The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapter II

Summary

Strether, accompanied by Waymarsh, has been in Paris for two days when he calls on his banker to pick up any letters that have arrived for him. The bank reminds him of the post office at Woollett. He finds several letters, forwarded from London, but does not open them until he reaches a park alongside the River Seine. There are four letters, newsy and detailed, from Mrs. Newsome, the tone of which, Strether muses, fills the air with "the hum of vain things." Again, he feels a heightened "sense of escape" and ponders "the strange logic of his finding himself so free." This leads Strether to further reflections on his past: his failures at various endeavors; his little son ("banished and neglected" while Strether grieved over the loss of his wife), who had died at school of diphtheria; his previous trip to Paris — -a reckless "pilgrimage" — after the Civil War; and the rebirth of youthful aspirations and dreams which the present visit had occasioned in so short a time. Although conscious of his responsibility in regard to Chad, Strether sees Paris as a brilliant jewel, and "what seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next."

Continuing his walk through the streets, Strether enters the boulevard on which he knows Chad resides; the house strikes him as "admirably built," with a fine, continuous balcony. A young man appears on the balcony of Chad's apartment, becomes aware that he is being observed, and returns Strether's glance. It is not Chad, Strether realizes, but a friend of Chad's. Crossing the street, Strether passes through the gateway into the courtyard of the house.

Analysis

The young man on the balcony is Little Bilham and is, as Strether has sensed, a close friend of Chad's.

Strether's allusion to "Melancholy Murger" is to Henry Murger, the author of Scenes of Bohemian Life (1848), in which the characters Francine, Musette, and Rodolphe appear. The Luxembourg Gardens is a park on the left bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter; the Odéon is a French theatre near the Gardens.

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