Course | Henry James’s Ambassadors: “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to” [In Progress]

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Date / Time

  • February 12, 2020
    6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
  • March 11, 2020
    6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
  • April 15, 2020
    6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
  • May 13, 2020
    6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
  • June 10, 2020
    6:00 pm - 8:00 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States



The quotation in the title of this course comes from Book 5 of James’s novel. The novel’s goal is to consider what it means to “live all you can.” James regarded The Ambassadors as his favorite novel and it’s not hard to see why. It is a difficult book, but it is marvelous. The ending is so complex that courses on the subject have been known to devolve into shouting matches! In this book, James addresses what those who have never known the aesthetic life might gain from it. In James’s view, the aesthetic life teaches how to be, in his phrase, “a social animal.” It does so by practice in observation and appreciation of sensuous particulars—the smell of the air, the sound of footsteps on the pavement, the thickness of a napkin, but more important, in taking in individual people–their tone of voice, gesture, bearing. In short, the aesthetic life teaches one to pay attention. Observation and appreciation heighten imagination, especially imagination of what fellow social animals are themselves struggling with. Finally, they teach both patience and generosity in making judgments. In the end, the novel’s primary concern is the difficulty of making wise judgments.



The Ambassadors syllabus 

Ambassadors GuidetoReading

About the Instructor

Anne Hall taught for 25 years in the English department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and another 18 years in the English department at the University of Pennsylvania.


About Rosenbach Courses

Revisit beloved classics or experience new ones with Rosenbach courses. Book lovers delve into fiction, history, and poetry with the guidance of a literary expert and the company of other readers. See all upcoming courses.