"A fine worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a foreign tongue": Henry James' The Ambassadors; Lengthily inscribed by Him

  • The Ambassadors.
  • The Ambassadors.
  • The Ambassadors.

The Ambassadors.


Item Number: 81048

New York : Harper & Brothers, 1903.

First American edition, second issue of this dark comedy, which Henry James considered his finest work. Octavo, original cloth, gilt topstain. Presentation copy, lengthily inscribed by Henry James with a quotation from the novel in James’ hand on a Bryn Mawr book label, “Henry James November 30th 1905 ‘….a fine worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a foreign tongue’ The Ambassadors.” James visited America in 1904-05, where he addressed Bryn Mawr twice. It is possible James was asked to donate a copy of one of his books for the Bryn Mawr Christmas bookfair to raise funds for the college. Near fine in a very good dust jacket with light rubbing to the extremities. A unique example.

Henry James got the central idea for The Ambassadors from an anecdote about his friend and fellow-novelist William Dean Howells, who, whilst visiting his son in Paris, was so impressed with the amenities of European culture that he wondered aloud if life hadn't passed him by. From that intriguing suggestion grew Strether's long speech to Little Bilham about living "all you can". The theme of liberation from a cramped, almost starved, emotional life into a more generous and gracious existence plays throughout The Ambassadors, yet it is noteworthy that James does not naïvely portray Paris as a faultless paradise for culturally stunted Americans. Strether learns about the reverse side of the European coin when he sees how desperately Marie fears losing Chad, after all she has done for him. As one critic proposed, Strether does not shed his American straitjacket only to be fitted with a more elegant European model, but instead learns to evaluate every situation on its merits, without prejudices. The final lesson of Strether's European experience is to distrust preconceived notions and perceptions from anyone, anywhere, but to rely upon his own observation and judgment. Named by Modern Library as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

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