The American

  • by Henry James
  • Narrated by Robin Lawson
  • 13 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

During a trip to Europe, wealthy American businessman Christopher Newman proposes marriage to the scintillating and beautiful aristocrat Claire de Cintré. To his dismay, he comes up against the machinations of her impoverished but proud family, who find Newman to be a vulgar example of the American privileged class. Brilliantly combining elements of comedy, tragedy, romance, and melodrama, this tale of thwarted desire vividly contrasts 19th-century American and European manners.
Literary critic Leon Edel, considered the foremost authority on the works of Henry James, wrote of this novel: “Behind its melodrama and its simple romance is the history of man’s dream of better worlds, travel to strange lands, and marriage to high and noble ladies. At the same time, the book reveals a deep affection for American innocence and a deep awareness that such innocence carries with it a fund of ignorance.”

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What the Critics Say

“A masterpiece of American romanticism in which James shows us his profound grasp of what he was ultimately to call ‘the Americo-European legend.’” (Leon Edel, literary critic, biographer, and foremost authority on the works of Henry James)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Pleasing novel, seemingly read by the protagonist

I really enjoy Henry James, and this book was no exception. It is a portrait, perhaps one of the earlier, of a character encountered in a number of books (e.g., Sinclair Lewis' Dodsworth): the intelligent, successful, open and likeable American who goes out to see the (old) world and who is somehow completely blind to European social structure and conventions. In some aspects he is naive, but he is not stupid or inexperienced; he is simply unable to grasp the way members of a class-based society perceive humanity. And above all, he is genuinely likeable. I was also somewhat surprised to find that this book was written in 1877 -- to me, it really felt like an early-20th century novel, though I can't explain the precise reason. It wasn't the greatest piece of literature I've ever read, but it was very nice.

As for the narrator: it's really hard to rate him. On the one hand, he has a very warm, pleasant, clear voice, and he has a touch of that slightly outdated American accent which is perfect for the character and the narrator. He makes no attempt at characterizations, which I thought was fine -- I never felt confused as to the identity of the speaker. But the major problem with him is that he simply doesn't know any language other than American. Most of the story takes part in France, and there are quite a few French characters and expressions. For all of these, the narrator sounds like a caricature of an American mispronouncing French. He even mispronounces French expressions that are used in English, such as "coup d'etat" (he pronounces the final t). And the only character he tries to supply with an accent -- an elderly English woman -- sounds more or less like Dick Van Dyke's hilarious mock-Cockney accent in "Mary Poppins". It really sounded as if the main character was reading the novel. And just like the main character, the narrator has such a pleasant and earnest voice that it was hard to "blame" him for this shortcoming -- that's just the way he is.

All in all, an enjoyable if slightly confusing experience.
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- Erez

Poor recording of a dull book

There's a lot going wrong with this audiobook. First, I really don't like Henry James. (Had to read it for a class.) I found this book to be an amateurish effort.
However, even if you like James's work, this recording is a poor production. The reader has a nasal voice and uneven enunciation which, coupled with the low quality of the recording, meant that I missed words here and there. So it's hard to listen to on almost every front.
In the reader's favor, he read in a fairly even cadence, which seemed to fit the tone of the book; no histrionics or goofy voices here. It's simply that he tended to drop off the ending of words and, as the microphone seemed to pick up a pretty narrow range of frequencies, those syllables were lost to me.
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- J. Alexander "aspiring citizen of the world"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-22-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.