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The Wings of the Dove

63 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1419188138
ISBN-10: 1419188135
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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'Prunella Scales's cultivated tones are well matched to the cadences of Jamesian language. In some of his scenes of satrirical observation her delivery of dialogue cleverly highlights a gentle but piercing wit.' Herald 19/3/98 ''Listeners are likely to be drawn into the novel and rewarded for having chosen the aural route as opposed to the more arduous, printed path. James's dense style is leavened when read aloud. This makes the descriptive passages more evocative and the dialogue more active and convincing.' Observer 8/2/98 --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (June 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1419188135
  • ISBN-13: 978-1419188138
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Tim Ellison on August 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Wings of the Dove, on Amazon, has an absurdly low rating, much like most of James's other novels. To all readers seriously interested in purchasing a James novel for the first time, I urge you not to be frightened by all the reviews that say something like, "exhausting," "overrated," "flaccid," "unbearable," and so on. It's the eternal critique of James; the readers who find James "unbearable" are simply not meant to read James. They will forever bear a grudge against him, and we can do nothing about that.

If you're approaching James for the first time, know that "The Ambassadors," "The Wings of the Dove," and "The Golden Bowl," often referred to as the novels of his "Major" (late) phase, are his greatest works, but the style of these novels, while full of rewards, is challenging. There's no doubt about that. Use Amazon's "look inside" feature and read a few pages; if you're intrigued, by all means, buy the book. If you're turned off, don't buy the book, at least right now. If you're mystified but still interested, consider reading the books in a different order.

It may be a bad idea to start off your reading of James with "The Wings of the Dove" or "The Golden Bowl." These are works of an artistic genius who has been meditating on some of the same themes, ethical dilemmas, situations, and the representation of changing consciousness for a lifetime. As such, they are prose texts of great complexity, and readers need to expect that a novel written by a reader, writer and thinker of age 60 is rather different from the product of a man of age 35 or 40. Age often brings complexity: by the time we come to W.B. Yeats's last poems, for example, we are simply expected to know a few things about Yeats: Maud Gonne, say, some of his key symbols and poetic forms.
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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By B. Kuhlman on May 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Two responses to previous reviews: it was written one hundred years ago, so it would of course be somewhat dated. Second, you should perhaps READ THE ENTIRE BOOK before you attempt to review the text.
The text follows the fascinating development of a manipulation: Milly Theale, an American woman, enters the London scene, endowed with prodigious wealth, youth, and beauty, and several characters vie for her affection. It's a standard James plot in that way. Much like Portrait of a Lady, the wealthy American is exploited by her European acquaintances. Kate Croy convinces her lover Merton Densher to take advantage of Milly's interest in him, and to go so far as to attempt to marry the young American for her money. She is, after all, fatally and tragically ill. James brilliantly depicts the struggle between Densher, Kate Croy, her powerful Aunt Maud, the piquant Susan Shepherd, Sir Luke, and Lord Mark, and his characteristically enigmatic ending does not disappoint. James manages to breathe life into these odd characters in a way that so few writers can: his genius is for complex character, and this book embodies that genius at its height.
The trouble with the book, however, is that it does not qualify as a "light read." The pace is incredibly slow - deliberately slow, of course. It is a novel about decisions, and the development of those decisions constitutes the bulk of the novel. James's prose does lack the terseness of a Hemingway, but the latter writer often fails to capture the nuances that James so elaborately evokes in his careful prose.
James, like Faulkner, is not for the faint of heart.
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By darragh o'donoghue on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
The title is a Jamesian euphemism for 'Pulling The Wings Off Flies'. In a book that is a vortex of ironies, the most fundamental is that a novel written at the highest pitch of literary sophistication, full of high-minded exchanges and a character repeatedly compared to an angel, is really about the body, one dying, the other brimming with sexual attraction and desire (for money, status and sex). Kate Croy, impoverished with a disgraced father, is in love with Merton Densher, an impoverished journalist. Her wealthy aunt, Maud Lowder, offers to take her in, provide all the advantages of wealth and groom her for the marriage market, on the condition she abandons both her family and her marriage plans with Densher. Genuinely passionate for Densher, but reluctant to return to the degradations of comparative poverty, Kate has an idea. When she meets the dying American heiress Milly Theale, who coincidentally made the acquaintance of Densher in New York on a newspaper trip, Kate propses her fiance make love to her and so become a beneficiary in her imminent will, freeing the two lovers to get married.
Among the most difficult books in the English language, 'The Wings Of The Dove' is one of the three late novels in which James pushed the novel to a stylistic and intellectual limit, but which many readers have found awkward to read. The difficulty doesn't lie in the verbal extrvagance of a Joyce or the dictionary-defiance of a Pynchon - the individual words in these novels are familiar and accessible. It's what James does with them, the lengthy, elaborate sentences distended by clauses and sub-clauses, and compounded by a narration that emphasises qualification, euphemism, ellipis and ambivalence.
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