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2012 Group Reads - Archives > The Wings of the Dove - Background & Resources

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message 1: by Silver (new)

Silver Please post any additional resource material or background information upon the author that you think might be relevant and helpful to the discussion of The Wings of the Dove

Be aware of possible spoilers and post warnings wear appropriate.


message 2: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments The title refers to the 55th Psalm, which records the deceit and guile of conspirators and exclaims 'Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then I would flee away and be at rest.' Also possibly Psalm 68, where God has conquered the kings of Canaan for Israel and the wings of [His] dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold [from the Canaanites]."

Henry James was nearly 60 when he wrote 'Wings of the Dove', which may explain why it deals with death. When he wrote The Wings of the Dove around the turn of the century (he first put pen to paper in 1894; the novel was published eight years later), one of his primary objectives was to dramatize the conflict between the fading morals and traditions of the 19th century and the emerging, 'modern' liberality of the 20th century.

This extract from an online review might be interesting to ponder when we have read the novel:-

'The final fictions of Henry James are royal works of art, but royalty can be exasperating. My loving quarrel with The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, and The Ambassadors is about the way a mist or fog seems so often to envelop the characters and settings. Out of the mist comes, often thrillingly, the thoughts of the protagonists, their ethical struggles, their formidable efforts to discern the motives of others. But I have terrible difficulty in seeing the characters themselves - their faces, bodies, glances, gestures. James may repeatedly tell us that Kate Croy is "the handsome girl," but her specific handsomeness never quite meets the inward eye. Joyce went much further with stream-of-consciousness than James, but one always sees or feels the sturdiness of Bloom, the voluptuousness of Molly, the angularity of Stephen. Did James, who earlier portrayed people so vividly, so visually in The Bostonians and Washington Square, grow tired in his later years of the animality of human beings?'


message 3: by Bill (last edited Feb 25, 2012 05:02AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Madge,

James seems so concerned with subtle variations of mood that I sometimes think I'm an insensitive dolt. It's as though James points to a one inch square and says, "What color is it.

I say, "Well, it's pink, a pale pink with a hint of blue."

And James says, "You think that one inch square is merely a pale pink with hint of blue? There are thirty-seven different shades in there. Now let me describe each one."

I believe he dictated the last three novels, and that might be part of the reason for the convolutions.

You're probably right about Kate, but because I saw the film I keep imagining someone vaguely like Helena Bonham Carter.


message 4: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I thought the film made a better job of explaining James than James did:).


message 5: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments I usually hate films made from major works of literature, but this was excellent. It's not James, exactly, but it was an excellent film.

I was rereding Chapter I, though, and I still think it's a masterpiece.


message 6: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Bill wrote: "Madge,

James seems so concerned with subtle variations of mood that I sometimes think I'm an insensitive dolt. It's as though James points to a one inch square and says, "What color is it.

I say,..."


I picture all beautiful women as brunettes, so for me, Kate looked much like Helena Bonham Carter even before I saw the movie. I did love the movie, but I was ever so glad I'd read the book first, as the movie doesn't capture the nuances that James does.


message 7: by Bill (last edited Feb 25, 2012 08:09PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments They are two different experiences.

But usually I abhor movies of classic literature and this one was not abhorrent.

Most classic literature depends on THE WRITING and often that is impossible to translate into dramatic action. With James, it is absurd.

On the other hand, with late James there is the temptation to hit him over the head with a candlestick -- and I'm a pretty tolerant reader.

I was willing to read an awful about whaling slowly and carefully in Moby-Dick, I'm used to reading poems, but I at times I just cannot translate what James is saying into anything I recognize as English.


message 8: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Ha Ha. The first book of James..( well, I had read The Turn of the Screw without problem. ) I managed to get through I had to translate into English first for a few chapters. But worth it.


message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4446 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "They are two different experiences.

But usually I abhor movies of classic literature and this one was not abhorrent.

Most classic literature depends on THE WRITING and often that is impossible t..."



I'm so glad you said this Bill. That is exactly how James makes me feel.


message 10: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Adelle,

I don't have problems with earlier James -- mostly people don't have problems with early and middle James -- it the three novels -- The Wings of a Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl which are collectively "late Henry James."

