, and Strether's interior impressions of Mamie, are full of ambiguity. On the one hand, Mamie, who is only 22, is naive and impressionable; on the other hand, Strether is struck by how grown-up she appears, compared to the young girl he remembers at Woollett. Strether attempts to probe Mamie's thoughts regarding Chad and Jeanne de Vionnet, but Mamie reveals very little about her true feelings.


Book 9 is neatly partitioned into conversations between Strether and three women: Madame de Vionnet (Chapter 1), Maria Gostrey (Chapter 2), and Mamie Pocock (Chapter 3). All three meetings are inconclusive and fraught with ambiguity. In addition, all three scenes are overshadowed, at least to some degree, by the silent "presence" of Mrs. Newsome or by her surrogate, Sarah Pocock (who does not appear in this book). The most important plot development in the entire book is the news that young Jeanne de Vionnet has become engaged to be married.

Mood or atmosphere, as well as suspense or tense anticipation, may be singled out as some of the dominant literary elements in Book 9. The shadow of Mrs. Newsome, who looms large in each of Strether's three conversations, greatly influences the mood in this chapter. Henry James's ability to project this "absent" character into the narrative as a formidable and somewhat ominous force is remarkable. The reader's (and the characters') uncertainty as to what Sarah Pocock may or may not do produces the suspense. Sarah's brief earlier appearance in Book 8, as well as her studied avoidance of Strether, lead the reader to conclude that her attitude will be hostile.

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