The Other Lambert Strether: Henry James's The Ambassadors, Balzac's Louis Lambert and J. H. Lambert

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    Abstract

    We think we know Lambert Strether. Henry James names the unlikely hero of The Ambassadors (1903) after Honoré de Balzac's unlikely novel Louis Lambert (1832–33)—or so he says. In this essay I argue that James's choice is also influenced by his knowledge of the eighteenth-century Alsace philosopher J. H. Lambert. Now obscure, Lambert was, in his day and in the nineteenth century, a major figure in European science and philosophy, one deeply influential on the formation of phenomenology and pragmatism, disciplines closely associated with James's brother William James. Lambert's fascination with the problem of appearances also offers connections with Strether's experience in Paris and invites an exploration of the role of visual art in James's novel, including Hans Holbein's masterpiece with which it shares a name. In this study I argue that the name of Lambert, far from offering an easy clue to Strether's identity, offers him a variety of possible natures and possible ways of viewing reality.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)230-258
    Number of pages28
    JournalNineteenth Century Literature
    Volume58
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2003

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    Ambassadors
    Henry James
    Names
    Phenomenology
    Philosopher
    Pragmatism
    Brothers
    Philosophy
    Hero
    Alsace
    William James
    Nature
    Hans Holbein

    Cite this

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    abstract = "We think we know Lambert Strether. Henry James names the unlikely hero of The Ambassadors (1903) after Honor{\'e} de Balzac's unlikely novel Louis Lambert (1832–33)—or so he says. In this essay I argue that James's choice is also influenced by his knowledge of the eighteenth-century Alsace philosopher J. H. Lambert. Now obscure, Lambert was, in his day and in the nineteenth century, a major figure in European science and philosophy, one deeply influential on the formation of phenomenology and pragmatism, disciplines closely associated with James's brother William James. Lambert's fascination with the problem of appearances also offers connections with Strether's experience in Paris and invites an exploration of the role of visual art in James's novel, including Hans Holbein's masterpiece with which it shares a name. In this study I argue that the name of Lambert, far from offering an easy clue to Strether's identity, offers him a variety of possible natures and possible ways of viewing reality.",
    author = "Hazel Hutchison",
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