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The Wings of the Dove

The Wings of the Dove

3.4 82
by Henry James, Brenda Wineapple (Introduction), Philip Horne (Afterword)

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A new edition of Henry James's classic novel featuring a new afterword.

Milly Theale, an American heiress in London, is young, hungry for life, and terminally ill. There she meets the dazzling beauty Kate Croy. Unbeknownst to Milly, Kate is madly in love with an old acquaintance of hers, Merton Densher, a young journalist who has everything a woman could


A new edition of Henry James's classic novel featuring a new afterword.

Milly Theale, an American heiress in London, is young, hungry for life, and terminally ill. There she meets the dazzling beauty Kate Croy. Unbeknownst to Milly, Kate is madly in love with an old acquaintance of hers, Merton Densher, a young journalist who has everything a woman could want—except money.
Intensely aware of her new friend’s fate and coveting her fortune, Kate secretly spurs Merton to seduce and marry Milly. But their scheme to inherit her wealth does not go according to plan, and Kate and Merton learn that deceit alters love, and love, deceit.
With an Introduction by Brenda Wineapple and a New Afterword

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Wings of the Dove represents the pinnacle of James’s prose.”—Louis Auchincloss
Graham Greene
He is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


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 positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him. It was at this point, however, that she remained; changing her place, moving from the shabby sofa to the armchair upholstered in a glazed cloth that gave at once—she had tried it—the sense of the slippery and of the sticky. She had looked at the sallow prints on the walls and at the lonely magazine, a year old, that combined, with a small lamp in colored glass and a knitted white centre-piece wanting in freshness, to enhance the effect of the purplish cloth on the principal table; she had above all, from time to time, taken a brief stand on the small balcony to which the pair of long windows gave access. The vulgar little street, in this view, offered scant relief from the vulgar little room; its main office was to suggest to her that the narrow black house-fronts, adjusted to a standard that would have been low even for backs, constituted quite the publicity implied by such privacies. One felt them in the room exactly as one felt the room—the hundred like it, or worse—in the street. Each time she turned in again, each time, in her impatience, she gave him up, it was to sound to a deeper depth, while she tasted the faint, flat emanation of things, the failure of fortune and of honour. If she continued to wait it was really, in a manner, that she might not add the shame of fear, of individual, personal collapse, to all the other shames. To feel the street, to feel the room, to feel the table-cloth and the centre-piece and the lamp, gave her a small, salutary sense, at least, of neither shirking nor lying. This whole vision was the worst thing yet—as including, in particular, the interview for which she had prepared herself; and for what had she come but for the worst? She tried to be sad, so as not to be angry; but it made her angry that she couldn’t be sad. And yet where was misery, misery too beaten for blame and chalk-marked by fate like a “lot” at a common auction, if not in these merciless signs of mere mean, stale feelings?

Her father’s life, her sister’s, her own, that of her two lost brothers—the whole history of their house had the effect of some fine florid, voluminous phrase, say even a musical, that dropped first into words, into notes, without sense, and then, hanging unfinished, into no words, no notes at all. Why should a set of people have been put in motion, on such a scale and with such an air of being equipped for a profitable journey, only to break down without an accident, to stretch themselves in the wayside dust without a reason? The answer to these questions was not in Chirk Street, but the questions themselves bristled there, and the girl’s repeated pause before the mirror and the chimney-place might have represented her nearest approach to an escape from them. Was it not in fact the partial escape from this “worst” in which she was steeped to be able to make herself out again as agreeable to see? She stared into the tarnished glass too hard indeed to be staring at her beauty alone. She readjusted the poise of her black, closely-feathered hat; retouched, beneath it, the thick fall of her dusky hair; kept her eyes, aslant, no less on her beautiful averted than on her beautiful presented oval. She was dressed altogether in black, which gave an even tone, by contrast, to her clear face and made her hair more harmoniously dark. Outside, on the balcony, her eyes showed as blue; within, at the mirror, they showed almost as black. She was handsome, but the degree of it was not sustained by items and aids; a circumstance moreover playing its part at almost any time in the impression she produced. The impression was one that remained, but as regards the sources of it no sum in addition would have made up the total. She had stature without height, grace without motion, presence without mass. Slender and simple, frequently soundless, she was somehow always in the line of the eye—she counted singularly for its pleasure. More “dressed,” often, with fewer accessories, than other women, or less dressed, should occasion require, with more, she probably could not have given the key to these felicities. They were mysteries of which her friends were conscious—those friends whose general explanation was to say that she was clever, whether or no it were taken by the world as the cause or as the effect of her charm. If she saw more things than her fine face in the dull glass of her father’s lodgings, she might have seen that, after all, she was not herself a fact in the collapse. She didn’t judge herself cheap, she didn’t make for misery. Personally, at least, she was not chalk-marked for the auction. She hadn’t given up yet, and the broken sentence, if she was the last word, would end with a sort of meaning. There was a minute during which, though her eyes were fixed, she quite visibly lost herself in the thought of the way she might still pull things round had she only been a man. It was the name, above all, she would take in hand—the precious name she so liked and that, in spite of the harm her wretched father had done it, was not yet past praying for. She loved it in fact the more tenderly for that bleeding wound. But what could a penniless girl do with it but let it go?

