The Ambassadors- Blog 6

April 11th, 2011

After completing James’ The Ambassadors the anamorphosis that appears in Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” seems extremely significant as the representation of what Strether learns throughout the novel. The skull represents death and the constant reminder that death is inevitable, so life must be lived to the fullest. Throughout the novel this is a theme that Strether learns through his experience in Europe and tries to present to other characters in the novel. Strether feels as though it is too late for his life to be lived to the fullest, so he tries to talk little Bilham and Chad into following their hearts and not what is expected of them in order for them to live a more fulfilling life, which Strether now knows is attainable. At a party in a garden Strether speaks to Bilham and tries to enforce the importance of living life, and learning from your mistakes to him. Later in the novel Stether tries to talk Chad into staying in Europe because he knows that Chad could be more free and enjoy life more there, but he is unsuccessful in persuading him to stay.

Strether is not very successful at all in his position as an “ambassador”. Firstly he enjoyed his mission too much, and prolonged his stay purposely so he would not have to return to America so soon. His mission was to bring Chad back so he may marry Mamie and thus bring two families together in a business situation, but Stether talks little Bilham into being with Mamie and even offers him an inheritance. Stether does not even talk Chad into coming back, he tries to talk Chad into staying in Europe, but Chad decides on his own to go back. As an ambassador on a mission to bring Chad back on the terms of his agreement with Mrs. Newsome he fails, but he may be seen as an ambassador for promoting change and living life. Throughout the novel Stether goes through a change and becomes more content with life and even enjoys the beauty of nature which is portrayed when he goes on a trip to suburban France alone. He not only can appreciate natural aspects of life, but he has learned to be alone and be more confident in himself.

As we discussed in class, the men originally assumed to be depicted in Holbein’s painting were later debated upon, and sparked controversy during the time James’ novel was finished. This speaks to the reoccurring theme throughout James’ work regarding appearances and how little they actual mean. These two men and the objects in this painting could be analyzed and interpreted in different ways, forcing the actual meaning the painting to be debatable.