Friday, July 02, 2010

Americans in Paris

I have been gobbling The Ambassadors as if it’s a bodice-ripping page-turner. I’ve never had a Henry James phase and I still find him difficult, still find that there are whole paragraphs I have to re-read and even the occasional page that I just let go as too baroque for me to comprehend.

At the same time, I love Strether, the childless widower (neither wife nor dead son are very convincing ghosts—this is distinctly queer James) in his fifties, sent to Paris to bring a young man home. I just cannot get enough of nervous, cautious Strether, who edits a little magazine funded by the young man’s mother back home in Woollett, Mass. Strether falls in love with Paris, just as the young man has, and both men must figure out how to negotiate the charms of Paris as against the formidable powers and cash money represented by Chad’s mother.

In this scene, Chad tries to justify his long absence from Woollett:
He broke out as with a more helpful thought. “Don’t you know how I like Paris itself?” 
The upshot was indeed to make our friend marvel. “Oh, if THAT’S all that’s the matter with you--!” It was HE who almost showed resentment. 
Chad’s smile of a truth more than met it. “But isn’t that enough?”           
Strether hesitated, but it came out. “Not enough for your mother!” Spoken, however, it sounded a trifle odd—the effect of which was that Chad broke into a laugh.
Not enough for your mother indeed.

It’s wonderful when Henry James makes you laugh out loud.

1 comment:

Harriet Chessman said...

WONDERFUL!! I'm going to go read The Ambassadors this week. I haven't read it since I was Chad's age!! Fascinating, how when I studied this novel in graduate school, circa 1974, the word "queer" never, ever came up, or even homosexual . . . or . . . anything like that! It's as if our discussion accepted Henry James's own ellipses.