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The Wings of the Doveby Henry James and Amy Bloom
Synopses & Reviews
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time
Of the three late masterpieces that crown the extraordinary literary achievement of Henry James, The Wings of the Dove (1902) is at once the most personal and the most elemental.
James drew on the memory of a beloved cousin who died young to create one of the three central characters, Milly Theale, an heiress with a short time to live and a passion for experiencing life to its fullest. To the creation of the other two, Merton Densher and the magnificent, predatory Kate Croy, who conspire in an act of deceit and betrayal, he brought a lifetime's distilled wisdom about the frailty of the human soul when it is trapped in the depths of need and desire. And he brought to the drama that unites these three characters, in the drawing rooms of London and on the storm-lit piazzas of Venice, a starkness and classical purity almost unprecedented in his work.
Under its brilliant, coruscating surfaces, beyond the scrim of its marvelous rhetorical and psychological devices, The Wings of the Dove offers an unfettered vision of our civilization and its discontents. It represents a culmination of James's art and, as such, of the art of the novel itself.
"The Wings of the Dove represents the pinnacle of James's prose." Louis Auchincloss
The haunting classic of a doomed heiress, a duo of scheming lovers, and the drama of desire, betrayal, and tragedy that play out in the splendor of Victorian London. Includes a new Introduction and a preface by the author.
About the Author
Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a whimsical,utterly charming, maddeningly openminded parent--a Swedenborgian philosopher of considerable wealth who believed in a universal but wholly unformed society. He gave both Henry and his elder son, William, an infant baptism by taking them to Europe before they could even speak. In fact, Henry James later claimed that his first memory, dating from the age of two, was a glimpse of the column of the Place Vendome framed bythe window of the carriage in which he was riding. His peripatetic childhood took him to experimental schools in Geneva, Paris, and London. Even back in the United States he was shuffled from New York City to Albany to Newport to Boston and finally to Cambridge, where in 1862 hebriefly attended Harvard Law School. 'An obscure hurt,' probably to his back, exempted him from service in the Civil War, and James felt he hadfailed as a man when it counted most to be one and he vowed never to marry.
In search of a possible occupation, the young James turned to literature; within five years it had become his profession. His earliest story appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1865, when he was twenty-two. From the start of his career James supported himself as a writer, and over the next tenyears he produced book reviews, drama and art criticism, newspaper columns, travel pieces and travel books, short stories, novelettes, a biography, and his first novel--Roderick Hudson (1876). Late in 1875, following two recent trips to Europe, James settled in Paris, where hemet Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where he produced The Europeans (1878). Soon afterward he achieved fame on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of Daisy Miller (1879), the book that forever identified him with the 'international theme' of the effect of Americans and Europeans on each other.
Yet Henry James aspired to more than the success of Daisy Miller. Determined to scale new literary heights, James abandoned the intense social life of his earlier years and, with Balzac as his role model, devoted himself all out to the craft of fiction. Although The Portrait of a Lady (1881) was critically acclaimed and sold well, the other novels of James's 'Balzac' period--Washington Square (1881), The Bostonians (1886), ThePrincess Casamassima (1886), and The Tragic Muse (1890)--were not popular with the public. As a result, he decided to redirect his efforts and began writing for the stage. In 1895, the disastrous opening night of his play Guy Domville--when James came onstage only to be hissed and booed by the London audience--forever ended his career as a playwright.
Rededicating himself to fiction, he wrote The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and The Awkward Age (1899). Then, as he approached and passed the age of sixty James's three greatest novels appeared in rapid succession: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). He spent most of his remaining years at Lamb House, his ivy-covered home in Rye, writing his memoirs and revising his novels for the twenty-four-volume New York Edition of his lifework. When World War I broke out, he was eager to serve his adopted country and threw himself into the civilian war effort. In 1915, after four decades of living in England, James became a British subject, and King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him in January 1916. Henry James died in London on February 28, 1916, and his ashes were buried in the James family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Commenting on the enormous contemporary interest in James, novelist Louis Auchincloss said: 'How he would have loved his posthumous fame! One can imagine Emily Bronte and Herman Melville shrugging shoulders, faintly scornful, but James would have bristled with pride at every mention of his name. . . . It is pleasant to think that in the end he had at least a whiff of it and that the silent, grave, bearded young man should have evolved into the portly figure of the rolling, resolute gait, simple in emotion but quick and spontaneous in affection, leaving among his recording disciples a deep impression of majesty, beauty and greatness.'
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