The thing is I've struggled through paragraphs where he is describing some delicate feeling so obliquely that I have no idea what he's doing. It's quite possible that I don't have his delicacy of feeling.

It's also possible that he needed an editor.

I'm pretty good at reading but I've read some paragraphs several times and couldn't figure out what was being expressed, exactly. It's the exactly part that I had trouble with.


message 11: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Bill wrote: "Adelle,

I don't have problems with earlier James -- mostly people don't have problems with early and middle James -- it the three novels -- The Wings of a Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl..."


Oh, Bill, I knew what you meant! I threw out Turn of the Screw because it was the first James I read through. Ha! Because it was so readable. AND I really wanted to find out how it ended! (you know....to the degree that one thinks one knows ... what happened.)

I did read the three you mentioned-- WOTD, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl. My F2F group did a year or two of James. Hoping to someday find time to read The Princess Casamassima.

I


message 12: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) | 317 comments I read The Golden Bowl at university. It tended to be referred to as The Golden Bore.


message 13: by Adelle (last edited Feb 26, 2012 07:55PM) (new)

Adelle Oh sure, if I had been required to have read The Golden Bowl when I was in college I wouldn't have cared for it either. Lol, and then I would have probably felt all clever to have mocked the title.

When I read it with my group, it was a book we had chosen because we really wanted to read it. By no means an easy book, it afforded us several great discussions.


message 14: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) | 317 comments I didn't coin the alternative title and as it happens, I didn't mind the book at the time (although that might just have been because it wasn't quite as difficult as I thought it might be!). That said, I remember next to nothing about it now. I read The Portrait of a Lady during the same period and quite liked it. At this point though, if I wanted to read some James I think I'd read something shorter.


message 15: by Andreea (last edited Feb 27, 2012 02:31AM) (new)

Andreea (andyyy) | 34 comments Bill wrote: "It's also possible that he needed an editor."

A lot of people say that, but James wasn't only a very thorough writer who wrote and rewrote everything, but in the early 1900s he went back and revised most of his major work for republication (the so called New York Edition, he also wrote new prefaces for most of his books as well) - very few writers have edited/revised/rewritten their books as many times as he did.


message 16: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Kim wrote: "I read The Portrait of a Lady during the same period and quite liked it. At this point though, if I wanted to read some James I think I'd read something shorter."

A friend of mine, a former English teacher, she, too, prefers Portrait of a Lady. Have you read The Beast in the Jungle? I thought it was very James, yet only 52 pages.


message 17: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments And there are the short-stories!! And the short novels/novells -- Daisy Miller, Washington Square.

The short story, The Middle Years, was one I was led to read because of a T-shirt. The T-shirt had the famous quote from The Middle Years on it:

“We work in the dark, We do what we can, We give what we have, Our doubt is our passion, And our passion is our task, The rest is the madness of art”

I bought the T-shirt which only referenced James but not the story. I put the quote in and came up with the story.

It was the only time a T-shirt has led me to a work of literature. :-)


message 18: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Off topic: T-shirt. No spoiler (view spoiler)


message 19: by Adelle (last edited Feb 27, 2012 10:54AM) (new)

Adelle Background Information on Henry James. Not necessarily helpful to the reading, but interesting if one likes to know something about the author. No spoilers. (view spoiler)


message 20: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Adelle - fascinating stuff.


message 21: by Adelle (new)

Adelle MadgeUK wrote: "Thanks Adelle - fascinating stuff."

So welcome, Madge. I don't say it as often as I should, but I ALWAYS enjoy the background and side information you post. You are a great resource on any read. (I really was so engaged with James, his writing and his life, for a couple of years.)


message 22: by Lily (last edited Feb 28, 2012 07:02PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Thank you, Adelle!

I have finally set aside other considerations and spent a considerable part of the late afternoon and evening with Wings of the Dove (reading), after having spent much of the afternoon in the sensuous luxury of listening to Proust. What a fun contrast to experience, although I am uncertain as to how faithful to either author or work of art.


message 23: by Bill (last edited Feb 28, 2012 07:11PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Adelle wrote: "Off topic: T-shirt. No spoiler

There was this FABulous T-shirt in my past.

