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2012 Group Reads - Archives > The Wings of the Dove - Book First & Second

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message 1: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 01, 2012 09:03AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Silver: I have started this section as I am going away for the weekend tomorrow and wanted to post the following before I went. M.

Milly Theale has been told by her physician that only the pursuit of happiness can increase her life span. This is an idea which goes back to the Greeks who argued that hedonism, delight, was the only intrinsic good. The Greek philosopher Democritus called the supreme goal of life 'contentment' or 'cheerfulness', claiming that 'joy and sorrow are the distinguishing mark of things beneficial and harmful'.

It is nowadays proposed that children should be taught 'how to be happy' in school and Happiness is part of some school curricula on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as being taught at Harvard, no less:-

http://cirrelia-thaxton.suite101.com/...

http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/01/th...

The Penn Positive Psychology Center web page on Teaching Happiness, may help us to ascertain, as we read the novel, just how well Milly obeys her physician's advice and whether it lengthened her life span:-

http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/teaching...


(On a more cynical note, last year in the UK the Prime Minister launched a 'Happiness Index' designed to measure people's quality of life as well as economic growth. How much the nation's happiness will have improved by being subjected to massive job losses and swingeing reductons in welfare payments has yet to be seen!)


message 2: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: [links to happiness articles]"

Thanks, Madge. Especially for the first two articles! Controversial stuff. After all, it was Jefferson who wrote "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."


message 3: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 01, 2012 10:43AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Yes, it is something I am not at all sure about Lily. At what cost should happiness be pursued? It seems to me that the West, for instance, has pursued happiness at the cost of the developing world. Does happiness include conspicuous consumption or should it be just inner peace of some kind or, to quote Democritus, contentment and cheerfulness? What sort of happiness does Milly pursue?


message 4: by Lily (last edited Mar 01, 2012 11:46AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Yes, it is something I am not at all sure about Lily. At what cost should happiness be pursued? It seems to me that the West, for instance, has pursued happiness at the cost of the developing worl..."

While seeking "unhappiness" hardly appeals as desirable, I am not convinced either that a life fully, vibrantly lived is about avoiding it. But, perhaps I am being guilty of binary-pairing type of thinking.


message 5: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Lily wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: [links to happiness articles]"

Thanks, Madge. Especially for the first two articles! Controversial stuff. After all, it was Jefferson who wrote "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of..."


My understanding, though, is that Jefferson didn't mean "the state of being happy." He had used Locke as the original model for that line, which mentionied "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property."

The founders reworded property to "the pursuit of happiness" because they meant not only property, but also the opportunity to pursue and acquire property....the opportunity to make a living.


message 6: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Well, that is consumerism because 'Property' means 'something owned, a possession, esp. house or land; (OED). It could also mean colonising other people's land, as with the Native Americans:(.

However, let us not stray already from what it means to Milly!


message 7: by Adelle (last edited Mar 01, 2012 01:16PM) (new)

Adelle MadgeUK wrote: "However, let us not stray already from what it means to Milly!



I'm with you on that!

Perhaps I will see the book differently on this read. When I read it before, I never gave any thought whatsoever to Milly's happiness.


message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "Silver: I have started this section as I am going away for the weekend tomorrow and wanted to post the following before I went. M.

Milly Theale has been told by her physician that only the pursu..."


It's been found that laughter increased the strength of the immune system so there may be some truth to the Dr.'s advice.


message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
I started this today and have only made it partially through the Preface (written by James in my edition). I already have no clue what his point is in this Preface. I'm hoping that the story itself is clearer. Right now, I'm feeling like an idiot.


message 10: by Adelle (new)

Adelle For what it's worth...possibly nothing...I read the preface after I had read the book.


message 11: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
I tried the intro first and that wasn't going well so skipped that and hit the preface. I feel like I have to parse every sentence in order to even get near what he's saying. I know I'm blonde but...


message 12: by Adelle (last edited Mar 01, 2012 07:37PM) (new)

Adelle I really loved The Wings of the Dove when I read it in 2005. But I will tell you true, I initially found it difficult going. For myself---and maybe this is just something that works for me---I found that summarizing the pages as I read helped. It simplied James enough that I could understand what he was saying. What can I say? I'm a simple girl.

Maybe a similar process would work for you. Maybe not. I won't have the time to start reading TWOTD again until next Thursday.

These are my notes from Book 1--or mostly from Book 1, maybe some 2-- from 2005. Read them, if you think they might be helpful. Don't read them if you want to experience James first-hand on your own. And I should be back and fully engaged next week.

Book First: (view spoiler)


message 13: by Lily (last edited Mar 02, 2012 07:49AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Deborah wrote: "I started this today and have only made it partially through the Preface (written by James in my edition). I already have no clue what his point is in this Preface. I'm hoping that the story itse..."

I didn't like any of the introductory material, but I loved the first book. I found it a delight to read. Am just barely started on the second book.

I am puzzled as to what is going on and what the plot ahead will be, even though I have some faint knowledge about the book. I like this -- it has created a bit of "I want to keep on reading to find out what is going to happen" tension, even though I doubt knowing the plot would substantially stifle the pleasure of experiencing just the writing craft itself.

I find myself also comparing with James's creation of character in The Portrait of a Lady and am finding them feeling quite comparable.


message 14: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 02, 2012 12:38AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I know I'm blonde but...

LOL Deborah - well, that accounts for EVERYTHING!:D


message 15: by Silver (last edited Mar 02, 2012 06:27PM) (new)

Silver I just finished the First Book. I have to say that as frustrating as James can be at times, he is quite a difficult read, I was at first struck by the beauty of the writing. I just loved that very first chapter, and was particularly struck by these lines:

She was handsome, but the degree of it was not sustained by items and aids; a circumstance moreover playing its part at almost any time in the impression she produced. The impression was one that remained, but as regards the sources of it no sum in addition would have made up the total. She had stature without height, grace without motion, presence without mass. Slender and simple, frequently soundless, she was somehow always in the line of the eye--she counted singularly for its pleasure. More "dressed," often, with fewer accessories, than other women, or less dressed, should occasion require, with more, she probably couldn't have given the key to these felicities. They were mysteries of which her friends were conscious--those friends whose general explanation was to say that she was clever, whether or no it were taken by the world as the cause or as the effect of her charm. If she saw more things than her fine face in the dull glass of her father's lodgings she might have seen that after all she was not herself a fact in the collapse. She didn't hold herself cheap, she didn't make for misery. Personally, no, she wasn't chalk-marked for auction. She hadn't given up yet, and the broken sentence, if she was the last word, WOULD end with a sort of meaning. There was a minute during which, though her eyes were fixed, she quite visibly lost herself in the thought of the way she might still pull things round had she only been a man. It was the name, above all, she would take in hand--the precious name she so liked and that, in spite of the harm her wretched father had done it, wasn't yet past praying for. She loved it in fact the more tenderly for that bleeding wound. But what could a penniless girl do with it but let it go?

In did feel good to return to reading James again, as it had been a while for me. But with that being said, is it just me, or does anyone else have the impression that everyone is speaking in rather elusive terms making it quite difficult to understand just what they are instituting and thus exactly what is happening?

As of right now I feel I only have a vague notion of what is occurring in the story, and feel there is a lot that has been said which I am not gripping the meaning of. It does almost give one the feeling of eavesdropping. I am hoping as the reading progresses things will become more clear and I will be able to puzzle it out a bit more.


message 16: by Adelle (new)

Adelle When i had read that passage, James seemed to be saying that Kate would like to remain "Kate Croy," but that she fears she has no options but marriage. But what could a penniless girl do with it but let it [her maiden name] go?

Concerning the elusiveness--nice word choice :-)---James wrote:

"Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue. "

Henry James

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/aut...


message 17: by Silver (new)

Silver Quite an interesting quite, and I do think it gives a new perspective upon reading James. I do think that sums up his writing quite well and that would be a good way to approach the reading of it.


message 18: by Adelle (new)

Adelle But I felt I got used to James's writing style after awhile...after awhile, it seemed almost natural, like when one watches a movie with subtitles...after awhile, one doesn't really notice the subtitles.


message 19: by Lily (last edited Mar 03, 2012 09:24AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "...But with that being said, is it just me, or does anyone else have the impression that everyone is speaking in rather elusive terms making it quite difficult to understand just what they are instituting and thus exactly what is happening?...It does almost give one the feeling of eavesdropping...."

Agree completely, Silver! You exactly define that tension, that foreshadowing that is provoking my interest in reading more. The experience of reading PoaL leads me to anticipate we will learn much more, but that still some things will be left to the mystery that is life itself.


message 20: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Adelle wrote: "Henry James
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/aut... ...."


Delightful collection of quotations! Haven't gotten through them all yet. Thanks for calling them to our attention, Adelle.


message 21: by Silver (new)

Silver One thing I noticed that I found interesting is that it seems the description given of Merton Densher seemed to be very reflective of the description earlier (which I posted above in #15)

He was a longish, leanish, fairish young Englishman, not unamenable, on certain sides, to classification--as for instance by being a gentleman, by being rather specifically one of the educated, one of the generally sound and generally civil; yet, though to that degree neither extraordinary nor abnormal, he would have failed to play straight into an observer's hands. He was young for the House of Commons, he was loose for the Army. He was refined, as might have been said, for the City and, quite apart from the cut of his cloth, sceptical, it might have been felt, for the Church. On the other hand he was credulous for diplomacy, or perhaps even for science, while he was perhaps at the same time too much in his mere senses for poetry and yet too little in them for art. You would have got fairly near him by making out in his eyes the potential recognition of ideas; but you would have quite fallen away again on the question of the ideas themselves. The difficulty with Densher was that he looked vague without looking weak--idle without looking empty. It was the accident, possibly, of his long legs, which were apt to stretch themselves; of his straight hair and his well-shaped head, never, the latter, neatly smooth, and apt into the bargain, at the time of quite other calls upon it, to throw itself suddenly back and, supported behind by his uplifted arms and interlocked hands, place him for unconscionable periods in communion with the ceiling, the tree-tops, the sky. He was in short visibly absent-minded, irregularly clever, liable to drop what was near and to take up what was far; he was more a prompt critic than a prompt follower of custom. He suggested above all, however, that wondrous state of youth in which the elements, the metals more or less precious, are so in fusion and fermentation that the question of the final stamp, the pressure that fixes the value, must wait for comparative coolness. And it was a mark of his interesting mixture that if he was irritable it was by a law of considerable subtlety--a law that in intercourse with him it might be of profit, though not easy, to master. One of the effects of it was that he had for you surprises of tolerance as well as of temper.


Both characterizations seem to deal in certain contradictions and contrasts.


message 22: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "...He was young for the House of Commons, he was loose for the Army...."

What does "loose for the Army" mean?

Thanks for contrasting the two descriptions, Silver, and pointing out their similarities in approach to telling us about Kate Croy and Merton Densher. It will be interesting to me to observe whether I think James uses similar techniques for his other characters and for which ones.

One of the thoughts that strikes me about the description of Merton is the extent to which it reflects the attitude of James towards people -- what does he notice about his fellow humans. (I can't seem to readily take the masculine bias from that comment -- "humans", yes, "fellow", no.) I am reminded of this from the quotations Adelle brought to our attention:

"I've always been interested in people, but I've never liked them." -- Henry James

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/aut...

It seems to me these descriptions have well-disguised undertones of that attitude. (Not that the author's attitude nor his intentions are necessarily relevant to the story.)


message 23: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Too loose for the army. Perhaps someone from England would have a better answer, a more accurate answer, but what I found in trying to search for British military slang was "Loose is poker slang for a foolish player that plays too many hands."

This might well turn out to be the case with Merton Densher.


message 24: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Silver, I think, has brought our attention to an important aspect: "contradictions and contrasts."

True of the characters. True of real people. I think James does try to capture "real" people---and some of his characters are based rather closely on real people. Even those characters that are seemingly formed from imagination James wants to make them live and breath...to be "real."


message 25: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Adelle wrote: "Even those characters that are seemingly formed from imagination James wants to make them live and breath...to be "real."...

And James obviously does it well and at an extremely high literary level. But after Silver's comments, I found myself contrasting with Erica Bauermeister's Joy For Beginners characters, which are also flawed and real (perhaps a little different than "contradictions and contrasts," yet close enough?), but somehow Bauermeister communicates a real fondness for her characters, not the more analytical, finely tuned distance that I find in James. And I am not intending at all to compare the two based on the quality of the literature. An equivalent piece of literature with which to contrast just doesn't readily come to mind.


message 26: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Lily, I haven't read Joy for Beginners, so I can't compare the two. I accept your evaluation.

Regarding "the more analytical, finely tuned distance that I find in James." I've also found James to be distanced myself. Like he's always on the outside looking in. Observing, observing, observing. Somehow my sense has been that he wanted to be able to throw himself into life; but that he always restrained himself.


message 27: by Adelle (new)

Adelle I did manage to re-read Book First. Just a few things that resonated with me. Yes, probably the same things that I noticed when I read the book previously.

Waiting.

There's the aspect of waiting. In life, does one wait, or does one take action? I always feel opening sentences are so important, so revealing. James writes, "She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably."

Kate Croy.

What a no-nonsense name! So I see Kate as to the point. I would imagine that her given name was probably "Katherine," but here she is, Kate.

Truthfulness. Honesty.

An important theme in the book. Who is truthful? Who lies? And to what end? I began by attibuting truthfulness to Kate. I already see her as to-the-point and straightforward. ...Her action "gave her a small saluatry sense at least of neither shirking nor lying" (55). And then there's Kate statement to her father 'that if I were to sign my aunt's agreement I should carry it out, in honour, to the letter" (66). "I am perfectly honest in what I say" (67). Which leans towards Kate's being honest. And yet... her father is so ... shady... playing angles... willing to sacrifice his daughter for his own advantage. So then I wonders, mmm, are such traits thought to be inheritable? And she DOES want to live with her father. But...she in part wants to live with him to avoid other entanglements in her life. But she's willing to play big, to make the grand gesture---she's willing to throw over her wealthy aunt to do it.

The Marriage Market

That is where Kate is. Her father wants her to marry well, ie, for money, telling Kate it is her duty to marry a wealthy man...for his sake. And...the sister...almost destitute. Is that the life Kate wants? What was that great line? "And yet where was misery, misery too beaten for blame and chalk-marked b fate like a 'lot' at a common auction..." (56). She's for sale. "But what could a penniless girl do with [her birth name] but let it go?"(57). "She didn't hold herself cheap" (57). So, I think, that whole line of considering eligible young ladies to be ... marketable... for appropriate husbands will be interesting. There in the middle of her conversation with her father, there was heard the voice of, "the call of an appealing costermonger" (62). A costermonger being one who sells fruit. Kate's father actually referring to her as "an asset" (65).

Appearances

Very prominent theme, I think. What is real and what is appearance. We have all those descriptors of Lionel Croy, Kate's father, "What a dresser!" "How DOES he dress?" Appearance counts for SO much with him. And then! at times, he makes no attempt to make his lies smooth. "there was no truth in him"

The mirror, I think, pardon the pun, reflects this theme. And it's right there at the beginning of the book, too, so I think it most important.

"...there were moments at which she showed herself [*], in the glass [a mirror] over the mantel..." (55). "She stared
into the tarnished glass" ** (56). "She readjusted the poise..***."(56).



*and will Kate "show herself" to others...or will she show them only the appearance that she wants them to see?

**so...if Kate's image in the mirror is tarnished, should we expect to so Kate herself tarnished in the course of the book?

***and Kate, she seems to be full capable of readjusting herself as circumstances demand. A quite capable young woman. Sigh. As Kate herself put it, "she might still pull things round had she only been a man" (57).


Morality.
What is it? Who has it? "put it to your conscience" (64). "...the deplorably superficial morality of the age" (65).


Choice.

How much choice does one have? How much is determined by circumstances? With effort, circumstances might be overcome....but at what cost? How does one choose? Kate say of her aunt, "She wants me to choose." (But the aunt wants to pressure her to choose HER way.)

Well, not all of book 1, but thought I would get a post a wee bit. Off for a couple of days. Ciao.


message 28: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Silver wrote: "I just finished the First Book. I have to say that as frustrating as James can be at times, he is quite a difficult read, I was at first struck by the beauty of the writing. I just loved that very ..."

Silver - I finished the first book and felt exactly the same way. While the language is beautiful, I just want to shake the book and yell spit it out already! I, too, am working on puzzling things out as you say.


message 29: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Adelle wrote: "When i had read that passage, James seemed to be saying that Kate would like to remain "Kate Croy," but that she fears she has no options but marriage. But what could a penniless girl do with it..."

I saw one other thing in this quote as it related to the text which was maybe she should let her name go as it seems her father has brought some type of scandal to it. If the name goes, she may no longer be judged by her father's actions.


message 30: by Bill (last edited Mar 04, 2012 02:37PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Well, there's a clear alternative to the marriage market for Kate, moving in with her father. But he won't here of it because Kate's capable of bringing him more than half of her inheritance (having split half with her sister.) So there is a social alternative if her father weren't so craven.

All her father's selfishness (with which we are unsympathetic) and her sister's selfishness (with which we must somewhat sympathetic, even if we think the sister is unsympathetic as well.)

And there is even Aunt Julia -- who's interest in Kate is to move herself (Julia) up the social ladder.

So bright, handsome Kate in which only Merton loves her for herself, and he can't see how he's going to support her.

She's in a pickle, without which, the temptation with which she's faced wouldn't arrive.

Adelle, I'm pretty sure she'd like to be Mrs. Densher, and if Densher had either money or a better job, I think she would be.


message 31: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Funny, I see the possibility of Kate being manipulative instead of honest. While I can't be certain yet, it said something about her appearance seeming more elegant with less when needed and less elegant with more when needed. Same area of text said something to the effect that others thought her clever. As mentioned above I'm still very confused, but honesty doesn't ring true to me in Kate. If anything, I see a girl willing to do what it takes to get what she wants. Why else would she be willing to go to her father so she can keep the man she's interested in in her life? I don't think it's out of love as from the beginning it seems she has little or no feeling for her father - as if he has used all of those up.

Re the distancing of James, I felt like I was watching something from a great distance. Like being in the back row in the balcony of a theater. Close enough to hear but not to close enough to see clearly. I got the feeling that James himself is afraid of intimacy and closeness to anybody and that it reflects in his writing. That's one confused blonde's :-) opinion.


message 32: by Bill (last edited Mar 04, 2012 05:13PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments She may well be that -- but a little sympathy for her position, please. (I have a bad crush on Kate Croy :-) )

On the other hand, I don't get the feeling of distance. I think Kate, her father, and her sister are vividly drawn. What they are is not easy to identify with -- but that has nothing to do with distance. That's more a question of what you read a book for.

Lily, while they're not much a like, Madame Bovary is a novel in which well-drawn characters are not sympathetic.


message 33: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Ooops sorry Bill. Didn't mean to crush your crush ;-).


message 34: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 114 comments Deborah wrote: "Ooops sorry Bill. Didn't mean to crush your crush ;-)."

I've a feeling the crush will crush it ere long.


message 35: by Silver (new)

Silver I find the way James portrays women to be quite interesting. In reading this books I cannot help but see certainly similarities to some of his other works. In particular "The Portrait of a Lady" comes to mind, and a bit of "Daisy Miller" and some of his other short stories.

The women of James often seem to be independent minded women who are struggling to define themselves and find their own sense of identity outside of the expectations and demands upon them by other people, as well as the constraints of society. This is a particularly difficult thing for a woman in the 19th century.

I found all of the discussion about the "value" of Kate to be interesting as it seems that the other people in her life do view her as a commodity in which they wish to "invest" her in a way that will serve them the best. It reminds of when I read "The House of Mirth" for one of my classes and my professor mentioned the way in which monetary/economic terms were often used to describe women. A similar thing occurs within "The Great Gatsby" in which women are described often in the same terms one might describe material objects and money.

At one point when Densher is speaking with Kate's Aunt, his love for her is described as being "cheap" and there is another instance though I cannot recall where exactly, in which I believe the word "shinny" was used in connection with Kate.


message 36: by Bill (last edited Mar 04, 2012 09:34PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Daisy Buchanan's voice was famously "full of money" and the marriage market is very much on Fitzgerald's mind. He isn't concerned with maximizing a woman's value, however. He's concerned about never having enough money to afford the kind of women he he desires, who has the glamor of society and old money.

Laurele, "I've feeling the crush will crush it ere long"? Clarity please -- I do know the story. :-)


message 37: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 114 comments Bill, I don't know the story, so I was just guessing. I'm only in book 3.


message 38: by Bill (last edited Mar 04, 2012 05:42PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Laurele, well whatever your instincts about the story, you'll have to separate them from how I feel about Kate. :-)

I do think the first chapter is quite brilliant though -- both in its portrayal of Kate, her situation, and her execrable father. The father is really quite a creation.


message 39: by Lily (last edited Mar 04, 2012 06:40PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Bill wrote: "...The father is really quite a creation..."

I presume you are speaking from the perspective of an author doing character creation. Not sure I follow, except that it seems as if we are getting a character (her father) drawn from the perspective of Kate? Or are you meaning something different?


message 40: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments @32Bill wrote: "...Lily, while they're not much a like, Madame Bovary is a novel in which well-drawn characters are not sympathetic..."

Not sure I follow, Bill. I wasn't commenting on whether characters ought or ought not garner the empathy of their authors; I was just commenting on whether in Book 1 Henry James, imho, was extending such to the characters he was introducing to us. I think we can certainly pick well known characters to whom an author extends an underlying empathy, e.g., Tess in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles , perhaps Eliot to Dorothea (even though I personally don't like her, but that is an irrelevant discussion here) in Middlemarch , Thackeray to Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair , still painting them as with glaring human frailties. As for Madame Bovary, people far wiser on literature than I shall ever claim to be, in the little exposure I've given myself to the criticism of Flaubert, seem to be of diverse views of how empathic her author was. My personal view, Flaubert was quite sympathetic to the plight of his ill-fated heroine. I chose Bauermeister for my example because it seemed to me that she chose a fundamental empathy towards all her characters, even though each was very human.


message 41: by Bill (last edited Mar 05, 2012 07:06AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments Lily wrote: "Bill wrote: "...The father is really quite a creation..."

I presume you are speaking from the perspective of an author doing character creation. Not sure I follow, except that it seems as if we a..."


Yes. James has created an exceptional character.

And, if you think of Flaubert as sympathetic, then that's not a good example. As you said, it's divided opinion. :-)


message 42: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 05, 2012 10:34AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I was at first struck by the beauty of the writing

Oh my Silver, I just hate James' writing - it is so convoluted. I find myself reading sentences again to ascertain their meaning. I am not enjoying this book at all:(:(.

