Proxy narrative in the ambassadors: Reconfiguring James's Ending

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This article discusses what I call the proxy narrative, a type of narrative in which a key scene or plot sequence can be read most meaningfully as a substitute for a counterfactual alternative that cannot otherwise be narrated. Building on existing critical applications of possible world semantics and counterfactual reasoning to narrative theory, I offer several case studies culminating in an extended discussion of The Ambassadors-and, particularly, of its critically contested final scene-to illustrate the extent to which recognition of the proxy narratives embedded in traditional plots can enrich our readings of even the most familiar texts. Unable plausibly or ethically to depict a renunciation scene between Strether and Madame de Vionnet, James uses the final encounter between Strether and Maria Gostrey, I argue, to enact a discursively necessary outcome that the logic of story otherwise precludes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-49
Number of pages22
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2016 by The Ohio State University.


  • Counterfactual plot
  • Henry james
  • Possible world semantics
  • Proxy narrative
  • The ambassadors


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