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The Wings of the Dove

Henry James


The Wings of the Dove is perhaps the most well-received of Henry James’s novels. First published in 1902, it follows Kate Croy and Merton Densher, an engaged couple in late-Victorian London, who meet Milly Theale, a wealthy American heiress.

Milly, though young and lively, is burdened with a fatal disease. She wishes to spend her last days on happy adventures through Europe, and her sparkling personality, still bright despite her looming death, quickly makes her a hit in the London social scene. As she plans an excursion to Venice, Kate and Merton, who are too poor to marry and still maintain their social standing, scheme to trick Milly out of her inheritance.

The character of Milly is partly based on Minny Temple, James’ cousin who died young of tuberculosis. He later wrote that the novel was his attempt to immortalize her memory, and that he spent years developing the core of the book’s conceit before committing it to the page. The novel is James at his peak: dizzyingly complex prose weaves rich, impressionistic character studies, heavy in symbolism and allusion, amid the glamorous backdrops of high-society London and decaying Venetian grandeur.

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