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The Wings of the Dove ()

The Hungry Mind Review's 100 Best 20th Century Books

    Dennis Barlow:  Through no wish of my own I have become the protagonist of a Jamesian
    problem.  Do you ever read any Henry James, Mr. Schultz?

    Mr. Schultz:  You know I don't have the time for reading.

    Barlow:  You don't have to read very much of him.  All his stories are about the same
    thing--American innocence and European experience.

    Schultz: Thinks he can outsmart us, does he?

    Barlow:  James was the innocent American.

    Schultz:  Well, I've no time for guys running down their own folks.

            -Evelyn Waugh (The Loved One)(see Orrin's review)

There is no more disheartening experience in all of reading than to finish a page of a Henry James novel and turn to the next, only to be confronted by the massive paragraphs lined up ahead of you like enormous blocks of granite.  Completing one of his books is truly a task worthy of Sisyphus.

Now before you say that I have a bad attitude, let me remind folks who have been following along that I looked forward to reading Wings of the Dove.  I have heard very good things about it and it has a terrific plot set up.  Kate Croy is a socialite on the edge.  The family money has gone to pay off her father's blackmailers.  This, combined with her parents fairly disreputable marriage, leaves her especially reluctant to reveal her passionate affair with Merton Densher, a mere journalist.  But when Kate befriends the wealthy but fatally ill heiress, Milly Theale, she sees a way to solve all of her problems.  Densher will feign a great love for Theale, who will reciprocate by making him her heir.  Then Kate & Mert can marry & live happily ever after.

Pretty good, no?  You can just imagine the movie, with a script by Raymond Chandler, based on a James M. Cain story and directed by John Huston or Alfred Hitchcock; Barbara Stanwyck plays Milly Theale, of course.

But, oh no.  That's not what you get here.  Instead you get a soul deadening 500 pages of elliptical navel gazing.  None of the characters are sympathetic--although, you inevitably end up rooting for Kate, just because you want Milly to die.  Well, actually, you just want someone to die.  Hell, you just want something to happen.  By page four, you want the tiger to come tearing out of the cage & end your misery.

This revival of Henry James has to stop.  I can not put this any more plainly: his books are not good.


Grade: (D)