The Wings of the Dove Endnotes

1 (p. 3) Long had I turned it over ... seeing the theme as formidable: Henry James is writing the preface in 1909, years after he first sketched out his ideas for the story in his notebooks (1894), and after the actual writing of the novel (1901-1902). In The Ambassadors, he worked from a lengthy and very detailed outline that he had submitted to his publishers; this outline survives, and is now in the Widener Library at Harvard University. James prepared a similar but shorter and less detailed outline for Wings at some point and submitted it to his publishers, but it has been lost.

2 (p. 4) the poet essentially can’t be concerned with the act of dying.... it is still by the act of living that [the sick] appeal to him, and appeal the more as the conditions plot against them and prescribe the battle: This is as clear a statement as one finds in the novel summing up James’s negative attitude toward the death scene of the nineteenth-century novelistic tradition. Characters in James’s novels are not depicted on a death bed, surrounded by mourning relatives and gasping out final words. Death is more of a disappearance. Characters die offstage and out of sight, and the focus is on the impact of the death on the living.

3 (p. 13) There is no economy of treatment without an adopted, a related point of view: James’s conception of the well-made novel stressed the importance of the point of view from which the story is told or narrated, an idea that has been influential in modern literary criticism. See R. P. Blackmur, “Introduction,” in James’s The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces, pp. vii-xxxix (see “For Further Reading”).

4 (p. 33) He put the question with a charming air of sudden spiritual heat.... “what’s called in the business world, I believe, an ‘asset’ ”: James seems to have originally projected a larger role for Lionel Croy in the story, but Croy disappears after book first. Croy’s comments on the business world, as well as subsequent references by Lord Mark, display a hostility to all things commercial that was probably close to what James himself felt. James never had much direct experience with or knowledge of industry and commerce, but he was keenly aware of the business details of publishing. He did not like the tendencies that were evident even in his own time for publishers to push the popular “blockbuster” over serious fiction. Some of these issues are explored in James’s short story “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896); see Peter Rawlings, ed., Henry james’ Shorter Masterpieces, vol. 2, pp. 46-88.

5 (p. 53) the present winter’s end: James does not tell us exactly when the novel takes place. We infer that it is set at the end of the Victorian era—around the turn of the century. The 1997 lain Softley movie version of The Wings of the Dove assigns a later date (1910), perhaps to bring the setting closer to World War I and heighten the sense of foreboding that hovers over the action.

6 (p. 55) all the high dim things she lumped together as of the mind: James does not tell us in detail what education Kate Croy has received. We learn that she has attended schools on the Continent and has become attracted to all things foreign. In post-Victorian England, women were not yet “in business” or in “the professions.” While young Victorian women of any social standing usually received enough education to become governesses if they were not able to marry, the general intent was to have one’s daughters exposed to art, music, and modern languages with a view to finding a desirable partner in marriage. Kate Croy felt shortchanged in the life of the mind and was attracted to Densher in part because he filled this need. His eclectic knowledge, along with his schooling on the continent, impressed her deeply.

7 (p. 72) he asked himself what was to be expected of a person who could treat one like that: This passage and the several long paragraphs that follow are good examples of how James enters into the minds of his protagonists and reveals to us what they are thinking. Nothing much is actually happening here. Densher is waiting and is pacing the room. But his mind wanders as he ponders his situation. James summarizes and paraphrases Densher’s thoughts, a literary device that critics refer to as “the first person attached” point of view. James does this more with Densher, who is a reflective and intellectual type, and with Milly Theale, whose consciousness is more important to us than her frail body, than he does with Kate Croy. We get to know Kate more by what she says and does or by a look or gesture, a shake of the head, than by James telling us what she is thinking. Kate is a less cerebral and a more forceful person than Densher, so the device of exploring her thoughts is less necessary.

8 (p. 100) we shall really ourselves scarce otherwise come closer to her than by feeling their impression and sharing, if need be, their confusion : James’s use of this expression and his reference a few sentences later to “our young woman” illustrate the way in which he departs occasionally from the use of the unseen omniscient author and appears to inject himself into the narrative. He “shares” the confusion of the characters and “feels” their impressions.

