Henry James' The Wings of the Dove Bks 5-7: Complication Continued

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Overview of the Development

In books five through seven, we see how the two circles begin to overlap one another, surrounding Milly and her illness.  We encounter some of the following:

  • A growing sense of Kate's willingness to manipulate the situation, and the beginning of her plan to use Densher to seduce Milly.
  • A further sense of Milly's growing perspective on her life and its meaning
  • James' stress on Milly as a princess and a dove and how these symbols take on disturbing multiple meanings.
  • A continued reflection on how the monetary and aesthetic are intertwined in this world.
  • A stress on how beauty is a way of conceiving the limits of a world--what is possible or allowed.

5.1: We continue to be exposed to Milly's estimation of the beauty of her surroundings, her view of Kate's beauty, and her general trust in her impressions.   We also find Maud encouraging Milly to stay with them.

5.2: Milly is compared to the painting by Angelo Brozino of a Venetian noblewoman, but she does not find herself as good as the woman in the portrait.   Milly asks Kate to deceive Susan while Milly goes to see Sir Luke about her health.

5.3: Milly's visit to Sir Luke is brief.  She assigns to him powers bordering on omniscience, for he is a gentlemanly genius. He advises her to get out of London, perhaps to the Continent, but he also encourages her not to worry about her health, instead to live.

5.4: Milly is alone in the great square.  She sees herself as a part of the common, everyday life of humanity and experiences a great sense of freedom.   She begins to realize that Sir Luke treated her as someone weak and that Susan Stringham is a type of Byzantine. Milly likewise momentarily glimpses Kate's position.

5.5: Maud wants Milly to sound out Kate concerning Densher.   Milly tries to work through how she should do this without giving herself away to Kate (or to Maud).

5.6: Milly talks with Kate and begins to learn something about seeing things as they are.  Yet she still conceives of Kate as someone who is close and trustworthy.  Kate openly analyzes Milly's worth and social station due to her wealth and calls Milly "a dove."  Milly decides to go out and leave Sir Luke to talk to Susan.

5.7: Milly visits the National Gallery, where she loses herself in the art and anonymity of the place.  But she soon runs into Densher and Kate together there.  We learn more about how Kate has given off to Milly that she does not return Densher's affections.

6.1: We switch to Densher's perspective: his return, immediate meeting with Kate, his limited view of Milly, and his reaction to how Kate had explained their being together when Milly encountered them in the National Gallery.

6.2: We begin to see in some detail the way an active Kate controls a passive Densher, how she has a more circumspect way of accomplishing her ends than he.   Kate wants Densher to see Milly, in part because it will encourage the sick girl, but also because Kate has "beautiful" plans.

6.3: Densher understands that Kate lives up to Lancaster Gate's expectations and realizes that he is more a spectator of Kate's drama.  Maud tries to sound out Densher's impressions of Milly.  We then move into Susan's perspective: her sense of Milly being a kind of martyr, her fear that she is being displaced by Kate in Milly's affections.

6.4: We return to Densher's perspective. Kate increases in her stress on Densher seeing Milly in order to give the girl pleasure, talks of Milly's illness.  Maud stresses Milly's money to Densher.

6.5: Densher reflects that Milly is interesting enough for herself, though he has some qualms about what he is doing.  He goes to visit Milly and realizes that she will strive to appear well for him.  He and Milly talk, and he offers to drive Milly in her buggy.  Kate arrives while Milly is changing but decides to leave in order to further her plan for Densher and Milly.

7.1: We return to Milly's perspective: her assessment of Susan's concern for her, Sir Luke's interest in her case, and her need for happiness.  We then see Maud try to encourage Susan to cover up Kate's own attraction for Densher.

7.2: We learn something more of Sir Luke's plans and Susan's desire to assist him in order to help Milly.  Milly meets again with Sir Luke, explains that they are going to Venice, and discusses her attraction to Densher with the doctor.

7.3: The scene now switches to Venice. We have Milly's view of Eugenio who finds the Palazzo for her and runs the household for her benefit.  Milly is understood as a kind of priestess of the worship of beauty.  Milly and Kate are like a princess and a dark lady who circle each other.  And Lord Mark arrives.

7.4: Lord Mark is alone with Milly.  Milly reflects on her view of Lord Mark and realizes her money is of use to him.  Lord Mark questions her about her illness, and she breaks down for a bit in front of him precisely because he is not important to her. She rejects Lord Mark's desire to marry her.  He senses that she is in love with Densher and points out to her that Kate and Densher are lovers.  Milly insists that Kate does not return Densher's feelings, but Lord Mark doubts this.

Observations on and Questions about Select Passages

130-131--Milly's impressions of the great house as an offering of aesthetic impressions.

132--Kate is again understood by Milly as a striking beauty.

135-138--Milly is compared to the Bronzino portrait.  What does this comparison reveal about Milly?  How does Milly respond to the portrait?   What does this reveal about her self-conception?  Is she accurate?

142--Milly can have everything; she is adored.

143--Sir Luke also wants to "take care" of Milly.

144-146--How does Milly romanticize Sir Luke?  Why does she?  

152-154--When Milly is in the great square, how does she conceive of herself in relation to others?  Why does she feel this way?

159--Milly to pursue the highest pleasures.

168--The American mind before the British "monster" represents Milly's continued confrontation with reality and its deceptions.

170--How does Kate assess Milly's social situation?

171-172--Why does Kate conceive of Milly as a dove?

174--Why does Milly respond the way she does to the National Gallery?

178b-179--Milly acts as "American" as possible to appeal to Densher.

189, 194, 221, 228, 238--Densher's view of Kate and her control over him.  She is one who "doles out" his happiness and weaves a web about him.   His loyalty to her and his fear of boring her.

196, 202, --Kate's conception of her plans as a kind of beauty.

204--Densher sees Kate as an actress in Lancaster's play, while he is a passive spectator.

215, 229--Milly will refuse to taste of medicine to those she loves.   She is especially to "be well" for Densher.

241-242--An amusing scene where Susan cannot tell if Milly is speaking of Sir Luke or Densher.  What does this perhaps unconsciously reveal about either Milly's conception of Densher or Susan's conception of Milly's conception?

247--Happiness and love as cures for Milly.

258-260, 264, 266: How does Milly view her role in the Palazzo?   How does she view Eugenio's?  What does this suggest about the aesthetic nature of her residence?

262--How are Milly and Kate contrasted with each other?

267--Milly breaks down for a bit in front of Lord Mark precisely because he is not important to her.

270-273--Milly's desire to beautifully hide her illness; Lord Mark's inability to match up to Milly's beautiful reality; and Lord Mark's refusal to believe in Milly's illness because beauty will not allow it.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding