Slate reports that the mysterious object of Henry James's novel The Ambassadors has been found out.
In the 1880s, Forster patented a revolutionary new machine that polished, rounded, compressed, and sharpened toothpicks. This new toothpick was a marvel, according to Petroski, "ahead of its time as a designed object." Now consider Strether's first impression of Chad Newsome, whom he hasn't seen in five years when he finally tracks him down:
Chad was brown and thick and strong; and of old Chad had been rough. Was all the difference therefore that he was actually smooth? Possibly; for that he was smooth was as marked as in the taste of a sauce or in the rub of a hand. ... It was as if in short he had really, copious perhaps but shapeless, been put into a firm mould and turned successfully out.
James had a habit of associating his characters with a specific piece of scenery or work of art, or, in The Ambassadors, manufactured object—recall Sarah Newsome Pocock's safety-match smile. Of Chad Newsome, it might be said that he was as compressed and polished as one of Forster's toothpicks.