Adelle, that WAS an hysterically funny T-Shirt. Really.

Other fave T-shirts in my past: No spoiler.

(view spoiler)



message 24: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments I was an English Major and had to read TWOTD. I can't touch it again. 45 years is too soon.

But I've read Washington Square several times.


message 25: by Lily (last edited Mar 06, 2012 08:04PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "I was an English Major and had to read TWOTD. I can't touch it again. 45 years is too soon.

But I've read Washington Square several times."


Rochelle -- Why, if you can tell us w/o spoilers?

Side question: When you were majoring in English, how many pieces of literature were you likely to be reading concurrently?

I know that the first night we were in graduate school in business we had some 1,000 pages in reading. (It was a program for those of us who were also working and it started with a week in a cloistered setting.) I was too dumb at the time to realize immediately this was as much an exercise in time management as in reading prowess!

But, at the moment, I know I am over my head in trying to timeshare reading literature; I just don't have a measure yet of how much over extended.


message 26: by Linda2 (last edited Mar 06, 2012 09:07PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Lily wrote: "Rochelle wrote: "I was an English Major and had to read TWOTD. I can't touch it again. 45 years is too soon.

But I've read Washington Square several times."

Rochelle -- Why, if you can tell us w..."


Because Catherine's father is somewhat like my mother. Every time I saw the film I read the book again, and after I saw The Heiress in the theater. As to the style, it has very little resemblance to James' late work. It's quite clear.

In college, in dinosaur times, hmmm.... I would be reading one piece of lit, but also many pages in other subjects nightly. Why did you ask?


message 27: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments In fact, WS is unusually short as novels go, 162 pages in my Wordsworth edition.


message 28: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Lily wrote: "But, at the moment, I know I am over my head in trying to timeshare reading literature; I just don't have a measure yet of how much over extended. .."

;-)...I know that feeling!


message 29: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "Why did you ask?..."

Because I'm trying to figure out what should be possible. :-)

I meant to ask you why won't you touch The Wings of the Dove again, but thanks for your comment on Washington Square!


message 30: by Linda2 (last edited Mar 07, 2012 11:12AM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Lily wrote: "Rochelle wrote: "Why did you ask?..."

Because I'm trying to figure out what should be possible. :-)

I meant to ask you why won't you touch The Wings of the Dove again, but thanks for your comment..."


It was possible for me to read enormous amounts at once, but that was long ago. In spite of my having more energy then, more time and a professor guiding us, WOTD was cryptic to me. And it still is. I've downloaded it and tried a small portion. You're always up for more challenges than I. :-)


message 31: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "You're always up for more challenges than I...."

:-) Probably just different ones!


message 32: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments I meant literary ones.


message 33: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "I meant literary ones."

Even there.


message 34: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Tonight I began reading background. Tomorrow I shall commence reading--for real--the novel.


James was most definitely not paid by the word. In fact, he often contracted with his publisher for short stories…which become books. Although a good deal of his writings were first published in serial form in magazines, and afterwards as books, this wasn’t the case with The Wings of the Dove which was consciously designed to be published directly in book form. This was economically riskier for James; but it gave him greater control.

From The Norton Critical Edition: "Notes on the Text"

“James made literally hundreds of acute and penetrating changes when he reread TWofD, and in their cumulative force they enhance the sustained power of his prose idiom. However minor many of these verbal changes appear when considered individually, they have the collective effect, not of a precious polishing, but of a masterful clarification and fulfillment of that late manner. For the attentive reader—and James reminds us in his Preface that this novel ‘might have a great deal to give, but would probably ask for equal services in return’ –these changes have an air of quiet drama that typifies virtually every aspect of James’s most mature fiction” (Norton; Notes on the Test, 408).

James domestic life was disrupted the year that he was primarily engaged in writing TWOFD because his housekeepers of sixteen years “became so plagued with alcoholism that James finally had to dismiss them” (Norton 409).

James pressed to have the American edition come out at the same time as the British edition “so that he would be protected against unauthorized printings which would detract from sales and royalties” (Norton 410).

