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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all timeSet amid the splendor of London drawing rooms and gilded Venetian palazzos The Wings of the Dove is the story of Milly Theale a naïve doomed American heiress and a pair of lovers Kate Croy and Merton Densher who conspire to obtain her fortune In this witty tragedy of treachery self deception and betrayal Henry James weaves together three ill fated and wholly human destinies unexpectedly linked by desire greed and salvation As Amy Bloom writes in her Introduction “The Wings of the Dove is a novel of intimacy James gives us passion he gives us love in its terrible and enchanting forms”

10 thoughts on “The Wings of the Dove

  1. says:

    THE WINGED GRADATION I have been a devotee of Henry James for a while now But this novel has overflowed me So far this is the most Jamesian writing I have read May be The Ambassadors is of the same tone and texture and I would like to immerse myself in it too Anyway reading this was like listening to a lullaby that would drag you into a lethargic mood in the early hours of the afternoon Not a sign of boredom just a state of undefined bliss Following James’ account one is pulled into a blurred consciousness with those veiled descriptions faint thoughts dim suggestions subtle observations foggy ethical dilemmas euivocal dialogues It is with this succession of washes that a picture begins to emerge even if upon closing the book one wonders if one has been staring at the reflections of the Venetian lagoon rather than deciphering black graphics on a white pageNo his writing has no defined contours and his exploration of the referentiality of language is pulled to its tight extremes for example with the way he spins and stretches personal pronouns the ‘she’ and the ‘she’ the ‘her’ and the ‘her’ the ‘you’ or the ‘I’ or is it the 'I' and the 'you'? All these shifting identities at times perform an interrelated dance in front of multiple mirrors that confound the illusion with the tangible or verifiable and we remain on a state of surmisingJames ability to explore the malleability of language is also seen in his widened used of some terms however simple these may be Never before have I felt so bewildered by the word ‘beautiful’ used in differing semantic placements With James it could refer to awareness or to money or to intelligence or to subtlety or to health or to consideration Also to beautyFor me then in this novel James writing takes a much higher flight than I had been able to survey beforeFor winged it certainly is

  2. says:

    Soooo you guys I think missed that day in English Lit 101 when we talked about Henry James because to me he’s always been one of those authors you merely know OF and who is important in some vague way but you couldn’t possibly say how who is not really relevant in our 3G world except for the fact that Merchant Ivory makes mad bank off of this lace petticoat and social graces kind of thing But for serious you guys why did no one never tell me that Henry James is a GENIUS? I mean why is this not widely discussed? Like how after reading him you can never look at a conversation in the same way because he is absolutely devastating in creating and describing and codifying how a mood can shift from sentence to sentence how he who actually walks you from glance to glance? Like how the plot of this book so languid to start coils you into a tighter and tighter spring up until the very last sentence? Like how he doesn’t so much describe things themselves as describe the light that falls on them how it's not just what his characters say but what they don't and how he’s totally bitchin’ at telling you about the silences? I mean really“Her welcome her frankness sweetness sadness brightness her disconcerting poetry as he made shift at moments to call it helped as it was by the beauty of her whole setting and by the perception at the same time on the observer’s part that this element gained from her in a manner for effect and harmony as much as it gave – her whole attitude had to his imagination meanings that hung about it waiting upon her hovering dropping and uavering forth again like vague faint snatches mere ghosts of sound of old fashioned melancholy music”This is just one of many many passages that I wanted to rip out and rub all over my body It is also one of many many passages that took me about three readings to understand This is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read – I am depleted; I feel like I’ve been lobotomized circa 1906 I can’t even begin to uantify the absolutely brick like character of this text – though homeboy loves commas and sub sub clauses like nobody’s business – but I have also never read a “difficult” book or a “classic” that is so sentence for sentence rewarding as this one I want to write a check to the estate of this man I can't even ridicule the really pretentious critical edition with douchbaggery essays titled like “Henry James Art and Thought” because dear god I give I GET it Henry James is a genius

  3. says:

