The Wings of the Dove
Publication Date: August 3, 2004
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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.
Henry James was born in 1843 in New York City. He traveled and studied extensively in New York, London, Paris and Geneva, and returned to the States in 1860, enrolling in Harvard Law School two years later. By 1865 he had begun to contribute reviews and short stories to periodicals in earnest. His first major piece of fiction, "Watch and Ward," was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly in 1870, and Roderick Hudson, his first major novel, was published in 1875. James spent the following decades abroad, first visiting Paris, where he met Ivan Turgenev, Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert, then settling in London, where he lived for over twenty years and wrote several novels, including Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, and The Princess Casamassima. In 1897 he moved to Lamb House in Rye, where he wrote his later novels, including The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl, and well as his popular ghost story, "The Turn of the Screw." James became a British subject in 1915. Two unfinished novels, The Ivory Tower and The Sense of the Past, were published as fragments after his death on February 28, 1916.
“The Wings of the Dove represents the pinnacle of James’s prose.”—Louis Auchincloss