James’s mature style was objected to by many readers, including his brother William James:

‘You can’t skip a word if you are to get the effect, and 19 out of 20 worthy readers grow intolerant. The method seems perverse: ‘Say it out for God’s sake,’ they cry, ‘and have done with it.’ And so I say now…”

“If the first dominant note of James’s late manner is his insistence on presenting the solid core of reality in the intangible shape of consciousness, the second is his virtuosity in elaborating those realities of consciousness so as to make them overwhelmingly concrete” (Norton 413).

“Milly, carrying the full weight of James’s most mature vision of the destiny of the American character, is not mere girl but fabular princess, possessed now of ‘the great national, the great maidenly ease’ (James’s description of who he wants Milly to be).

“The novel is in one sense—for James and his characters and his readers alike—a strenuous exercise in putting the most sensitive and accurate definitions on words. As the novel continually dramatizes for us those conflicting and interpenetrating forces of “fortune” defined as “destiny” and “fortune” seen as “wealth” (Norton 421).

“It was in his ‘Preface’ to TWOTD that James first alluded to himself publicly as ‘the poet.’ The evidence is impressive that he was not using the word carelessly” (Norton 421).


message 35: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments they have the collective effect, not of a precious polishing, but of a masterful clarification and fulfillment of that late manner. etc....

I get the feeling that I am reading a different novel!!!


message 36: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Lol... Madge, I was thinking of you even as I was typing those words up! (Thinking you would be thinking almost exactly what you said. I was guessing you thinking, "That's not the book I''m reading.") Thanks for posting... You gave me a smile!


message 37: by Linda2 (last edited Mar 08, 2012 08:38AM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Adelle--I knew he wasn't getting paid by the word. :-)


.....maybe by the page.


message 38: by Adelle (last edited Mar 08, 2012 08:57AM) (new)

Adelle :-). He gots a lot of them, for sure.


It was interesting, though. The Norton "Authoritative" Text (You just have to love that) had all these pages showing the word changes James had made when the work was re-published in the "official" collection some years later.


All very nuanced. LOL. So James.

Changed wordage--------------------Original wordage.

to which she had braced for....vs.... which she had prepared

of feebler intelligence...vs... a bigger fool

reprobation ... vs ... disgust

etc. etc. etc. ... vs... blah, blah, blah

Actually, I made up that last comparison. I found them interesting to browse through.

But you know, James hardly made any money. And less with his later works than with his early works. The early works made money. But he didn't want to write on "that level" anymore.

Publishers were reluctant to publish him towards the end...for although he had a name and was well regarded in writing circles, he books didn't sell well and there WERE so many pages that it the company practically lost money printing them. I suppose they published him for the prestige of publishing James. I don't know the value of money back then, but James got something like 200+ pounds for Wings of the Dove. Good thing for him he inherited money. Also...Edith Wharton, who had money and wrote books that made money, on the QT would ask her publisher (the same publisher that James had) to send some of her earnings to James and make him think that he was money due him.


message 39: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Adelle wrote: ":-). He gots a lot of them, for sure.

It was interesting, though. The Norton "Authoritative" Text (You just have to love that) had all these pages showing the word changes James had made wh..."


I think, by 1902 extremely long-winded novels were going out of style.

Let's do a Wharton next, preferably one I haven't read.


message 40: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Still, I think it important to keep in mind that James wasn't writing based on what he thought was in style. Had he wanted to do that, he could have. He proved it with his earlier works.

I suppose he might have been thought of as a writer's writer. He was called "The Master."


message 41: by Lily (last edited Mar 08, 2012 09:31PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "Let's do a Wharton next, preferably one I haven't read. ..."

Which ones haven't you read? Here should be a list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Wh...

Maybe the better question should be, which of these would interest you?

In a sense, I consider Wharton to have the same attitude toward the world as James -- wealth, European sophistication, America struggling to grow up. And, yes, there are big differences between them.


message 42: by Linda2 (last edited Mar 08, 2012 11:23PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Lily wrote: "Rochelle wrote: "Let's do a Wharton next, preferably one I haven't read. ..."

Which ones haven't you read? Here should be a list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Wh...

Maybe the better que..."


I've even read her collected ghost stories.