    ”’The women one meets what are they but books one has already read You’re a whole library of the unknown the uncut’ He almost moaned he ached from the depth of his content ‘Upon my word I’ve a subscription’”There is a 1997 movie starring Helena Bonham Carter Linus Roache and Alison ElliottMerton Densher is in love with Kate Croy Their circumstances though seemingly impossible are not unusual in a class bound society like Edwardian England Kate’s future is held hostage by her Aunt Maude who is attempting to save her from the ruinous circumstances of her father ”’If you hear anything against her father anything I mean except that he’s odious and vile remember it’s perfectly false’” Doesn’t he sound like an interesting chap? Kate does feel compelled by her father and his circumstances To accept her father and his way of life would allow her to escape the life her Aunt is so determined to thrust upon her She will be ruined of course but a certain level of freedom does come with being socially wrecked Does she love Merton Densher? That is a good uestion and if you ask me that uestion at different times in the book I might give you a different answer He is a journalist wonderfully knowledgeable about a great number of things He is pleasant and charming and would make any woman a wonderful companion but he is lacking one very important thing that nullifies all of his best traitsmoney Kate could ruin herself with Densher as easily as she could with her father but she hesitates to do so The longer she takes to accept one of the gold rings her aunt has arranged the time she gains for circumstances to change She is in other words practical about their relationship than Merton Kate and Merton both meet the American heiress Milly Theale separately under different circumstances but eventually they all become fast friends Milly after all is in need of friends ”She was alone she was stricken she was rich and in particular was strange”Milly is rather strange in the sense that she has no pretensions She is who she is all the time in contrast to her British friends who were raised in a society of so many rules governing their actions that they are often contorted into distorted versions of themselves ”In The Wings of the Dove James was to return to an earlier interest the clash between the American and British attitudes which put ‘crudely and briefly’ might be described as the conflict between innocence and experience”Henry James loves to spend a lot of time pulling apart everything anyone says or thinks to find the nuggets of meaning His writing reflects this obsession and at times his speculative archaeological digging into the various emotions and thoughts surrounding a conversation can be mind numbing to a reader Ponderous is a word that comes to mind I keep thinking of him writing a scene like a Picasso cubist portrait showing all sides at once and in the process revealing the true nature of the speaker or the listener His writing despite the ponderous tendencies is superb I would read this book every morning before venturing into my office to write I don’t write in a style even close to James but his style elevated my awareness of my own writing He is a grand master of the English language Milly is diagnosed with an illness that will certainly shorten her life Kate can see a way that this misfortune could eliminate the stumbling blocks between Kate and Merton’s future happiness He simply has to marry Milly and inherit her fortune Merton is appalled at the thought but his gentlemanly morality is hampered by his love for Kate ”There were moments again we know that from the first they had been numerous when he felt with a strange mixed passion the mastery of her mere way of putting things There was something in it that bent him at once to conviction and to reaction”We’ve all known persuasive people like Kate They are people so convinced that they are right that their certainty overcomes our objections I am always beset with doubts as to the right decision I can weigh and argue any side of an argument There is generally than one right solution to life’s trials and tribulations The answer is A B or maybe it is D all the above but for people like Kate it is emphatically C Merton and Kate both adore Milly but that British upper class practicality lends a bit of callousness to how Kate perceives the situation Milly has a crush on Merton so the acorn with which a tree can grow has been sown Milly has no heirs so why shouldn’t she marry Merton? She would make him a man of means It would just be a matter of time before Kate and Merton can be together ”She must die my dear in her own extraordinary way”Of course there is a delicious twist at the end This is considered the first of his final three masterpieces followed by The Ambassadors 1903 and The Golden Bowl 1904 My plans are when I next feel that niggling desire to read James that I will be proceeding to The Ambassadors The Portrait of a Lady still remains my favorite James so we will see if one of these other masterpieces can displace Isabel Archer in my heart If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visit also have a Facebook blogger page at

  4. says:

