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The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

The Wings of the Dove (1902)

by Henry James

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I think Henry James has some interesting ideas in terms of plot but man alive he is so darned wordy and "The Wings of the Dove" is no exception.

In this novel, Kate Croy needs money and the man she wants to marry doesn't have any. She intrigues to get some by getting her fiancee Merton Densher to pursue a wealthy woman who is gravely ill. Antics ensue.

As I said, I liked the general plot and the ending, but James' writing is really tough.... he goes on and on and says very little. I had a hard time getting through this one. ( )
  amerynth | Oct 11, 2017 |
A reminder that the best plans don't always work. ( )
  siok | Nov 20, 2016 |
My favorite of James' journey's into a society thin on plot, but full of characters whose struggles show us so very much about them. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
The Wings of the Dove by Henry James; (4*)

The reader must read Henry James carefully, closely and slowly. One must also read between the lines.
The Wings of the Dove is made up of characters so subtle and so intelligent that even a careful reader will be challenged to keep up. The story follows a young man and woman, Densher, and Kate, who are in love and want to be together. But her guardian disapproves as there is not a bright financial situation ahead for Kate.
Kate devises a plan to improve their prospects and asks Densher only to be patient. Her intelligence and moral flexibility allow her to adjust her original plan when the possibility of an even better outcome presents itself in the person of her dear friend Milly. (ie: "the Dove") What the process will do to Milly is of little importance to Densher at the outset. However as he gets to know Milly better, Densher's conviction begins to crumble. Despite his best efforts to turn a blind eye to his own part in a terrible deception, he feels his character eroding and needs constant reassurance from Kate that it all will be worth it in the end. By the end, however, he has to come face to face with what he's done and the price he, Milly and his relationship with Kate have paid.
This was not an easy read for me but I found it well worth the time and effort I put into it. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Jul 8, 2015 |
A complex, rewarding, novel though not without its drawbacks.

Clearly in The Wings of the Dove, James was experimenting in narrative structure. He seeks to describe each scene, each conversation, in its complete totality from all points of view. The only thing I can compare it to is to a Cubist painting, where the artist seeks to depict an object from all sides simultaneously. This necessitated a sentence structure which is obtuse, verbose and in seeking to encapsulate a moment over-extends itself (much like this review!). In its very nature it also creates a sense of time either being suspended (as in a still life painting) or stretched out to great lengths. Conversations, events, take much longer to describe than in actuality. James' innovation in this regard looks forward to the modernists like Joyce and Woolf.

The key to the novel is knowledge. Each character asks of the others 'How much do you know?' or 'Do you know the truth?'. Everybody believes they know the truth but ultimately they are deluded from Merton, Milly and Kate to Milly's doctor. Self-delusion is paramount throughout, Densher thinks he is morally superior to Lord Mark in his treatment of Milly although what they are after (her money) is exactly the same thing.

To hide their real motives many of the characters present a hypocritical facade and much of the self-reflection that goes on in the novel concerns how effective this facade is being maintained. Ultimately this hypocrisy brings about its own self-destruction at the end. Outward respectability is the facade of Lancaster Gate, but inside it is has the atmosphere of a darkened tomb. Only in the fading glories of the Venetian palace is the facade successful, its decline mirroring its occupant's within.

There is plenty to criticize this novel about. The sentence structure makes for difficult reading and whole paragraphs, even pages, sometimes need to be re-read to make sense of them. One piece of advice I found, never take a break mid-way through a chapter otherwise you will find it difficult to maintain the thread of what is happening. Structure can be sacrificed to narrative effect; conversations are often not placed sequentially, disrupting the flow of the story, to no obvious benefit. There is one particular clunky piece of nature symbolism, where Lord Mark arrives in Venice with his bad tidings for Milly in a middle of a typical English storm.

The Ambassadors, the novel that followed, built on the Dove's innovations to a much a greater effect and is, I think, the superior work. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, The Wings of the Dove was a bold experiment and still remains one of James' finest novels.

( )
2 vote David106 | Jul 1, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bannister, PhilipIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blackmur, R.P.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bloom, AmyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dupee, F. W.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Bruce L. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face postiively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without the sight of him.
"She fixed upon me herself, settled on me with her wonderful gilded claws."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140432639, Paperback)

The Wings of the Dove is a classic example of Henry James's morality tales that play off the naiveté of an American protagonist abroad. In early-20th-century London, Kate Croy and Merton Densher are engaged in a passionate, clandestine love affair. Croy is desperately in love with Densher, who has all the qualities of a potentially excellent husband: he's handsome, witty, and idealistic--the one thing he lacks is money, which ultimately renders him unsuitable as a mate. By chance, Croy befriends a young American heiress, Milly Theale. When Croy discovers that Theale suffers from a mysterious and fatal malady, she hatches a plan that can give all three characters something that they want--at a price. Croy and Densher plan to accompany the young woman to Venice where Densher, according to Croy's design, will seduce the ailing heiress. The two hope that Theale will find love and happiness in her last days and--when she dies--will leave her fortune to Densher, so that he and Croy can live happily ever after. The scheme that at first develops as planned begins to founder when Theale discovers the pair's true motives shortly before her death. Densher struggles with unanticipated feelings of love for his new paramour, and his guilt may obstruct his ability to avail himself of Theale's gift. James deftly navigates the complexities and irony of such moral treachery in this stirring novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:49 -0400)

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Milly Theale travels to London in an attempt to forget about her deadly illness, but she soon realizes that no matter what happens, she cannot escape the circumstances fate has thrown at her.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441283, 0141199849

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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