Quotes from ‘The Ambassadors’ (1903) by Henry James

On smoking and habits (p.102) 

Waymarsh had smoked of old, smoked hugely; but Waymarsh did nothing now, and that gave him his advantage over people who took things up lightly just when others had laid them heavily down. Strether had never smoked, and he felt as if he flaunted at his friend that this had been only because of a reason. The reason, it now began to appear even to himself, was that he had never had a lady to smoke with.

The author’s voice (p.119)

If we should go into all that occupied our friend in the watches of the night we should have to mend our pen; but an instance or two may mark for us the vividness with which he could remember.

Perception of characters (p.129)

Chad looked unmistakably during these instants – well, as Strether put it to himself, all he was worth. Our friend had a sudden apprehension of what that would on certain sides be. He saw him in a flash as the young man marked out by women…

Four adverbs (p.138)

Never cutting these colloquies short by a minute, Chad behaved, looked and spoke as if he were rather heavily, perhaps even a trifle gloomily, but none the less fundamentally and comfortably free.

Discussions in the city/country (p.144)

The strolls over Paris to see something or call somewhere were accordingly inevitable and natural, and the late sessions in the wondrous troisième, the lovely home, when men dropped in and the picture composed more suggestively through the haze of tobacco, of music more or less good and of talk more or less polyglot, were on a principle not to be distinguished from that of the mornings and the afternoons… They were occasions of discussion, none the less, and Strether had never in his life heard so many opinions on so many subjects. There were opinions at Woollet, but only on three or four. 

From a noteworthy speech on living (p.176) 

The affair – I mean the affair of life – couldn’t, no doubt, have been different for me; for it’s at the best a tin mould, either fluted and embossed, with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain, into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness is poured – so that one “takes” the form, as the great cook says, and is more or less compactly held by it: one lives in fine as one can. Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don’t be, like me, without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don’t quite know which. 

Old money (p.197)

The air of supreme respectability – that was a strange blank wall for his adventure to have brought him to break his nose against. It had in fact, as he was now aware, filled all the approaches, hovered in the court as he passed, hung on the staircase as he mounted, sounded in the grave rumble of the old bell, as little electric as possible, of which Chad, at the door, had pulled the ancient but neatly-kept tassel; it formed in short the clearest medium of its particular kind that he had ever breathed.

“Little foreign girl” (p.207)

Then he had remarked – making the most of the advantage of his years – that it frightened him quite enough to find himself dedicated to the entertainment of a little foreign girl. There were girls he wasn’t afraid of – he was quite bold with little Americans. Thus it was that she had defended herself to the end – ‘Oh but I’m almost American too. That’s what mamma has wanted me to be – I mean like that; for she has wanted me to have lots of freedom. She has known such good results from it.’

Notre-Dame de Paris (p.232)

The great church [Notre Dame de Paris] had no altar for his worship, no direct voice for his soul; but it was none the less soothing even to sanctity; for he could feel while there what he couldn’t elsewhere, that he was a plain tired man taking the holiday he had earned. He was tired, but he wasn’t plain – that was the pity and the trouble of it; he was able, however, to drop his problem at the door very much as if it had been the copper piece that he deposited, on the threshold, in the receptacle of the inveterate blind beggar.

“The Lone Exile” (p.252)

Chad listened, but with all his own knowledge of the world. ‘She has had it, the pretext, these several years, yet she has never taken it.’

‘Do you mean you?’ Strether after an instant enquired.

‘Certainly – the lone exile. And whom do you mean?’ Said Chad.

‘Oh I mean me. I’m her pretext. That is – for it comes to the same thing – I’m your mother’s.’

Airing a friendship (p.257)

‘Waymarsh won’t in the least, at any rate, when I have it out with him, deny or extenuate. He has acted from the deepest conviction, with the best conscience and after wakeful nights. He’ll recognise that he’s fully responsible, and will consider that he has been highly successful; so that any discussion we may have will brung us quite together again – bridge the dark stream that has kept us so thoroughly apart. We shall have at last, in the consequences of his act, something we can definitely talk about.’

Drinking in company (p.263)

The turn taken by their talk had promptly confirmed this difference; his larger confidence on the score of Mrs. Newsome did the rest; and the time seemed already far off when he had held out his small thirsty cup to the spout of her pail. Her pail was scarce touched now, and other fountains had flower for him; she fell into her place as but one of his tributaries; and there was a strange sweetness – a melancholy mildness that touched him – in her acceptance of the altered order.