    Conversation continued from the updatesWell hello again So you work in reviews too? Yes sometimes I get assigned to reviews but with 20000 characters to count down in the review boxes as opposed to 420 in the status update boxes I avoid this posting whenever possibleYou'll not have much counting down to do today I rarely use even half the characters available for reviews I wish I could use the rest in the status updates thoughWe've been through all that already 420 characters is the maximum available for status update boxes There is nothing to be done But there is one thing you can do set your star rating for this book before you begin your review It's an important part of the reviewing processBut I never use the star rating systemDon't tell me you're one of those people who don't stick to review rules Are there review rules?Well not uite rules as such like tried and trusty conventions a straight forward description of a book's story line some analysis and a star rating that indicates clearly where the book stands in relation to other books the reviewer has read Such an approach simplifies life for everyone concerned and especially for the review reader He clicks on a book title familiar or unfamiliar He reads about the book which he knows something of already or he doesn't He notes the star rating while mentally agreeing or not depending on his level of familiarity with the book or on what he's picked up from the content of the review Everybody knows where everybody stands and confusion is unlikely They all pass on to writeread of the same certain as to the firmness of the ground they're treading Tried and trusty? Sounds like tired and rusty to meThen show me the justification for interfering with something that works Show me the rationale for introducing vaguenesses where there should only be certainties and convolutions where none are needed? Where is the value in withholding star ratings and obliging readers to second guess as if the reviewer's opinion were some great and significant puzzle? We're only talking about books here after all not the meaning of life or the riddle of mankind But some books can be microcosms of a larger world and their contents can comprehend the riddles of existence in uniue and creative ways That larger significance and the uniue creativity used to frame it is partly why it seems impossible for me to rate books in relation to other books Literary works are just too different one from another to be euated in any way It would almost be like rating my friendsI presume Henry James is about to be called on to back up your claims? Incomparable artist stand alone figure etc etcWell this 'review' is under the banner of a Henry James novel after all and you've read 'The Wings of the Dove' yourself you've seen what he can do in terms of constructing microcosms of the worldAh But I wouldn't dream of writing a review of it That's precisely why I can't write a conventional review of it either But I can write about why I can'tOk I'm waiting16830Well I think plot isn't the most important aspect of his stories so even if I was inclined to outline the plot in my reviews which I rarely do I'd never do so in the case of a Henry James novelSo you're not going to tell the readers what the book is about?That's right So maybe a little analysis? A few stabs at the meanings behind the themes and symbols?In the case of a Henry James novel that's not at all obviousYou can't do it in other wordsI can do it and uite easily but they would indeed be another's wordsCryptic You’ve clearly been reading too much Henry JamesThe thing is Henry James has two voicesExplain pleaseThere's an omniscient narrator in each of the three James novels I've read recently and the narrator sometimes switches to being a third person limited narrator presenting things just from one particular character's point of view and allowing other characters to keep their thoughts secretIs that what you mean about the two voices? What's new or original about that?Hold on It's what he does when he's being omniscient that's interesting He comments on the narrative as he's telling it and sometimes analyses the characters and their motivations as well And then from time to time he slips into first person narration he drops in an 'I' voice that adds another later of analysis to the story being told It's as if James is being the critic of his own story and in fact he becomes an actual critic at the end of this book There’s an appendix at the end of my edition explaining how he constructed the book what he wanted to demonstrate how well he succeeded what he could have done better in short he becomes his own bestworst criticHmm I didn't know about the appendix So you're saying there's no need to review him in the usual way because he himself has anticipated everything that can be said about his storyYes or less But what about style? You’re not going to tell us he comments on his own style I suppose?Funny you should mention his style because something you said earlier reminded me very much of his uniue way of writing You spoke of vaguenesses where there should only be certainties and convolutions where none are needed If ever there was a writer who indulged in vaguenesses and convolutions Henry James is the one He seems to revel in creating long sentences and as many of them as possible and he will always choose an elaborate way to explain something rather than a simple one If a metaphor will bear expanding he will push it to the limit when a circle can be drawn wide he will draw it very wide indeed In short he uses 50 words where 5 might do Did he know he was doing that?Oh yes I think his elaborate style was very intentional And once again he addresses this issue in the appendix He speaks of the ‘dodges’ or strategies he uses