Strether as a Postmodern Hero in The Ambassadors

Henry James wrote The Ambassadors around the end of the 19th century. There was no view, no origin of postmodernism at that time. Even experimental modernism had not started, by the time, Henry James wrote The Ambassadors. Hence, it sounds somewhat unbelievable that Lambert Strether is a postmodern hero.

Henry James (1843-1916)

Lambert Strether was, by profession, an editor of a magazine. The magazine was sponsored by the big clock factory of Mrs. Newsome. Due to this sponsorship of Strether's magazine by Mrs. Newsome, there developed an intimacy between Strether and Mrs. Newsome. Their intimacy was so much deep that Mrs. Newsome proposed to marry Strether if he succeeds in bringing her son Chad Newsome back to America. This intention of Mrs. Newsome was accepted by Strether. So he left for Europe with an ambassadorial mission to bring Chad back to America. Strether's intimacy with Mrs. Newsome led to one more inner support for Strether. Mrs. Newsome had fixed an idea of masculinity for Strether. In other words Mrs. Newsome defined Strether's masculinity. On an ambassadorial mission he came to London. In London his friendship with Maria Gostrey developed. Maria Gostrey became an object of his lost desire. Miss Gostrey taught him to live with an aesthetic awareness about passing moments in life. He learnt from Gostrey that one has to live life in the fullest extreme. It is a failure not to enjoy the passing beautiful moment of life. Strether knew this golden fact about the art of living from his increasing friendship will Maria. At this point Strether could not help comparing Gostrey and Mrs. Newsome. The kind of masculinity Mrs. Newsome has defined for Strether underwent a crisis. At the moment of his friendship with Maria Gostrey, Strether found that Mrs. Newsome's definition of masculinity has suffered its serious limitation. The crisis came in her definition of masculinity fixed for Strether. Moreover Strether knew one more fact about Mrs. Newsome's impact upon him. He knew that Mrs. Newsome is oppressive and domineering over him.

In the course of making an ambassadorial Journey Strether arrived at Paris. In Paris he became profoundly influenced, by Madame De Vionnet. He admitted that Chad is profoundly transformed. In addition Strether realized that Madame De Vionnet represents a better self, a true self, a core self. He furthermore held the belief that if one has to seek the core self of a flawless self, one has to live in Paris like Chad and one has to remain in contact with the influence of Madame De Vionnet. That is why Strether became nostalgia because he had not passed his youth as joyously as Chad has been doing. He became mournful over his past. He became sad and gloomy because such a best core self-represented by Madame De Vionnet is beyond his reach. That is one effective cause behind Strether's passivity and sad posturing during his European sojourn as an ambassador.

But when Strether caught raid hand, Madame De Vionnet and Chad were enjoying boating, the tall pedestal of Strether's belief in core self-shattered at once. Even such seemingly ideal and impressive woman like Madame De Vionnet behaved in an immoral way. It was immoral of her to be in an illicit relationship with Chad. Strether furthermore saw a gap between what she is actually and who she pretend to be. De Vionnet's outer appearance was one thing. Her inner reality is another. Even such a seemingly flawless creature like Madame De Vionnet had suffered a serious flaw of immorality. There is no true or core self. The knowledge came to Strether that any belief in core self is an illusion. No self is from the flaw. No self is coherent. The human self is destined to suffer from serious limitations. Additionally Strether reached the conclusion that we all are destined to accept our fragmented subjectivity and incoherent self. For human being and with a higher degree of compassion there is only one option to choose. This option is the option of choosing an incomplete subjectivity and incoherent self. Strether knows finally this bitter fact about the structure of the human self. Finally Strether, with a sad heart, admits his fragmented self and leaves Paris for America. That is why Strether is a postmodern hero.