I found myself repeatedly rereading sentences, paragraphs, even entire pages. I can usually determine if I am going to enjoy a book after the first few pages and I did not have a good first impression, but I kept hoping to “get into” the novel, to no avail. I truly did want to enjoy this book, but I’d be remiss if I were to put out a positive spin.
A young British couple set out to dupe an ailing young American heiress. They are hopeful that she will fall in love with the gentleman and bequeath her fortune to him. What they should learn, they do not, but rather come to see in each other what they find cannot sustain their relationship.
Kate Croy is a manipulative 25-year-old quite determined to live a life much above and beyond the life she grew up in. Her father has committed some such offense that is never named, but has apparently marred the family name, if it ever had any worth. Her two brothers have died; one from typhoid, the other from drowning in a mucky river. Her elder sister married a poor preacher who died leaving her with four children to care for. Kate is so determined to live a different life that she has calculated a plan she believes will deliver her and her remaining family out of the evils in which they dwell. One would expect to sympathize with this unfortunate character, but one does not.
Merton Densher is Kate’s unwitting, and ultimately unwilling partner in crime. So in love, he pathetically does as Kate bids him to do daydreaming about the day they’ll be together in bliss. Were he not so insipid, one could almost like him, but I did not.
Milly Theale is the young ailing American oblivious to the plot that surrounds her. She even befriends Kate and actually falls for the pathetic plot unraveling around her. She also predictably falls for Merton as she nears her untimely death.
Chaperone to Milly, Mrs. Stringham seems to be the only person with any sense. She distrusts Kate and has her suspicions about Merton, but her loyalty and consideration for her ill charge keep her mum.
This could have been a wonderful book, but woefully, it was not. Dare I say it was needlessly verbose in its descriptives and lacked pizzazz in its dialogues. Admittedly, I am not looking forward to book #27, The Ambassadors written by none other than Henry James.
It was perfectly present to Kate that she might be devoured, and she compared herself to a trembling kid, kept apart a day or two till her turn should come, but sure sooner or later to be introduced into the cage of the lioness.
–“that’s the way people are. What they think of their enemies, goodness knows, is bad enough; but I’m still more stuck with what they think of their friends…”
I’m sure I’d enjoy speaking with Mr. James, but I’d steer the conversation away from this particular book and perhaps ask him of his early years in New York City.
My rating for The Wings of the Dove is a 5 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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Next up, Henry James’(ugh) The Ambassadors.…