in telling his stories and for which he always has reasons why for example he approaches the character of Millie Theale only and ever circuitously All of which proceeds obviously from her painter’s tenderness of imagination about her which reduces him to watching her as it were through the successive windows of other people’s interest in her And how glad I was to read his confirmation of this intention as I’d already picked up this approach in his treatment of the main character in Washington Suare an approach I’d found myself noting also here as I read ‘around’ and ‘about’ Milly But to get back to his elaborate style in the appendix he also stresses the notion of ‘attention of perusal’ that is the attention he reuires from the reader He has a theory about enjoyment of works of art being greatest when they demand of our attention and there is no doubt that when reading a Henry James novel we have to read with full attention He designs his sentences so that we can’t skim read We have to read every word but when we do what treats we get as rewardsThat may be your experience but I see a lot of negative feedback on his style generallyYou could argue that I’m a particularly patient reader and that’s why his style works for me But I think there’s a lot than that involved I talked about the rewards when we read every word Sometimes they arrive in a particularly efficient piece of phrasing that sums up all the foregoing narrative as in the following excerpt for example Milly Theale has been wandering around the various rooms or ‘schools’ of the National Gallery looking at painting after painting and has just sat down on a chair to rest Milly indeed at present fixed her eyes than elsewhere on the appearance first that she couldn’t uite after all have accounted to an examiner for the order of her various ‘schools’ and then on that of her being tired than she had meant in spite of her having been so much less intelligentHmm I can anticipate people not understanding what you’re saying hereHow to explain better I couldn't have noticed the perfection of that final paradox unless I'd paid attention to everything leading up to it That’s what I mean Take this excerpt They had accepted their acuaintance as too short for an engagement but they had treated it as long enough for almost anything else and marriage was somehow before them like a temple without an avenue They belonged to the temple and they met in the grounds; they were in the stage at which grounds in general offered much scattered refreshment That’s so efficient in spite of James having exploited the temple image to its fullest And there’s a tongue in cheek element too The grounds were shady and secluded Those two sentences just work perfectly on so many levels I think you’ll have to come up with examples than that to convince the doubtersOne then and again it's an example of elaborate efficiency She balanced an instant during which Densher might have just wondered if pure historic truth were to suffer a slight strain But she dropped on the right sideGood one indeed but I’m afraid it won’t convince In fact I’m tempted to drop in a uote myself about the same Densher Densher had for this as he listened a smile of the largest response ‘Ah my dear child if you can explain I of course needn’t not “understand” I’m condemned to that' he on his side presently explained ‘only when understanding fails’ It’s that sort of construction that puts people offSuch a well chosen uote for what we’re talking about You must have been underlining your edition tooHave you come across the sentence full of negatives in The Golden Bowl yet? Ah you're reading it too Do you mean this one Mr Verver it may further be mentioned had taken at no moment sufficient alarm to have kept in detail the record of his reassurance; but he would none the less not have been unable not really have been indisposed to impart in confidence to the right person his notion of the history of the matterThat’s the oneI admit I had to read that one twice But it works in the context and tells us so much about Mr Verver And since we’ve dragged 'The Golden Bowl' into our conversation I’ve been noticing the ‘I’ narrator even in that book little asides that comment on the story and the telling of it For example The unspoken had come up and there was a crisis neither could have said how long it lasted during which they were reduced for all interchange to looking at each other on uite an inordinate scale They might at this moment in their positively portenous stillness have been keeping it up for a wager sitting for their photograph or even enacting a ‘tableau vivant’ About this scene the narrator later says The little crisis was of shorter duration than our account of it; duration would naturally have forced him to take up his hatand leave therefore changing the outcome is implied I love the layers of construction that are revealedYou speak of novels as if they were buildings That’s not the way many readers approach literatureIt’s true that I love architecture the architecture of everything Even of a review But in every construction there has to be a moment when we say ‘enough is enough’ I think we’ve reached that point here don’t you?I agree completely And I think there are many who will be grateful that you’re not following Gaudi's approach to architecture I'm thinking of his never completed cathedral because then this review would have accumulated so many additions and citations that it would have been an even bigger mess than it is already And there wouldn't have been 7807 characters left in this review box either Well at least my shift is over so I'm off home Bon Dimanche everyoneBon Dimanche to you too Ah I've just realised this is a Sunday review No wonder I've had trouble with itI'll edit it tomorrow

