- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (June 3, 1986)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140432639
- ISBN-13: 978-0140432633
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 80 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,717,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Wings of the Dove (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 3, 1986
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The density of the prose isn't Henry James trying to be difficult. This is an author (probably in many conversations and correspondences with his brother, the great psychologist William James) determined to express the very complicated psychology of complex human beings, a psychology that steps forward and backward and sideways . No character is just one thing: a conniving money-grubber, a social-climbing heiress, a thwarted lover, a very rich American naif. Each of these characters reveals layer upon layer of contradictory motives, second and third thoughts, unexpected generosities. Several of them are troubled by the ethics of their motives, and the final pages will leave you wondering whose ethics will prevail.
But that's as James intended. "I honor George Eliot above all other novelists," he said, "but she tells too much." Henry James, for all his words, makes you, the reader, complete his late novels.
A sordid plot but James manages to elevate the whole thing to art. Every character gets his/her full consideration, even Kate who is not a 'good' woman but not completely bad either. She is a dutiful daughter and sister to people who see her as their ticket out of poverty and care little about what happens to her in the process. The heroine Milly Theale is the character who emerges least clearly from the novel (at least for me), probably because she is so good she seems (to me) more like a fantasy or an ideal than a real person.
Milly's illness is a key plot point since it is the anchor on which the rest turns so I found it kind of amusing how James elides over the subject. We never even know what disease she has; the closest we come to knowing anything is when the doctor says it is not tuberculosis, a curious statement when you think about it. It doesn't really help to know what she doesn't have but then again this is the 19th century (when the novel takes place) and doctors didn't have many diagnostic tools. Even so, Milly's interview with her doctor is one of the more curious in fiction since it never seems to approach a clinical diagnosis but is rather the sort of conversation that might have taken place in the intervals at an opera house. (James remarks in his introduction that he doesn't want to dwell on Milly's illness, that it is not the subject of the book but rather her intense desire to live so perhaps that is why.)
Anyway this is a marvelous book which well repays the effort of reading it. Some have remarked that the books of James's later period (to which The Wings of the Dove belongs) are more obscure and harder to read than his earlier books but I disagree. I don't think The Wings of the Dove is any more difficult to read and understand than A Portrait of a Lady (a novel of his 'social' period) and it is (for me at least ) far more rewarding.
Read what Harold Bloom has to say about Kate and Milly, but give Densher a little more
credit. He grows from weakness to strength == but form your own view.
I will reread this book -- it is so finely nuanced.