9 (p. 105) I hasten to add: Although James’s narrator uses the personal pronoun “I” here, he never becomes an actual character in the story. Joseph Conrad in his short story The Nigger of the “Narcissus” (1897) employs a similar device. The omniscient narrator knows all; he is, in fact, on board the Narcissus when it capsizes. But the narrator never actually appears in the story. His apparently invisible presence on-board becomes known to us only when he tells us at the end of the story that he was so frightened he will never again go to sea.

10 (p. 138) of Thackerayan character: Kate presumably reminds Mrs. Stringham a little of Becky Sharp, the captivating but unscrupulous heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848).

11 (p. 150) but it was clear Mrs. Condrip was ... in quite another geography: This is a good illustration of Milly’s increasing sophistication and awareness of the complexities she is encountering in London. Book fourth in its entirety is an example of the growth of Milly’s consciousness. She understands that she is in a “labyrinth,” that she teeters on the edge of an “abyss.” She revels in it, however, even though she is frightened, because this is what she understands as being more fully aware and more truly alive. She is not interested in tourism but in people and in the complexity of social circumstance.

12 (p. 169) “but mine’s several shades greener”: This scene is one of a number of memorable passages in the very rich and complex fifth book. Milly is here trying to make light of the emotional experience she has just undergone in viewing the Bronzino portrait that resembles her. She has had intimations of mortality; she feels that she will be, like the lady in the portrait, “dead, dead, dead.” Critics and literary scholars have seen Milly’s reaction as a critical turning point, a sign that she can no longer keep up a brave front.

13 (p. 177) “I shan’t trouble you again”: Milly makes a critical decision here. She adores Kate, values her friendship, and enjoys her company. But she is bothered by the fact that Kate has avoided mentioning Densher, which, to Milly, seems to suggest a degree of dissembling on Kate’s part. So Milly decides to set some limits on her friendship with Kate, not to trust her fully. This small choice propels Milly toward the isolation she will ultimately face in her struggle with her illness. Only Susan Stringham and hired servants will be with her in the end.

14 (p. 185) “you ought of course ... to get out of London”: Why does Sir Luke advise Milly to get out of London? Is it merely because London is hot and uncomfortable in August? Sir Luke is perhaps too subtle for that. Presumably he feels Milly’s privacy might be jeopardized if word got around London that she was seeing him. She could feel freer somewhere else. Besides, he might have felt she had already “done” London and might want to experience something new.

15 (p. 192) Gibbon and Froude and Saint-Simon: Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ; James Froude (1818-1894) was a historian and disciple of Carlyle; Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a French social reformer and founder of “positivist” philosophy.

16 (p. 210) “Oh you may very well loathe me yet!”: It is impossible to tell, in this extraordinary passage, whether Kate has already conceived her scheme to link Densher and Milly. Kate does not know for sure that Milly is ill, though she surely suspects it. Milly is acute enough to be frightened by this creature who paces “like a panther,” but the die is cast. Milly, despite her unease, is sure that along this route lies life, and she will not shrink from it. In the lines that follow, Kate, perhaps misreading Milly’s mild reply, uses the dove image for the first time in the book.

17 (p. 242) “I’ll tell you another time”: Here, presumably, is a clear sign that Kate suspects the seriousness of Milly’s illness, and is laying the groundwork for her plan. Densher is not quite ready to be brought in on the scheme.

18 (p. 289) “You don’t need to see”: This dialogue strikingly illustrates how James’s narrative technique of letting us know Densher’s thoughts contrasts with the way he portrays Kate by her gestures and her spoken words. The technique reinforces the portrayal of Kate as decisive, utterly sure of herself, a brilliant psychologist, and ruthless, and of Densher as full of doubts, sensitive but weak, and so in love with Kate that she can “lead him by the nose.” She has been so completely caught up in the social “game” as to have become morally obtuse. But she does not kid herself; she knows what she is doing. Densher’s vacillations and moral evasions are perhaps even less attractive than Kate’s cynicism.