  5. says:

    My third Henry James but only the second I managed to complete He didn't set the world on fire for me with this either like a uivering flame I was hoping for great things somewhere along the lines of Edith Wharton's brilliant 'The Age of Innocence' As classic fiction generally goes it was written impeccably well but my problems were with the characters who seemed to drift in and out of my consciousness all too often Well over one hundred pages in wasn't doing anything for me Slowly this changed for the better and how he handled the cultural clash between naive Americans and the sophisticated often decadent Europeans of the time was done with much enthusiasm but Henry James ultimately may be a writer that's just not for meDo I give him another chance? It's 5050 The story takes place in London and Venice two great settings Kate Croy is a Londoner who encourages her secret fiancé Merton Densher to woo and marry the wealthy young American Milly Theale who is dying of a mysterious malady Thus Kate reasons although Milly will likely die soon she will at least be happily in love Merton will pocket her fortune and Kate and Merton can marry and be filthy rich But Milly learns of Merton’s and Kate’s wicked motives leaving a guilt ridden Merton a legacy that he is struggles with The greedy Kate on the other hand is playing hard ball leading to their relationship hitting the rocks The novel looks closely at conseuences and differences between characters than it does on the events that carry the story Most books these days are ninety percent plot heavy so is it any surprise that for some we have trouble understanding an author who isn't bothered by any of that 'The Wings of the Dove' is told almost entirely without events it’s almost all character interiority not that I had a problem with this approach I just found the main characters like echoes rather than a feeling of riding up front along side them The second half of the novel definitely left of an impact than the first and had I read this in 1 2 hour sittings to get accustomed with it's pace rather than thirty minutes here and there then things may have been positive I will now ponder on reading 'The Portrait of a Lady' which was my first choice anyway but that's now probably fallen back in the ueue This was very well written but for me maybe just read in the wrong way

  6. says:

    Well I finished it and I didn't even skim one passage though there were countless sentences that no matter how many times I read them at whatever angle and no matter how sincere my desire to understand had absolutely no meaning to them whatsoever Often this was caused not by subtlety or for suspense but but because of simple misuse of pronouns Who's thinking this of whom? Ah never mind I must have an inferior intellect to care for such detailsOthers are merely clotted arteries of metalanguage suggesting it was as though somehow upon reflection one could surmise the undeniable but fleeting truth of what she had guessed and know it was how she had been meant to understand it all along Other passages however lofty their intention remind you that James is writing of an experience he himself has never had but has only considered from every possible theoretical guise So as not to spoil anything I won't mention what it is and who in this book ever mentions anything directly except at parties where anyone can overhear? but suffice it to say much of his ability to keep so much on a pedestal results from his having lived so pinched a life The rest of the novel is characterized by constant evasion unceasing fogs and unverifiable rumors If this were a Harlan Coben novel it would be titled Don't Tell Her This is most aggravating in Milly's visit to the great doctor where nothing as tawdry as a medical exam takes place or in book 8 chapter 1 where Aunt Maud and Susan Stringham discuss Susan's own meeting with the great doctor with discretion best suited for those in a witness protection program And may I ask if James is such a master at characterization why must he clobber the reader by introducing characters as representing something larger than themselves Merton as the embodiment of intellect Kate of life and Susan of culture and then fail to support such claims with the characters' own decisions and behaviors? In fact how can the greatest literary critics not be bothered by how every James character speaks with the same voice and possesses the same ever comprehending and analytical mind that considers all nuances of each sentence in mere seconds over the course of several pages before coming up with precisely the right thing to say? Yet despite the repeated reminders of what is so exceptional about the lead characters why can I not understand why Merton is so alluring to Kate and Milly or why Kate if she is so beautiful and brilliant is courted by only two men in London? What did Isabel Archer of Portrait of a Lady have that Kate lacked? It's one thing if it were made a point that others were interested but were kept away by Aunt maud who had decided for Kate that she should only consider Lord Mark But even if this is the case Kate has the freedom the roam about the city and meet whomever she likes as she did Merton so the Rapunzel theory doesn't uite fit I just don't know what to make of this book It frustrated me so intensely and its supposedly brilliant ending was so out of character for Merton because he'd do anything for Isabel for Isabel because she was never the jealous type yet the shocking last line was also so ploddingly built up to for hundreds of pages that it was hardly a dramatic slap that all I can feel right now is that the movie was much satisfying and fixed many of the problems in the book There I said it PS I do respect James for having admitted disappointment in this book and thinking it didn't live up to what he had wanted it to be in terms of characterization and plot so some credit must be given to him for that I wrote to a friend I don't think I'll ever be one of those James fans who think his writing genius and are blind to his impossible evasions and taking ten pages to convey what can be expressed in one but I do find myself now able to get through the dull passages so I can appreciate the moments when things click together And there is a mental challenge worthy or not in figuring out what the heck he's trying to say So I enjoy putting up with him for now That said I do need freuent breaks from him and alternate a chapter of his with several from a book with sparse and clean writing Reading him is akin to going antiuing you can find very valuable pieces among lots of junk hidden beneath decades of dust And I may want to bring a piece home but I'm not inspired to cramp my home with these purchases or stop dusting so as to romanticize my apartment How's that for praise?

