The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 1: Chapter III

Summary

Strether and Waymarsh have arranged to take an afternoon train to London, but Strether learns that Maria intends to leave earlier. They meet in the coffee-room of the hotel and then remove to the garden, where Maria tells Strether more about herself. She says that she thinks of herself as "an agent of repatriation" for American travelers to Europe: "What I attend to is that they come quickly and return still more so. . . . I send you back spent. So you stay back." When Strether smilingly protests, she confesses that he is, however, a "special case."

Maria agrees to delay her journey in order to accompany Strether and Waymarsh to London. The three then begin a stroll through the streets of the town, pausing now and then to window-shop. Strether is in good spirits, but Waymarsh maintains a "stricken silence" and appears to Strether to look "guilty and furtive." Strether reflects that "a woman of fashion [is] floating him [Strether] into society and that an old friend deserted on the brink was watching the force of the current."

Just before the trio turns back to the hotel, Waymarsh, suddenly and without a word, dashes across the street and disappears into a jewelry shop. Startled, Strether begins to comment on Waymarsh's odd behavior, and this leads to a brief conversation in which Strether refers to Waymarsh's financial success and, in turn, describes himself as "a perfectly equipped failure." "If you knew," Maria sighs, "the dreams of my youth! . . . We're beaten brothers in arms." As Waymarsh returns from the shop, Strether remarks to Maria that she has already cost him his "past — in one great lump." Waymarsh rejoins them, making no offer to explain his absence or reveal what he has purchased, and the three continue their walk.

Analysis

This chapter ends the first "book" of the novel; Book I has served to introduce Lambert Strether, who the reader now knows is in some way an "ambassador" for Mrs. Newsome; Maria Gostrey, a "guide" who will initiate Strether into an appreciation of Europe; and Waymarsh, a counterpoint to both Strether and Maria.

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