The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Henry James, the king of the pretentious run-on and realistic non-fiction, once again presents us with a tragic heiress protagonist whose money is sought by opportunistic men.  Milly Theale, despite James’ efforts fails to be a likable or really clear character. Instead, she remains muddled and indefinite to the end.  In contrast, the much more likable antagonist Kate Croy charms and awes readers with her cool-headed manipulation and faultless etiquette.  Kate, who is desperately in love with Merton Densher seeks to marry him.  The one hitch in their plan is Densher has no money to support Kate. When Kate finds out her friend Milly is fatally ill, she decides to work the situation to her advantage, having Densher woo Milly in order to inherit her fortune. After Milly’s death, Densher and Kate could marry and be supported by Milly’s estate.   Though Kate is a calculated, feline b@#$%, she does it with style and class, where Milly doesn’t create much of a lasting impression.  Though I suspect that readers were supposed to be rooting for Milly, I was thoroughly fed up with her ridiculous martyrdom. Her death came as a relief. Instead of feeling elation when Merton Densher falls in love with the memory of Milly Theale, I felt absolutely betrayed.  How could a man with a woman as superb as Kate Croy possibly fall for a whiner like Milly? If James is so realistic, why was this turn of events so unexpected.  In every scene leading up to the final devastating one Densher is completely uninspired by Milly.  He is constantly thinking of Kate. James betrays himself with and ending that is completely implausible and worse, disappointing. The book ends in complete chaos with no single character feeling happy.

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