  7. says:

    Nope sorry I read a really enticing review of this got all excited drove across three suburbs and two villages to get to the library where it was mouldering on the shelf got it home opened the first page and then I rememberedFriends don't let friends read Henry JamesIf you're thinking about reading this then be warned The sentences are constructed like algebraic euations with nested parenthesis within nested parenthesis within nested parenthesis It gets to the point you feel that like the constipated mathematician you have to work it out with a pencilFirst sentence 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 himLife is too short to read books that are built like a set of babushka dollsI'm actually going to set up a new shelf flung across room This is the first book on that shelf

  8. says:

    Henry James is infuriating His evasiveness is infuriating His endless digressions clause upon clause are infuriating Deciphering the text reuires so much concentration you'll ultimately feel that rather than experiencing the story you're floating along above it He reinforces that impression in often forsaking description for reflective analysis In effect even that which isn't spoken somehow feels spoken But don't let any of that dissuade youThis is a work of genius Henry James creates in this novel captivating characters beauty symmetry and a dramatic series of events that is yet masterfully character driven He loves the written word and that radiates from every pageBut oh bother Never mind about all that either This book is personal to me

  9. says:

    In Henry James we rarely if ever have a villain a real horrible blackguard character for whom we feel morally adeuate enough to pass severe judgment There are characters with evil intentions who do evil thing who lie and undermine the hero or heroine Mme Merle and Gilbert Osmond of The Portrait of a Lady may be among the most evil duos in the James canon if only for the tenderness we feel toward the passionate Isabel who they snare What is perplexing in James which frustrates us is that we are nearly always on the precipice of love and hate for non protagonist characters there is an ambiguous moral haze which pervades James's works and steals away our ability to classify to count the troops of good and evil Moral ambiguity may be at its consummate peak in The Wings of the Dove a book populated by characters which elicit in turnstile fashion our censure and sympathy which are condemned only to be redeemed and condemned again With the exception of the fatally ill angelic Milly Theale and perhaps her duena Susan Shepherd whom we may only hold her naivete against no character remains unmarred by human foible and that is the transcendent beauty of The Wings of the DoveSet in the mannered and deeply class divided Victorian England the story follows Kate Croy and her lover Merton Densher separated by class but passionately in love and still heatedly in lust Despite Densher's willingness to break with convention and marry the higher class though essentially orphaned Kate if he did so she would be disinherited by her wealthy aunt dowager Maud When an enigmatic young American woman Milly arrives on the scene connected to Maud through her travel companion Susan it is discovered that she is the wealthiest orphan in America and also that she is fatally sick These dual revelations begin the moral descent of many of the money lusty characters including Lord Mark a fading noble and our own Kate Croy Kate's uick witted devices which she places upon Milly's money are startling and reveal her perniciously creative mind Her gift of morbid certitude is almost reminiscent of Lady Macbeth and at times Macbeth himself in its terrible improvisational tact and malignant boldness which surpasses conventional expectations of her 'weaker sex' She devises a plan which sets her secret fiancé to fool the invalid into loving him and then leaving him her money when she soon passes Kate's Janus faced friendship with Milly is chilling and veiled While she seems to hold some genuine affection for Milly at the onset of their friendship it cools to a remote admiration for her unnatural goodness and is corrupted by Milly's money to a hauntingly composed opportunism as Kate waits for Milly to diePerhap's the book's greatest strength is the transition of perspectives between the three main characters Kate Milly and Merton In addition to a masterful play of dramatic ironies in which there is ever the floating uestion mark of who knows what? who knows what who else knows? an infinitely recursive self uestioning and hyper sensitivity to the awareness of others it also deepens our understandings of all the characters and confronts our prejudices against them