The Ambassadors: Top Ten Quotes

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Page numbers refer to the 1930 Harper’s Modern Classic edition of The Ambassadors, with an introduction by Martin W. Sampson.

  1. “The fact is, such a country as this ain’t my kind of country, any way. There ain’t a country I’ve seen over here that does seem my kind…. Look here—I want to go back.”
    Chapter 2, p. 21
    These words are spoken by Waymarsh when he meets Strether in Chester. Although Strether is thrilled by Europe, and will thrive in his months abroad, Waymarsh is depressed and unhappy there. The word ain’t, an American colloquialism, marks the distinguished, successful Waymarsh as having some of the provincial taint of Milrose, Connecticut, and thus being out of place in truly cosmopolitan society.
  2. “[T]here are…two quite distinct things that—given the wonderful place he’s in—may have happened to him. One is that he may have got brutalized. The other is that he may have got refined.”
    Chapter 4, p. 49
    It is Miss Gostrey who first suggests to Strether that the young man he has come out to “rescue” from the clutches of pagan Europe may not, in fact, need rescuing at all. Strether is reluctant to consider this possibility until he meets Chad for himself, and sees that the young man has indeed been, not corrupted, but refined by his time in Paris.
  3. “He wasn’t there to dip, to consume—he was there to reconstruct. He wasn’t there for his own profit—not, that is, the direct; he was there on some chance of feeling the brush of the wing of the stray spirit of youth. He felt it in fact, he had it beside him; the old arcade indeed, as his inner sense listened, gave out the faint sound, as from far-off, of the wild waving of wings.”
    Chapter 5, p. 65
    Once in Europe, Strether fights the impulse to recapture what he missed in his own youthful days. Late in his life, he has been unexpectedly dropped back into Paris in the springtime, and given a second chance at youth. But he doesn’t feel free to take it, because after all, he is here on the stern mission of Age and Experience, which aim to pull the young, errant man out of the bohemian world of Paris back to his rightful place in the industrial world of America.
  4. “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?”
    Chapter 11, p. 149
    These words mark a climactic moment in the novel. Strether has just realized that he has missed out on life, too foolish and cowardly to seize it when he had the chance. He urges little Bilham not to make the same mistake.
  5. “She was a woman who, between courses, could be graceful with her elbows on the table.”
    Chapter 16, p. 212
    Strether makes this observation about an enchanting femme du monde, the Countess Marie de Vionnet. Placing one’s elbows on the table during dinner is considered a serious breach of etiquette, but, Strether feels, it is the truly classy lady who can do it and get away with it.
  6. “That’s just the difficulty—that she doesn’t admit surprises…. She had, to her own mind, worked the whole thing out in advance, and worked it out for me as well as for herself. Whenever she has done that, you see, there’s no room left; no margin, as it were, for any alteration.”
    Chapter 29, p. 370
    Strether is describing for Miss Gostrey why it is that he and Mrs. Newsome have not been able to see eye-to-eye about what’s best for Chad. The crux of the trouble is that Mrs. Newsome lacks imagination.
  7. “One has to take so much, to be happy, out of the lives of others, and … one isn’t happy even then…. The wretched self is always there, always making one somehow a fresh anxiety. What it comes to is that it’s not, that it’s never, a happiness, any happiness at all, to take. The only safe thing is to give. It’s what plays you the least false.”
    Chapter 33, p. 401
    These words are Madame de Vionnet’s to Strether the last time they will ever meet. She begs Strether’s forgiveness, as she realizes how much she has hurt Strether in her futile quest to keep Chad for her own.
  8. “It is not a matter of advising you not to go,” Strether said, “but of absolutely preventing you, if possible, from so much as thinking of it. Let me accordingly appeal to you by all you hold sacred.”
    Chapter 35, p. 422
    Strether urges Chad not to leave Mme. de Vionnet, adding that the young man will be a “brute” and a “criminal” if he forsakes her. Chad has been changed for the better by his time with the lady, and she can do much for him still. He owes her everything, far more than he can ever repay. Chad agrees wholeheartedly, but it seems that he will not follow Strether’s advice. Despite his apparent transformation, he is not as deep as Strether gives him credit for; in truth, he belongs back home in Woollett.
  9. “It’s an art like another, and infinite like all arts. In the hands, naturally, of a master. The right man must take hold. With the right man to work it c’est un monde.
    Chapter 35, p. 425
    Chad has genuine business sense that puts him truly at home in the industrial arena that to Strether seems so cheap and vulgar. To Chad, advertising “c’est un monde”—a whole world unto itself. In other words, Chad is not at all the worldly and urbane gentleman he appeared; he’s not deep. The world of marketing toothpicks, or buttonhooks, or whatever it is that Woollett produces, is more than enough world for him.
  10. “But why should you be so dreadfully right?”
    Chapter 36, p. 432
    In the conversation that ends the novel, Strether explains to Miss Gostrey why he must return to Woollett. He sees the care and service Miss Gostrey could provide for him, if he were to stay with her. And yet, he will not choose her. “There’s nothing, you know, I wouldn’t do for you,” she tells him. All the same, he must go. It would not be right of him to stay and gain something for himself out of the whole affair. At heart, Miss Gostrey understands him. He must be right; he cannot be otherwise, and after all, this is why she will always love him.

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