When her father at last appeared she became, as usual, instantly aware of the futility of any effort to hold him to anything. He had written her that he was ill, too ill to leave his room, and that he must see her without delay; and if this had been, as was probable, the sketch of a design, he was indifferent even to the moderate finish required for deception. He had clearly wanted, for perversities that he called reasons, to see her, just as she herself had sharpened for a talk; but she now again felt, in the inevitability of the freedom he used with her, all the old ache, her poor mother’s very own, that he couldn’t touch you ever so lightly without setting up. No relation with him could be so short or so superficial as not to be somehow to your hurt; and this, in the strangest way in the world, not because he desired it to be—feeling often, as he surely must, the profit for him of its not being—but because there was never a mistake for you that he could leave unmade or a conviction of his impossibility in you that he could approach you without strengthening. He might have awaited her on the sofa in his sitting-room, or might have stayed in bed and received her in that situation. She was glad to be spared the sight of such penetralia, but it would have reminded her a little less that there was no truth in him. This was the weariness of every fresh meeting; he dealt out lies as he might the cards from the greasy old pack for the game of diplomacy to which you were to sit down with him. The inconvenience—as always happens in such cases—was not that you minded what was false, but that you missed what was true. He might be ill, and it might suit you to know it, but no contact with him, for this, could ever be straight enough. Just so he even might die, but Kate fairly wondered on what evidence of his own she would some day have to believe it.

He had not at present come down from his room, which she knew to be above the one they were in: he had already been out of the house, though he would either, should she challenge him, deny it or present it as a proof of his extremity. She had, however, by this time, quite ceased to challenge him; not only, face to face with him, vain irritation dropped, but he breathed upon the tragic consciousness in such a way that after a moment nothing of it was left. The difficulty was not less that he breathed in the same way upon the comic: she almost believed that with this latter she might still have found a foothold for clinging to him. He had ceased to be amusing—he was really too inhuman. His perfect look, which had floated him so long, was practically perfect still; but one had long since for every occasion taken it for granted. Nothing could have better shown than the actual how right one had been. He looked exactly as much as usual—all pink and silver as to skin and hair, all straightness and starch as to figure and dress—the man in the world least connected with anything unpleasant. He was so particularly the English gentleman and the fortunate, settled, normal person. Seen at a foreign table d’hôte, he suggested but one thing: “In what perfection England produces them!” He had kind, safe eyes, and a voice which, for all its clean fullness, told, in a manner, the happy history of its having never had once to raise itself. Life had met him so, half-way, and had turned round so to walk with him, placing a hand in his arm and fondly leaving him to choose the pace. Those who knew him a little said, “How he does dress!”—those who knew him better said, “How does he?” The one stray gleam of comedy just now in his daughter’s eyes was the funny feeling he momentarily made her have of being herself “looked up” by him in sordid lodgings. For a minute after he came in it was as if the place were her own and he the visitor with susceptibilities. He gave you funny feelings, he had indescribable arts, that quite turned the tables: that had been always how he came to see her mother so long as her mother would see him. He came from places they had often not known about, but he patronised Lexham Gardens. Kate’s only actual expression of impatience, however, was “I’m glad you’re so much better!”

