This dark comedy, one of the masterpieces of James's final period, follows the trip of protagonist Lewis Lambert Strether to Europe in pursuit of Chad, his widowed fiancée's supposedly wayward son; he is to bring the young man back to the family business, but he encounters unexpected complications. The third-person narrative is told exclusively from Strether's point of view.
Lambert Strether, a middle-aged, yet not broadly experienced, man from Woollett, Massachusetts, agrees to assume a mission for his wealthy fiancée: go to Paris and rescue her son, Chad Newsome, from the clutches of a presumably wicked woman. On his journey, Strether stops in England, and there meets Maria Gostrey, an American woman who has lived in Paris for years. Her cynical wit and worldly opinions start to rattle Strether's preconceived view of the situation.