Swing of the pendulum (p.271)

He took comfort, by the same stroke, in the swing of Chad’s pendulum back from that other swing, the sharp jerk towards Woollett, so stayed by his own hand. He had the entertainment of thinking that if he had for that moment stopped the clock it was to promote the next minute this still livelier motion. 

Jamesian Prose Style (p.275)

He [Chad] was waiting cheerfully and handsomely, but also inscrutably and with a slight increase perhaps of the hardness originally involved in his acquired high polish. He was neither excited nor depressed; was easy and acute and deliberate – unhurried unflurried unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual. 

Sarah’s face (p.281)

He had always seen Sarah gracious – had in fact rarely seen her shy or dry; her marked thin-lipped smile, intense without brightness and as prompt to act as the scrape of a safety-match; the protrusion of her rather remarkably long chin, which in her case presented invitation and urbanity, and not, as in most others, pugnacity and defiance; the penetration of her voice to a distance, the general encouragement and approval of her manner, were all elements with which intercourse had made him familiar, but which he noted to-day almost as if she had been a new acquaintance. 

People who don’t get Paris (p.286)

Of what use would it be then that they had come? – if they weren’t to be intelligent up to that point: unless indeed he himself were utterly deluded and extravagant? Was he, on this question of Chad’s improvement, fantastic and away from the truth? Did he live in a false word, a world that had grown simply to suit him, and was his present slight irruption – in the fact now of Jim’s silence in particular – but the alarm of the vain thing menaced by the touch fo the real? Was this contribution of the real possibly the mission of the Pococks? – had they come to make the work of observation, as he had practices observation, crack and crumble, and to reduce Chad to the plain terms in which honest minds could deal with him? Had they come in short to be sane where Strether was destined to feel that he himself had only been silly?

Character Compensation (p.288)

Small and fat and constantly facetious, straw-coloured and destitute of marks, he [Jim] would have been practically indistinguishable hadn’t his constant preference for light-grey clothes, for white hats, for very big cigars and very little stories, done what it could for his identity. 

Four more adverbs (p.299)

Yes, he was with her, and opposed even in this covert, this semi-safe fashion to those who were not, he felt, strangely and confusedly, but excitedly, inspiringly, how much and how far. 

Self-awareness (p.302)

The prime effect of her tone, however – and it was a truth which his own eyes gave back to her in sad ironic play – could only be to make him feel that, to say such things to a man in public, a woman must practically think of him as ninety years old.

An old friendship (p.302)

Something deep – something built on their old old relation – passed, in this complexity, between them; he got the side-wind of a loyalty that stood behind all actually queer questions. Waymarsh’s dry bare humour – as it gave itself to be taken – gloomed out to demand justice. 

Unexpected disappointment (p.336)

That, for a pretty girl in Paris, struck him, with a rush, as a sorry state; so that under the impression he went out to her with a step as hypocritically alert, he was well aware, as if he had just come into the room. She turned with a start at his voice; preoccupied with him though she might be, she was just a scrap disappointed. ‘Oh I thought you were Mr. Bilham!’

You can learn things from younger people (p.348)

He had felt of old – for it already seemed long ago – rather humiliated at discovering he could learn in talk with a personage so much his junior the lesson of a certain moral ease; but he had now got used to that – whether or no the mixture of the fact with other humiliations had made it indistinct, whether or no directly from little Bilham’s example, the example of his being contentedly just the obscure and acute little Bilham he was. 

A role in Paris (p.359)

‘Yes – isn’t it indeed funny?’ Miss Barrace quite rose to it. ‘That’s the way we are in Paris.’ She was always pleased with a new contribution to that queerness. ‘It’s wonderful! But, you know,’ she declared, ‘it all depends on you. I don’t want to turn the knife in your vitals, but that’s naturally what you just now meant by our all being on top of you. We know you are the hero of the drama, and we’ve gather to see what you’ll do.’