“I’m not so much better, my dear—I’m exceedingly unwell; the proof of which is, precisely, that I’ve been out to the chemist’s—that beastly fellow at the corner.” So Mr. Croy showed he could qualify the humble hand that assuaged him. “I’m taking something he has made up for me. It’s just why I’ve sent for you—that you may see me as I really am.”

“Oh, papa, it’s long since I’ve ceased to see you otherwise than as you really are! I think we’ve all arrived by this time at the right word for that: ‘You’re beautiful—n’en parlons plus.’ You’re as beautiful as ever—you look lovely.” He judged meanwhile her own appearance, as she knew she could always trust him to do; recognising, estimating, sometimes disapproving, what she wore, showing her the interest he continued to take in her. He might really take none at all, yet she virtually knew herself the creature in the world to whom he was least indifferent. She had often enough wondered what on earth, at the pass he had reached, could give him pleasure, and she had come back, on these occasions, to that. It gave him pleasure that she was handsome, that she was, in her way, a sensible value. It was at least as marked, nevertheless, that he derived none from similar conditions, so far as they were similar, in his other child. Poor Marian might be handsome, but he certainly didn’t care. The hitch here, of course, was that, with whatever beauty, her sister, widowed and almost in want, with four bouncing children, was not a sensible value. She asked him, the next thing, how long he had been in his actual quarters, though aware of how little it mattered, how little any answer he might make would probably have in common with the truth. She failed in fact to notice his answer, truthful or not, already occupied as she was with what she had on her own side to say to him. This was really what had made her wait—what superseded the small remainder of her resentment at his constant practical impertinence; the result of all of which was that, within a minute, she had brought it out. “Yes—even now I’m willing to go with you. I don’t know what you may have wished to say to me, and even if you hadn’t written you would within a day or two have heard from me. Things have happened, and I’ve only waited, for seeing you, till I should be quite sure. I am quite sure. I’ll go with you.”

It produced an effect. “Go with me where?”

“Anywhere. I’ll stay with you. Even here.” She had taken off her gloves and, as if she had arrived with her plan, she sat down.

Lionel Croy hung about in his disengaged way—hovered there as if, in consequence of her words, looking for a pretext to back out easily: on which she immediately saw she had discounted, as it might be called, what he had himself been preparing. He wished her not to come to him, still less to settle with him, and had sent for her to give her up with some style and state; a part of the beauty of which, however, was to have been his sacrifice to her own detachment. There was no style, no state, unless she wished to forsake him. His idea had accordingly been to surrender her to her wish with all nobleness; it had by no means been to have positively to keep her off. She cared, however, not a straw for his embarrassment—feeling how little, on her own part, she was moved by charity. She had seen him, first and last, in so many attitudes that she could now deprive him quite without compunction of the luxury of a new one. Yet she felt the disconcerted gasp in his tone as he said: “Oh my child, I can never consent to that!”

“What then are you going to do?”

“I’m turning it over,” said Lionel Croy. “You may imagine if I’m not thinking.”

“Haven’t you thought then,” his daughter asked, “of what I speak of? I mean of my being ready.”

What People are Saying About This

Gore Vidal
James did nothing like an Englishman - or an American. He was a great fact in himself, a new world, a terra incognita that he would devote all his days to mapping for the rest of us... James was the master of the novel in English in a way that no one had ever been before; or had ever been since.

