Author(s): Henry James
With an Introduction by Nicola Bradbury, University of Reading.
The Wings of the Dove is a tale of desire and possession, of love and death. It is in essence a simple story, but one that opens up the great subject of art: life itself. To tackle this, James moves between fairytale storylines and the startlingly modern techniques of his testing late style. An unspeakable subtext lies beneath the silence. Distinct points of view and different centres of consciousness betray the dislocation of the social facade from the desolation beneath. For all the familiar signs, there is a gulf between glamour and the underlying threat of loss.
The eternal triangle of romance is played out here like a game on an international stage for the very highest stakes. It centres on 'the dying girl who wants to live - to live and love.' But those closest to her are in competition for what she can leave behind. Milly Theale, 'the heiress of all the ages', is imaged as a dove, a princess, a Renaissance beauty, but these symbols come at a dreadful cost. By the end of the novel we know, 'We shall never be again as we were!'