A new hat (p.363)

He [Waymarsh] was dressed in garments of summer; and save that his white waistcoats was redundant and bulging these things favoured, they determined, his expression. He wore a straw hat such as his friend hadn’t yet seen in Paris, and he showed a buttonhole freshly adorned with a magnificent rose. Strether read on the instant his story – how, astir for the previous hour, the sprinkled newness of the day, so pleasant at that season in Paris, he was fairly panting with the pulse of adventure and had been with Mrs. Pocock, unmistakeably, to the Marché aux Fleurs. Strether really know in this vision of him a joy that was akin to envy; so reversed as he stood there did their old positions seem; so comparatively doleful now showed, by the sharp turn of the wheel, the posture of the pilgrim from Woollett. 

The last straw (p.378)

‘You don’t, on your honour, appreciate Chad’s fortunate development?’

‘Fortunate?’ She echoed again. And indeed she was prepared. ‘I call it hideous.’

The rules of play (p.416)

The play and the characters had, without his knowing it till now, peopled all his space for him, and it seemed somehow quite happy that they should offer themselves, in the conditions so supplied, with a kind of inevitability. It was as if the conditions made them not only inevitable, but so much more nearly natural and right as that they were at least easier, pleasanter, to put up with. The conditions had nowhere so asserted their difference from those of Woollett as they appeared to him to assert in the little court of the Cheval Blanc while he arranged with his hostess for a comfortable climax. They were few and simple, scant and humble, but they were the thing, as he would have called it, even to a greater degree than Madame de Vionnet’s old high salon where the ghost of the Empire walked.

Awkward… (p.420)

Why indeed – apart from oddity – that the situation should have been really stiff was a question naturally not practical at the moment, and in fact, so far as we are concerned, a question tackled, later on and in private, only by Strether himself. He was to reflect later on and in private that it was mainly he who had explained – as he had had moreover comparatively little difficulty in doing. He was to have at all events meanwhile the worrying thought of their perhaps secretly suspecting him of having plotted this coincidence, taking such pains as might be to give it the semblance of accident. That possibility – as their imputation – didn’t of course bear looking into for an instant; yet the whole incidence was so manifestly, arrange it as they would, an awkward one, that he could scare keep disclaimers in respect to his own presence from rising to his lips. 

The Post Office (p.430)

There was none other, however, than the common and constant pressure, familiar to our friend under the rubric of Postes and Télégraphes – the something in the air of these establishments; the vibration of the vast strange life of the town, the influence of the types, the performers concocting their messages; the little prompt Paris women, arranging, pretexting goodness knew what, driving the dreadful needle-pointed public pen at the dreadful sand-strewn public table: implements that symbolised for Strether’s too interpretative innocence something more acute in manners, more sinister in morals, more fierce in the national life. 

Intriguing gallery (p.432)

Between nine and ten, at last, in the high clear picture – he was moving in these days, as in a gallery, from clever canvas to clever canvas – he drew a long breath: it was presented to him from the first that the spell of his luxury wouldn’t be broken. 

You’re through with us (p.442)

‘That’s perfectly false, I believe,’ she [Madame de Vionnet] returned – ‘except that you may, no doubt, often pull up when things become too ugly; or even, I’ll say, to save you a protest, too beautiful. At any rate, even so far as it’s true, we’ve thrust on you appearances that you’ve had to take in and that have therefore made your obligation. Ugly or beautiful – it doesn’t matter what we call them – you were getting on without them, and that’s where we’re detestable. We bore you – that’s where we are. And we may well – for what’s we’ve cost you. Al you can do now is not to think at all. And I should have liked to seem to you – well, sublime!’

Strether and Miss Gostrey go on dates (p.445)

He found means even to take her to shops she didn’t know, or that she pretended she didn’t; while she, on her side, was, like the country maiden, all passive modest and grateful – going in fact so far as to emulate rusticity in occasional fatigues and bewilderments.

The Advent of Advertising (p.462)

Her companion needn’t, as he said, tell him, but he might himself mention that he had been getting some news of the art of advertisement. He came out quite suddenly with this announcement, while Strether wondered if his revived interest were what had taken him, with strange inconsequence, over to London. He appeared at all events to have been looking into the question and had encountered a revelation. Advertising scientifically worked presented itself thus as the great new force. ‘It really does the thing, you know.’

What do they make at Woollett? (p.467)

He offered now, should she really like to know, to name the great product of Woollett. It would be a great commentary on everything. At this she stopped him off; she not only had to no wish to know, but she wouldn’t know for the world. She had done with the products of Woollet – for all the good she had got from them.

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