Meet the Author

Henry James (1843–1916), born in New York City, was the son of religious philosopher Henry James Sr. and brother of the psychologist and philosopher William James. His early life was spent in America, but he was frequently taken to Europe during his adolescence. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard, and, in 1864, began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines. In 1869, and then in 1872–74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875, he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876, he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905, he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907). During his career, he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916, King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him.
Brenda Wineapple is the author of such acclaimed books as Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848–1877 (a New York Times Notable Book), White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as a New York Times Notable book), and Hawthorne: A Life (Ambassador Award for the Best Biography of the Year). She teaches in the MFA programs at the New School and Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 15, 1843
Date of Death:
February 28, 1916
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Place of Death:
London, England
Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

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Wings of the Dove (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For any english major who loves American literature, or anyone who loves to read period, this is one of those complex books that one cannot forget. Period. James is not an easy writer to follow, nor is he a writer that can be read only once because the psychological subtexts in which his characters deal with are quite complex because of his long-winded sentences. However, it is truly a rich and rewarding experience once the codes have been cracked. Milly Theale from 'The Wings of the Dove' is one of the most unforgettable characters in fiction. Her story will truly resonate and make the reader tremble with hatred and pathos. The 1997 film with Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roache is equally well-done. But James is James. Period. Exquisite and complex!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I very recently read Colm Toibin's masterful book, THE MASTER, a novel of Henry James and that fueled my desire to reread some of my favorite James works. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE is, I think, my second favorite James book, coming in only a smidgen behind THE GOLDEN BOWL. I reread most of THE WINGS OF THE DOVE on a long flight from Lima, Peru to Madrid, Spain, then finished it on a much shorter flight from Madrid to Nice (with a change of planes in Paris). Even with all that traveling, I was still mesmerized by James' elegant and formal prose and the way he has of folding a sentence back on itself and then folding it yet again. James' stylized prose has been a favorite of mine since my teenaged years. I can't get enough of it and doubt I ever will. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE opens around the year 1900 in London and focuses on Kate Croy, who, shortly after the death of her mother, goes to live with her very wealthy Aunt Maud. Aunt Maud, of course, will do the 'right' thing for Kate and marry her off to a very socially acceptable and wealthy young man, Lord Mark. If love enters into the picture, fine. If it doesn't, that is equally fine and Kate should be grateful and manage as best she can. There is one huge problem, however. Kate is very much in love with the journalist, Merton Densher, a man with little money and no social status and, as such, totally unsuitable to Aunt Maud. When Aunt Maud threatens to disinherit Kate, Kate thinks she's come up with the perfect solution. Like many perfect solutions, however, this one goes terribly awry. Milly Theale is a wealthy, young American woman who has come to Europe because she is seriously, even fatally, ill. In Europe, Milly hopes to find a 'cure' for her disease. Kate befriends Milly and introduces her to Densher. When all three take a holiday to Venice, it is Kate who, without Densher's knowledge or blessing, suggests that Milly charm her way into Densher's heart. Kate, of course, is hoping that Milly will die sooner rather than later and that she and Densher will then be free to marry each other and be the beneficiaries of Milly considerable wealth. But a few things happen that Kate didn't count on. James was nothing if not the master of complex characters. Although he presents the character of Kate Croy in a very harsh light, she isn't completely without redeeming qualities. Either is Densher. And Milly isn't quite as gullible as one might initially expect. All of this complexity, of course, simply adds to the richness of this already rich and complex novel. Unlike many, I don't think Henry James, in general, or THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, in particular, is a particularly 'difficult' read and English is my third language, not my first. His sentences are long and convoluted and his paragraphs run for pages, but this doesn't make him 'difficult,' it only means that you can't speed read your way through one of James' books. And who, in their right mind, would want to speed read through James anyway? His writing is so rich, so insightful, so elegant, that it's writing to be savored, not hurried through. James is slow-paced. This is something I really enjoy about his writing, but others might want a faster, crisper read. If you're a rabid fan if Hemingway (I'm not), you probably won't like James. If, on the other hand, you admire Faulkner's prose, you just might like James' equally as well. If you decide to begin THE WINGS OF THE DOVE and fine it simply too slow going for your taste, I would suggest renting the film. It is slightly different from the book, but not in any substantive way and it's better than not experiencing James at all. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE is one of my all time favorite books. I would recommend it highly to everyone who loves highly intelligent, highly literary writing and who can tolerate a slow-paced novel. Believe me, the payoffs will certainly be worth it.
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