Of the better ones, I've missed: The Custom of the Country, The Buccaneers, Summer. This isn't the place to make nominations, but I can start spreading the bug here.


message 43: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments It would perhaps be appropriate to have a 'rest' with a Wharton as she too found James' later works 'incomprehensible':)


message 44: by Lily (last edited Mar 09, 2012 03:30PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Rochelle wrote: "...Of the better ones, I've missed: The Custom of the Country, The Buccaneers, Summer. This isn't the place to make nominations, but I can start spreading the bug here. ..."

I enjoyed The Buccaneers, but Wharton did not finish it (she was working on it at her death) and the result has been heavily criticized -- probably justifiably from a literary quality perspective.


message 45: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments The next read has to fall between 1800 and 1835.

I personally cannot stand Edith Wharton, although I know many charming and intelligent people who do. I DO NOT get it -- which is my problem. But I will strongly urge against Wharton -- unless we do Byron's Don Juan next. I would trade a vote for Don Juan for a vote for Edith Wharton. :-)

But Wharton drives me crazy. Everything ends unhappily not because it's the necessity of the characters or even the plot but because Edith Wharton cannot imagine happiness. The amount of contrivance necessary to kill poor Lily Bart is enough to make one write the literary humane society. Similarly with Ellen and Newland. I will say that The House of Mirth features one brilliantly funny line that I will love until senility -- to the effect that the elite society went to church because God was the sort of company they'd keep.

HOWEVER, I DO think Wharton's an interesting woman -- if an incredibly annoying novelist. I WOULD be interested in reading the (2007) Hermione Lee biography.

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee


message 46: by Linda2 (last edited Mar 10, 2012 12:53PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Bill wrote: "The next read has to fall between 1800 and 1835.
..."

MUST BE? Have you checked that with Chris or Silver? :-)

Bill wrote: "I DO NOT get it -- which is my problem. But I will strongly urge against Wharton -- "

YOU don't get here, but many of us DO. We have 861 members.
:P :P :P (tongue out)


message 47: by Bill (last edited Mar 10, 2012 02:16PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments I didn't have to check. That was Silver's stipulation, not mine. This is from her original post:

I noticed that as of late we have been reading a lot from the Victorian period, and while I can understand the appeal and it does take up a large segement of the groups timeline I thought it would be fun to try something new.

Please nominate a book that has been published from 1800-1836


Get with the program. :-)

And, if you'd read what I wrote you'd see I acknowledge a lot of charming and intelligent people like Edith Wharton. If there are enough people here who want to read Wharton, too bad for me. I even offered to exchange a vote for Don Juan. And I am willing to read the Hermione Lee biography.

As for the 861 members, that puzzles me, not just here but on other groups as well. The percentage of people who vote and then the even smaller number who post surprise me all the time. If you have 8 regulars who post it's a lot.


message 48: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Bill wrote: "As for the 861 members, that puzzles me, not just here but on other groups as well. The percentage of people who vote and then the even smaller number who post surprise me all the time. If you have 8 regulars who post it's a lot. ..."

I think some people are serial group joiners, even if they have only a passing interest in the topic. It exists on every website forum. Ditto my craft groups, knitting forums, computer help forums, etc.

The regulars might be closer to 10 or 15. There are also people who participate actively for a long stretch, then disappear. I think some people don't come back if they don't like the current book.

Someone should do a sociological study of online forums.


message 49: by Jan (new)

Jan (auntyjan) | 483 comments I'm still here, but spending less time on the computer than when I first broke my arm nearly two years ago...although now that I have an iPad I'm finding wordswithfriends(a scrabble lookalike) very distracting.
Still keeping up with the Dickens project, however.
Bill, a lot of people seem to join but then move on or get busy, but what is most surprising is people who join and never even make one comment...why do they bother to join if they don't want to say anything at all?


message 50: by Lily (last edited Mar 10, 2012 07:01PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Jan wrote: "I'm still here, but spending less time on the computer than when I first broke my arm nearly two years ago...although now that I have an iPad I'm finding wordswithfriends (a scrabble lookalike) very..."

Jan -- I miss you. Glad to see your words here. I have been jumping around myself and not being consistent with some groups of readers that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Sometimes it isn't a matter of not wanting to do so, it's a matter of the number of hours in a day, even when "retired."


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