The Wings of the Dove

The Wings of the Dove



The Pequod Review:

Your view of Henry James’s later novels will mainly turn on what you think of winding/convoluted sentences like these:

Their box, their great common anxiety, what was it, in this grim breathing-space, but the practical question of life? They could live if they would; that is, like herself, they had been told so: she saw them all about her, on seats, digesting the information, recognizing it again as something in a slightly different shape familiar enough, the blessed old truth that they would live if they could. All she thus shared with them made her wish to sit in their company; which she so far did that she looked for a bench that was empty, eschewing a still emptier chair that she saw hard by and for which she would have paid, with superiority, a fee.

To my mind this is poetry, with deep and subtle meanings conveyed through the intricacy and rhythm of its structure. While James would join this style with superior narratives in his later novels, The Wings of the Dove is nonetheless a near-masterpiece and contains surprisingly deep themes of intimacy, freedom and security — as a poor couple devise a plan for one to marry a dying heiress, so as to inherit her money. And throughout the book James has great descriptions of the city of London (itself a character in the novel), as well as moments of intimacy such as this one when the couple initially meets:

They had found themselves regarding each other straight, and for a longer time on end than was usual even at parties in galleries; but that in itself after all would have been a small affair for two such handsome persons. It wasn't, in a word, simply that their eyes had met; other conscious organs, faculties, feelers had met as well, and when Kate afterwards imaged to herself the sharp deep fact she saw it, in the oddest way, as a particular performance. She had observed a ladder against a garden-wall and had trusted herself so to climb it as to be able to see over into the probable garden on the other side. On reaching the top she had found herself face to face with a gentleman engaged in a like calculation at the same moment, and the two enquirers had remained confronted on their ladders. The great point was that for the rest of that evening they had been perched--they had not climbed down; and indeed during the time that followed Kate at least had had the perched feeling--it was as if she were there aloft without a retreat. 

Highly recommended.