19 (p. 314) and what most expressed it: The action now shifts to Venice, where Milly has rented an expensive palazzo. It is now October. Eugenio, an Italian with a sharp eye for making money off tourists, has been hired to manage Milly’s household. Though he spends Milly’s money freely, he is an efficient manager and organizer and has a very good relationship with Milly and Mrs. Stringham. Milly sees him as taking charge of all practical matters and assisting Susan when Millv’s health worsens. That it costs a great deal of money to keep the somewhat dilapidated old villa in good repair and to staff it with an array of servants is, of course, of no concern to Milly.

20 (p. 315) Palazzo Leporelli : The fictional palazzo is modeled on the actual Palazzo Barbaro, built in the fifteenth century and owned by friends of Henry James. In 1887 Henry James stayed there with his friends the Daniel Curtises and wrote the short story “A London Life.”

21 (p. 347) dusky labyrinthine alleys and empty campi, overhung with mouldering palaces: This image conveys James’s sense of the decadence that affects European civilization. The physical decay—empty public squares, crumbling palaces, deserted banquet halls—parallels the moral corruption of a London society dominated by money grubbing, of the grasping servants led by Eugenio at the Palazzo Leporelli, and of the trio of Kate, Mrs. Lowder, and Densher maneuvering to fleece Milly.

22 (p. 348) complications might sometimes have their tedium beguiled by a study of the question of how a gentleman would behave: Densher’s self-exculpatory reasoning puts him in an unfavorable light here. He is justifying himself on the ground that he didn’t start the whole scheme and that he will always be a “gentleman.” He realizes that being a gentleman is not always easy to define and that being as passive as he has been is not a great thing. He wants to assert himself, but he is not sure how. He can’t run; he is in too deep. When he does assert himself, it is in a most unfortunate way. He compels Kate to come to his apartment to consummate their relationship, a crude trade of sex for his full cooperation that cheapens his relationship with her.

23 (p. 362) “It’s a Veronese picture”: Scholars have concluded that James is here referring to the Venetian painter Paolo Veronese’s Marriage at Cana (1562-1563), which depicts a banquet scene of great richness and prodigality.

24 (p. 364) he shouldn’t have liked a man to see him : This exchange with Mrs. Stringham is one of Densher’s least appealing moments. He suddenly feels ashamed of being a sensitive man, and, under the guise of honesty, displays a degree of male chauvinism that is even worse than Lord Mark’s. His perfidy seems to be gender-neutral. For a discussion of Densher’s dilemma from the perspective of gender relations and the complexities of gender issues in The Wings of The Dove, see Julie Olin-Ammentorp, “ ‘A Circle of Petticoats’: The Feminization of Merton Densher,” Henry James Review 14 (1993).

25 (p. 420) “Oh!” he simply moaned into the gloom: This agonizing tête- à-tête between Densher and Mrs. Stringham shows James at his masterly best in posing the central moral questions of the novel: From what depths of hatred does Lord Mark act? Is he beyond mere cynical exploitation of the situation? Does Densher perceive, to his horror, that he was doing essentially what Lord Mark was trying to do? Should Densher lie to Milly—as Mrs. Stringham, in essence, urges—to give her some happiness as death approaches? Did Kate, in fact, reveal to Lord Mark her relationship with Densher as a way to stave him (Lord Mark) off and/or to confound her aunt? That Densher can only moan into the gloom at least shows him more favorably than than he has appeared to this point. He begins to appreciate more fully what he has done; his “conversion” has begun.

26 (p. 440) “She never wanted the truth.... She wanted you.... For that was your strength, my dear man—that she loves you with passion”: Kate poses a key question: Is she correct in thinking Milly would have been comforted by Densher’s lying to her even though she knew it was a lie? And is Densher more concerned with his own honor than with Milly’s feelings?