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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)


Henry James Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Henry James
    -ENTRY: Henry James (Famous Authors)
    -ENTRY: Henry James (New World Encyclopedia)
    -ENTRY: Henry James, American writer (Leon Edel, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Washington Square (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -The Henry James Review (Project muse)
-PODCAST: Episode 207: The Bostonians by Henry James: (HOSTED BY JOHN J. MILLER, December 7, 2021, Great Books)
    -PODCAST: On Henry James’s Very Long Short Story (From the History of Literature Podcast with Jacke Wilson, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: The Best of Henry James (Susan L. Mizruchi July 23, 2021, The Millions)
    -ESSAY: More than a Matter of Taste: The danger of relegating beauty to the trivial pursuit of pleasure. (Joshua Hren, 6/02/21, Hedgehog Review)
    -ESSAY: The Top 10 Henry James Novels (Michael Gorra, Aug 24, 2012, Publishers Weekly)
    -ESSAY: Henry James and the American Idea: The Atlantic Monthly helped establish the expatriate author as a literary great (Susan Goodman, July/August 2011, Humanities)
-ESSAY: Why The Turn of the Screw Haunts Us 125 Years Later: “That queasy opacity is at the heart of the novella’s power... The reader is never sure what, exactly, is happening.” (Kate Griffin, June 5, 2023, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Henry and Louis: An unlikely literary friendship (Max Byrd, November 18, 2021, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Henry James and the Joys of Confusion: On James’ The Golden Bowl (Dick Turner, 8/26/22, Splice Today)
    -ESSAY: The High Altar of Henry James: What’s implicit in Henry James’ works is his familiarity with matters Catholic. What’s implicit is also subtle, so that Protestant and Catholic readers alike might enjoy reading about such matters. (Daniel J. Sundahl, January 3rd, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of The American by Henry James (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Turn of the Screw< by Henry James/a> (Micah Mattix, The Spectator)
-ESSAY: On the Most Adapted Ghost Story of All Time: Adam Scovell Looks Into the Cinematic Appeal of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw (Adam Scovell, 12/20/21, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: What Henry James can teach us about the culture wars: The author understood the dangerous allure of the romantic reactionary (Sameer Rahim, January 3, 2022, Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of The Aspern Papers by Henry James (Elizabeth Lowry, TLS)
-REVIEW: of The Tragic Muse by Henry James (Complete Review)


    -FILM REVIEW: The Bostonians (Paddy Mulholland, Spectrum Culture)

Book-related and General Links:
    -etext: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
    -Henry James (1843-1916)(bio & biblio)
    -Adrian Dover's Henry James Site
    -Henry James:  An American Master At Work
    -Determining One's Fate: Henry James's Autobiography (Victoria Alexander)
    -James, Henry - Heath Instructors Guide
    -the Henry James scholar's Guide to Web Sites
    -The Henry James Review (requires subscription)
    -Henry James and the Atlantic Monthly (The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY : The American Woman : What Henry James knew. (Lauren Weiner, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Henry James: A Life in Letters (New Statesman)
    -Cher Maitre: The Other Sides of Henry James
    -Library of America: Henry James (excerpts, reviews, notes, order)
    -Etexts by Author:  James, Henry, 1843-1916
    -the Internet Public Library: Online Literary Criticism Collection: Henry James, Jr. (1843 - 1916)
    -etext of: Henry James, Jr. by William Dean Howells

    -Review: 'The Wings of the Dove' is soaring cinema (Carol Buckland, CNN)
    -Rough Cut Review
    -Film Scouts Guide