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The Wings of the Dove

The Wings of the Dove

3.4 82
by Henry James, Millicent Bell (Editor), Philip Horne (Editor)

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Emerging from the grit and stigma of poverty to a life of fairytale privilege under the wing of her aunt, the beautiful and financially ambitious Kate Croy is already romantically involved with promising journalist Merton Densher when they become acquainted with Milly Theale, a New York socialite of immense wealth. Learning of Milly's mortal illness and passionate


Emerging from the grit and stigma of poverty to a life of fairytale privilege under the wing of her aunt, the beautiful and financially ambitious Kate Croy is already romantically involved with promising journalist Merton Densher when they become acquainted with Milly Theale, a New York socialite of immense wealth. Learning of Milly's mortal illness and passionate attraction to Densher, Kate sets the scene for a romantic betrayal intended to secure her lasting financial security. As the dying Milly retreats within the carnival splendour of a Venetian palazzo, becoming the frail hub of a predatory circle of fortune-seekers, James unfolds a resonant, brooding tale of doomed passion, betrayal, human resilience and remorse.

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:
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Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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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 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 coloured 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 housefronts, 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&mdashthe hundred like it, or worse&mdashin 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 andthe 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 straitness 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'ôte, he suggested but one thing: 'In what perfection England produces them!' He had kind, safe eyes, and a voice which, for all its clean fulness, 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!'

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 noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, 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. He died in London in February 1916.

Philip Horne has spent a decade looking at the thousands of James's letters in archives in the United States and Europe. A Reader in English Literature at University College, London, he is the author of Henry James and Revision and the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of James's The Tragic Muse.

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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