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Wings of the Dove

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  12,531 Ratings  ·  398 Reviews
When Milly Theale travels to London she meets Kate Croy, and is introduced to her love, Merton Densher. Kate is facing an impossible choice - either marry the man she loves, or give him up in order to take her rightful place in society.
Paperback, 528 pages
Published November 21st 1997 by Miramax Books (first published 1901)
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May 22, 2015 Kalliope rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


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
Jul 23, 2008 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 th ...more
Sep 09, 2009 Yulia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 details.)

Others are merely clotted arteries of met
Mar 26, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henry James is infuriating. His evasiveness is infuriating. His endless digressions, clause upon clause, are infuriating. Deciphering the text requires 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 you.

This is a work of genius. Henry Jame
May 23, 2015 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: henry-james
This is an extermely rewarding book, though James makes the reader work for it, to be sure. There is the general opacity of his writing (-- though never nearly so difficult as report tells of it --); the often maddening (but, no doubt, deliberate) ambiguity of his pronouns; the artificiality of much of the dialogue AND of the behavior and sentiments of the coddled rich -- especially the central plateau of the book, some 200+ pages in the center, where nothing seems to be happening -- the dead zo ...more
In Henry James, we rarely if ever have a villain - a real, horrible blackguard character for whom we feel morally adequate 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 u ...more
Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter
This novel is demanding and that's putting it mildly! James' sentences need to be read, unravelled and reread and even then one is not always sure whether their meaning is clouded by some impenetrable mist or whether it is one's own mind that is foggy. If you have not understood the chapter you are reading, don't progress to the next. James will not let you back on board and if he does let you back on board at a later stage, the missing pieces in the puzzle will never allow you to understand the ...more
Feb 11, 2008 Michele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with a lot of time and a dictionary
I swear I will read Henry James before I die. It might take that long for me to finish this book, considering I have to read each sentence at least 3 times.

2/9/08 Just picked it back up from the library. Renewed twice and still only got to page 308.

2/10/08 Could he be any more verbose?

2/11/08 On page 375, and finally something is starting to happen. The man is a master of motive and character study, once you can figure out what he's actually saying.

2/18/08 I'm down with the system, and this bo
Mary Anne
Oct 16, 2007 Mary Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookgroup
Unknown page:
"Did she know?"
"I think you know what she knew."
"I knew something, but not what you knew of what she knew. I still don't know."
"I know."
"So she knew something."
"Yes. We all knew something."

OK. We’ve established that everyone knows. But what do they know? James uses a very oblique writing style. This style seems to say so much without saying anything at all. Very little is crystal clear in this book, to the extent that when Kate actually directs Densher in her plot, the directness of
Oct 28, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gives new meaning to the expression "adventures in reading." The famous style of the late novels--the monster sentences with multiple subordinate elements that snake their way through paragraphs extending for page after page after page--will try your patience and reward your attentions--and yet frequently frustrate your best attempts at comprehension. I found the experience altogether fascinating, both in its challenges and its rewards--and there were wonderful rewards, passages and situations t ...more
Dec 30, 2015 Ashley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, 1900-1950
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.
Mar 30, 2014 Ron rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no-one
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 remembered.

Friends don't let friends read Henry James.

If you're thinking about reading this, then be warned. The sentences are constructed like algebraic equations, with nested parenthesis within nested parenthesis within nested parenthesis. It gets to the point you feel that,
Jan 24, 2010 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a thing for Henry James. When I read The Golden Bowl in grad school and loved it, my professor thought I was crazy. I suppose many students find him dense and confusing. But I love his style. I love the careful, layered characterizations, the detailed descriptions, and the way James' novels flow mostly from internal dialogue. His artistry is in telling the story through the consciousness of the characters. I simply love it!

p.s. I find it funny {and revealing} that his novels translated to
May 30, 2009 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, faves
An utter fave novel and heroine. Love and betrayal with HJ motifs of victimised innocence and triumph without attainment. Gotta love the sex 'n' death symbiosis.

*likes 'em melodramatic*

HJ's liberality with commas does make the writing feel a bit like hyperventilation. But what's more romantic than being in love with a memory. ;)

*applauds etherealised gal's revenge*

Mar 17, 2009 Kendall rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I could not finish this book - I wanted to finish it so badly but I found myself dreading reading it on the train. I figured my commute is rough enough, why make it miserable? I wanted to like Henry James so badly, but I guess he is not for me. Basically I needed a translator in order to understand any of the sentences despite the fact that they are written in English!!! Oh my goodness, reading a sentence over and over again still did not get me anywhere. The plot is great, but really I wish I c ...more
May 19, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am in love with Henry James. Every sentence makes you stop, pore, and muse! The book is 500 pages. I wish it were a million....
Sep 04, 2011 Patrick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The prose of this book is almost impenetrable. Sometimes Shakespeare seems hard to figure out, but there are whole pages of this book that are almost written in a different language-- or at least a different syntax. Henry James has the ability to write 10 pages at a time using only 5 paragraphs, 10 periods, 50 semi-colons, no dialogue, and the only nouns are pronouns.

