Read an excerpt below:
When, as a sophomore in college, I first came into contact with the work of Henry James, I chanced to read him at his best. I read The Ambassadors, and I still remember the unexpected blend of elation and perplexity that made up my response. The elation derived from my sense of the liberating enrichment of life Strether gains in Paris, an enrichment that seems to fulfill his exhortation to little Bilham: “Live all you can!” At the same time my perplexity came from gradually realizing that Strether somehow betrays his own advice and fails to “live all he can,” that the kind of living he finally exemplifies, with its sacrifices and deprivations, contrasts fundamentally . . . with what he urges upon little Bilham. That initial elation and perplexity concerning James . . . has remained with me, and this book can best be seen as an attempt to understand and elaborate the complex adventure of Lambert Strether. To make sense of the space between his advice and his example, between “living” as he urges it and “living" as he embodies it, is interpret one of the chief paradoxes in James’s fiction. . . . If I could see in what ways my two responses to Strether’s drama were related . . . I could then interpret the paradox and give my own comprehensive reading of what ‘living’ means in James. Such a reading is the aim of this book.