As well as convolution we have monstrosities of sentences like this one:-

"She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably."

I think I will watch the film again and join in on that basis - I really cannot be bothered to deconstruct so many sentences in the course of reading a book I was not keen on anyway:(:( Sorry folks. .


message 43: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 221 comments The convolutions are typical of his last three novels: The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. Earlier James is easier to read. Some people think these are his masterpieces; others tear their hair out. Increasingly, I believe, not sure scholarly opinion is tilting toward masterpieces.

I find moments of insight and wit mixed with sentences that I find hard to unpack. It's a personal question for anyone whether the game is worth the candle -- as it is with a lot of authors.


message 44: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 114 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I was at first struck by the beauty of the writing

Oh my Silver, I just hate James' writing - it is so convoluted. I find myself reading sentences again to ascertain their meaning. I am not enjo..."


I'm listening to Nadia May's reading of the novel, and so far it is quite easy-going for me--perhaps because I per force just let the sentences flow rather than going back to try to analyze them and certainly because I have the help of an excellent interpreter.


message 45: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Bill - glad to know it isn't just me!!:)

Laurele, you are probably doing the best thing! But I have lost patience with him so I think even a reading would be spoilt for me.

To paraphrase Austen, I think it should be a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of too many words is in want of a good editor!


message 46: by Silver (new)

Silver I agree that reading James can be frustrating at times, and it can be convoluted and complex, but even when I am often left feeling as if there is a good deal I am missing and there is some meaning which alludes me, there is just something about his prose style that has an appeal to me. He can be verbose, and perhaps and sometimes seems to not understand the concept of a paragraph or how to use them, but I like being drawn into his world.


message 47: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments It's 'cos you're an American:D. Strange folk.....running


message 48: by Silver (new)

Silver Hahaha maybe it is a cultural thing. Though there are American authors whom while some people rave about them I myself do not much care for them.


message 49: by Stuart (new)

Stuart Lutzenhiser I'm not quite sure quite what I think of this book yet - but I do have a few comments based upon the first two books.

I found that the narrative structure of these 4 chapters to be strangely similar. That is - they started with lines upon lines of description (this is where most of the very long sentences happen). Only after James feels (perhaps) that he has his scene set up do the characters actually start talking to each other. This was clearly a patter in book one and slightly less so in book two - but still held to the pattern. As these first two books are clearly set up, I guess I can understand this - but if it continues in the same pattern for the whole book, I may get revise my reaction.

Another thing that I was struck with was the clarity with which Kate saw what was going on around her. I found her father's motives (as seen by Kate) to be very transparent. Also her sister Marion's were also very readily seen. Since we are seeing things more or less from Kate's perspective, I find it interesting that a 25 year old would have such clear pictures of what other people were up to. I know when I was that age, my parents could have told me anything to my face and I would have really only understood about half of it. I'm sure I would have *thought* I understood it - but I'm sure I would have misinterpreted a large portion of it. Kate, I guess, is made of different stuff than I am - clearly.

Another thought I had was a lack of humor. Shakespeare knew that to set up a tragedy, you had to have elements of the comic in order to set off the emotions. I found James' portrayal of English people to be lacking in any kind of levity or humor - even in a broad sense. I think this was an American way of looking at English people - and an Englishman would have, perhaps, conciously (or sub-conciously) put a little levity in - even if it was self-mocking.

Another thought I had was around names. When I hear the name "Kate", the first thing I think of is "Taming of the Shrew". I don't know if James was thinking of this Kate, but I guess I'll hold that in my head as I read the rest of the book.

All in all - I'm enjoying it - and am not overly struggling with the language. But I'm finding the characters a little more two dimensional and wooden "stock character" like than I was expecting.


message 50: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I think this was an American way of looking at English people - and an Englishman would have, perhaps, conciously (or sub-conciously) put a little levity in - even if it was self-mocking.

Good point - there is a lot of self mockery in English conversation. I found the exchanges far too formal.


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