Merton Densher remains for me one of the most intriguing and frustrating characters in the Jamesian universe Like his counterpart Kate he too hearkens us to Shakespeare's Macbeth in his initial moral reticence rash complicity and ultimately trapped feeling of remorse for his transgressions against the innocent and doting Milly Unlike Macbeth though undeserving of a comparison to Hamlet his great flaw is not haste but hesitation He had thought no doubt from the day he was born much than he had acted; except indeed that he remembered thoughts a few of them which at the moment of their coming to him had thrilled him almost like adventures But anything like his actual state he had not as to the prohibition of impulse accident range the prohibition in other words of freedom hitherto known What Densher lacks is Macbeth's horrible boldness to follow through he only half commits and so is at one time less of a villain than Macbeth but as morally outrageous and self emasculating In a book which is overwhelmingly about the illusion of gender Merton is the only significant male figure while significantly lacking in conventional masculinity a trait which is made up for in his stronger half Kate The almost epicene uality of Densher is perhaps partially a result of his consort which is described as a circle of petticoats His seeming preference for female company even platonically appears to parallel his creator and may perhaps indicate the ambiguity of a repressed sexual preference Merton's over reliance on consideration and his moral hesitations bring in to uestion his love for Kate Does he love her or does he simply envy her stirring temerity? Left alone with Milly he is drawn to her subtle bravery and unnatural kindness and generosity something which he lacks in his life with Kate but perhaps he is also drawn to her fragility Milly is the only character who despite her moving strength in character is reliant on the physical aid of others Merton's perverted views of love leave the reader unsure of him He seems to us hopelessly lost Milly's death brings upon Merton a Jamesian epiphany an epiphany which shakes his self understanding and causes him to uestion his choices but ultimately is insufficient to change his weak convictions He is aware of the spoiled happiness he may look forward to married to Kate he is left aware not of what he has to gain through Kate but what he has lost in losing Milly The moral descent of Kate coincides with the moral ascension of Merton though he passes up the full potential of his rise The ending is perhaps one of the most moving I have read with such a poignancy and fullness of emotion it is shocking Your word of honour that you're not in love with her memoryOh her memoryAh she made a high gesture don't speak of it as if you couldn't be I could in your place; and you're one for whom it will do Her memory's your love You want no otherHe heard her out in stillness watching her face but not moving Then he only said I'll marry you mind you in an hourAs we were?As we wereBut she turned to the door and her headshake was now the end We shall never be again as we were We are left with the specter of uncertainty do they get married? We hope not but we are not left with the knowing petit mort which we feel at the close of The Portrait of a Lady the conclusion is not forgone there is time to redeem what one has left of life The novel what actually written after The Ambassadors though publishing circumstances delayed the later book's publication and the ending is reflective of the solemnity of the life unlived of Lambert Strether It is the openness of the ending which sets it apart from some of James's other works We are saddened to see the dissolution of love but we uestion whether what Densher and Kate felt for each other was truly love at all Kate's love for her father which seems to transcend situation is starkly juxtaposed to her love for Merton which seems so dependent on his situation While Kate descends in our moral estimation of her it seems that by the end of the novel she reaches her own epiphany it seems she has learned love from Milly a thing which before had eluded her So we are left reservedly heartbroken at the end for Kate but also reservedly happy The friendship of Milly ameliorates both Kate and Densher she changes them irrevocably for the better But she changes them completely they are no longer the compatible couple they once were the passions are realigned and their love for each other is a mnemenic shadow of their adoration of Milly's goodness a goodness which they can never reach

  10. says:

    Henry James has beautiful people inside of his head if only his verbal diarrhea didn't get in the way Dear Jesus I wish he knew how to write a short sentence