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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • June 01, 2006

     

    [45] The Wings of the Dove - Henry James

    The Wings of the Dove weaves together three ill-fated lives to render a poignant tragedy of self-deception, betrayal, treachery, and love. A pair of lovers, who were victims of forbidden love, Merton Densher and Kate Croy, conspires to obtain the fortune of Milly Theale, a doomed American heiress. Until I read the novel, I have only witnessed the materialization of Kate Croy and her treacherous staring, calculated mind, and imperturbable cunning in motion picture. The erudition of James's trickling prose reveals a perpetually conflicting character in her. I'm somewhat compelled to forgive her and sympathize with her in spite of her greed, selfish ambition and unflinching desire, when it becomes clear that her compromising father, is the impetus of her devious actions. Her father's meager presence in the novel ironically accentuates his poisonous influence on Kate Croy: it imputes on her shame, irritation, and depression. It makes her wonder if she still has any right to personal happiness. Her scheme justifies her desire to grip a hold of happiness of her future.

    The novel is a tragedy of love undeserved, of love unrequisited, and of desire's miscalculation. Kate is in love with Merton. To her it is bliss. Her perception of happiness is to be free from her stricken Aunt Maud and her family and to be with Merton at all cost. The fortuitous knowledge of Milly's terminal illness merely makes her an opportunist: to look out for her beloved Merton and to smooth his path, for she thinks she has lost the occasion of her life to her family. It behooves the lovers to face without delay the question of handling their immediate (financial) future. So without a tincture of scruple, she eggs Merton on to court Milly, who practically resigns in advance to any intimate relations and to the gesture of sympathy, in order to inveigle her fortune. Kate takes advantage of Milly's taking a liking of Merton and her trust. So to Kate the scheme to obtain the money is no more than making the best of a friendship and reaping its benefits. She is the one who works behind the scene, perspicaciously plans every move, puppets Merton's words and acts before the heiress. In fact, she does not cultivate a relationship close enough with Milly to feel the scruple of that one proper lie she tells – the one lie that encourages Milly to live and to hope for Merton.

    The Wings of the Dove has very strong female presence throughout the novel. Enough literature and critics have done justice of these presences that serve distinct literary purposes. But I am most intrigued by Merton whom James uses as a handle on conscience, purging, and scruple. The narrative gives an impression that Merton's motive to execute Kate's plan is to win her love. Ironically he is to win Milly's love in order to be with Kate, who has her eyes on the fortune. At the same time this deceptive scheme becomes a case of conscience and one at the prospect of which he is already wincing. He is also aware that he has yet done anything deceptive until he carries out Kate's plan. So the difference between acting out of his own will and acting out Kate's scheme makes a case of conscience. The issue becomes one that is core of humanity: conscience is indiscriminate to the person who commits the act. Merton might seem a subordinate in the scheme but I question he has any will left, as his notion of life has reduced to what Kate conceives for him. In succumbing to her cunning design and management of him, he has transcended his conscience in inveigling Milly's fortune. His past history and remembrance of Milly pins his conscience and makes him shudder the thought of her having ceased to exist.

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