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The Wings of the Dove




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.


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Recent Forum Posts on The Wings of the Dove

What of Lionel Croy?

What is the significance of Kate's dysfunctional family and, in particular, Lionel Croy, who only appears at the start and end of the novel? Kate's father has a strange and, perhaps, terrible personality and history. Kate's sister, Mrs. Condrip, is decidedly unimpressive. But what has all this to do with Kate, her psyche and behaviour, and her ultimately strained relationship with Merton Densher? What does Milly finally make of her, and is Milly as clear-sighted here as she becomes regarding Densher?

The Wings of the Dove

What do people think of this novel? For the first half I had no idea what was going on, but then eventually things started coming together. I liked the ending of the novel, but I didn't find the work nearly as rewarding as Portrait of a Lady.

Wings of the Dove discussion thread

This was getting too large for the 'What you read in May' thread, so it seemed time to give the book the thread it deserves! :D I would have created this sooner, had I not suspected that I would be the only one posting... My post was a little garbled. I meant that when James wrote autobiographically, he didn't include anything about his own sex life (though people claim to have found encoded versions of it here and there.) I have only heard rumors about the infamous ‘fisting in the Prefaces’ argument, but I’ve not read any of it yet. I’m inclined to doubt it already – I don’t know why people seem to have such a hard time accepting that sexual repression does in fact exist – but I just don’t know. And the sex in the novels is kept firmly offstage. When Kate tells Densher she'll come to his room if he does her a favor, James assumed we'd all know exactly what that meant. No need to dramatize it, as they did so trashily in the movie. Well, right, and it apparently, like a lot of things in the novel, doesn’t even matter beyond what Densher gets out of it and how he reacts to and reflects on it afterwards – one of my favorite passages in the book actually. I would be interested to see what some possible significance can be read, for instance, into such a scene receiving similar treatment to that of Milly's visit to Sir Luke Strett. Kate does not strike me as particularly affected by it – like practically everything in the book, it is given an exchange value, and she allows it without much argument; yet the scene in the movie seems essentially to focus on her. Actually, the film’s abridgement in this part really confuses me. Milly is alive during this part of the novel, right? Incidentally, I find it interesting that Densher moves from a well-known tourist hotel in Venice to an obscure pensione , presumably for the express purpose of enabling Kate to visit him without running into anybody she knows. In The Ambassadors James also seems to know all about how to handle an illicit affair discreetly. I can't help wondering if any of that knowledge came from personal experience. Maybe that's where the encoding comes in... Interesting! :) I must thank you for the thoughtful responses. I think I’ll go back and reread some passages soon to get a few things straight.

A Cry for Help

I'm not one to give up on books. I always try to finish what I start and typically I can always enjoy the book on some level whether it's the storytelling, the plot, a particular character or whatever. I'm currently struggling to keep interest in "The Wings of the Dove". James' language is incredibly cumbersome and I find the story thus far to be uninteresting, the plot missing, and the characters as bland. I plan to make it to the end of the first volume, but can anyone give me good reason to stick with this work to the end?

I Love His Works

Henry James's work is most admirable! I think that all readerrs should read his works! Spitz


Just saw the film of the wings of the dove. Does anyone know what the piece is that Densher narrates as a voice over when millie's funeral is taken place. It ends with the phrase "on the wings of a dove". is it a poem or is it actually in the novel by henry james?

No Subject

i have just watched the TV -the wings of the dove and i love it very much. so i come online now to search the work. i am so lucky i find it on your website. i will read it thoroughly later . thanks a lot. -daisy

No Subject

I really enjoyed reading this. You really end up feeling sorry for
Kate and Densher. You find out that the shrew actually has a heart.

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