At best though, the sentences can be beautiful and intricate and reading them can be like unwinding a strand of DNA. There's a log
Will Albers
Apr 06, 2010 Will Albers rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
unbelievably tedious....Henry James apparently never met a clause or a comma that he didn't like. turgid, bloated, pompous's impossible to think that people might have talked or thought like this...even 100 years ago. James takes dozens of pages with no apparent advancement of plot. A good editor could have easily whacked this down from 700 pages to about 250 and it would have been an infinitely easier read. I have to admit I couldn't finish and gave up after 200 pages. Maybe it's jus ...more
This book is extremely demanding. It takes no prisoners so far as investment of time and energy is concerned. The plot is simple, its presentation convoluted and at first seems attenuated by its minimalisation. Minimilasation of what? Of pandering to the reader's need for action, for immediate comprehensibility. Just as the protagonists need time to understand one another, especially since all the charcaters tend to stop in mid sentence, hesitate, break off, hint instead of being overt, pause an ...more
Apr 21, 2016 Anika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My brother gave me this book to read because I liked the way The Ambassadors was written, but couldn't relate to the characters. Enter Kate Croy! I was poised to like her due to his endorsement and then she won me over on the second page "She tried to be sad so as not to be angry, but it made her angry that she couldn't be sad." I get you!

It took a while to read because, as others have mentioned in their reviews, it seems to take forever for anything to happen and at times I was drowning in word
Laurel Hicks
Amazing book. I kept thinking, Why can't he just come out and tell us straight what he is talking about? Then I realized that James is reflecting his characters, who live in an underground world of plunder and plot, innuendo and insinuation. The last few chapters suddenly break into lucid writing, a sign that at least one character is starting to think and act straight. I need to read this book again. This book needs to be experienced.
May 31, 2015 Robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
About two thirds of the way through The Wings of the Dove I almost stopped reading it. This is the closest I have ever come to not finishing a book, and I read Infinite Jest.

I think there might have been some interesting stuff going on in the book. According to the (50 pages of!) literary criticism in the introduction there was a lot of deception and scheming happening, but I couldn't get to it because the language was so florid and everything was so oblique. I found that I could not muster eno
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
July 2014--This is my second time reading The Wings of the Dove in less than a year. It is a truly stunning novel and is becoming a another one of James's novels that I think is near perfection, like that of The Portrait of a Lady. I am finding on this second careful and thoughtful re-read that I am actually experiencing the novel rather than simply reading it.

Kate Croy and Merton Densher are 'a pair to draw to' for sure. As much as I love Kate the woman--fiercely independent, stubborn, intelli
Taylor Buffenbarger
What comes to mind when you think of a conventional female character of the 1900’s? Let me guess. She’s married, dedicated to her husband, housework and children? She’s dependent on the income of her husband and she definitely doesn’t keep dark secrets from the people she cares most about, right? Well let me introduce you to Milly Theale, an unconventional female character created by Henry James for the novel The Wings of the Dove. Milly is considered to be a princess by fellow characters but u ...more
Nov 25, 2012 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Wings of the Dove Henry James (1902) #26

June 8, 2007

This has to be the worst book that I have ever read. Well, maybe not ever, but definitely the worst one yet on this list (and there have been some that have sucked mightily). How this book made the list, I have no idea, but it has rattled my already shaky faith in the validity of this list. I suspect that it has something to do with one Mr. Gore Vidal, who, judging from the little blurb on the back of the dust jacket of the copy that I hav
May 09, 2012 Trina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I sat down yesterday afternoon and finished Wings of the Dove, and ended up admiring it SO much. I didn't so much love it as admire it. I skimmed ahead to the Venice parts which is why I wanted to read it in the first place, and they were lovely, but then I got into the characters again and finished the whole thing. I knew the plot, which isn't complicated, but it was portrayed so much more subtly than I had imagined, with absolutely perfect word choices. There are only two men in the story, and ...more
May 15, 2011 Delaney rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Why was he considered a great stylist? His late style is simply horrible. I recently read Sense and Sensibility, the copy of which had comments in the back by great authors. The first comment is by Henry James written in 1905, when he would have been in his "great" late style. The style of his comment is as infuriating as that in his last three "masterpieces." If the reason for developing this style was to portray the nuances of his characters' consciousness, then why would he use it to comment ...more
I gave up on this book halfway through. I wanted to finish it and wanted to like it; I certainly liked the characters, but in the end, there was just too much of the text I found totally cryptic. I kept thinking the syntax was broken in so many sentences, and then on reading them four or five times, I eventually sussed out there were just very convoluted, but often I still couldn't make out their meaning. I think it is not asking too much of the author that he should construct his sentences in s ...more
carl  theaker

HJ must have been paid by the comma as there are often 8 or so in
a sentence. This is a story of nuance, 50 or so pages dedicated
to dissecting a thought, or question of who knows who, or what
a simple gesture means at a party. Took some getting used
to the style, but believe it or not the last 100 pages were
a good read.

Maybe since it was written in 1902, Henry James, and has the classic
stamp, I didn't expect, and then I was impressed, at the conniving
plans of the women.
(See my Ambassadors review fo
Jan 09, 2015 Beth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
There is a worthwhile story hidden somewhere in this novel, but it is obscured by the words. And I'm not just referring to James's convoluted sentence structure, although that certainly is denser and more opaque than in his earlier works. Even more daunting is his stubborn refusal to narrate anything other than what a given character is thinking and perceiving; and since all of the characters are busy deceiving themselves and one another, the language of their thoughts and speech is never clear.
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the ...more
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“The women one meets - what are they but books one has already read? You're a library of the unknown, the uncut. Upon my word I've a subscription.” 24 likes
“Her memory's your love. You want no other.” 19 likes
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