Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Tough-o-Meter

By Henry James


Mount Everest (9)

We—unlike Kate Croy, Aunt Maud, Lord Mark and basically every other character in The Wings of the Dove—have no interest in lying to you. Henry James ain't an easy fellow to read.

You don't get your name turned into an adjective that is synonymous with "deeply psychological" unless you're a tad tricky. When people throw the term "Jamesian" around they're talking about prose that is dense and full of dashes and explores the inner workings of people's minds. "Jamesian" also refers to writing that is over-the-top smart and beautiful.

A common complaint about James' writing is that it's hard to remember what happens. We're not saying that it's boring or forgettable—far, far from it—but it does make a bunch of digressions. James' novels are so densely filled with long, rambling descriptions of characters' thoughts that it can be tough to figure out what the actual plot of the story is.

But, hey, guess what: James is a freaking genius, and he knows the way the human mind works.

Think about your experiences in any given day. Let's say you walk to the store to buy a bag of chips. If you were a robot you might think, as you complete your task, "Am walking to shop. Am picking out salt n' vinegar flavor. Am paying with cash. Am walking out door. Bee boop. Bee boop."

But you're not a robot. For one thing, robots don't eat chips. For another, your inner monologue might sound more like, "Ugh. I have to finish that paper. It needs to be three pages and I have four hours before I'm meeting Amanda for dinner. Mmm, dinner. I want a burrito, but Amanda doesn't like Mexican food. Who doesn't like Mexican food? Should I be friends with Amanda? Maybe not liking Mexican food is a horrible, horrible personality quirk. She also has really bad taste in music…"

Somewhere in this running inner monologue you've walked to the store, picked up your chips, paid, and left. You didn't really even think about your actions. You were more preoccupied with mulling over the events of your life.

And that's exactly what Henry James's characters are preoccupied with, except that their thoughts (because James is brilliant) are way more eloquent.

Because we're crusading Lit warriors and want everyone to read Henry James because he's real good and real important, we have a tip for y'all. If you read a chapter and find that you can't figure out what just happened, go back and underline all the parts of dialogue where characters actually speak. Read through your underlined dialogue and you'll have a good idea of what goes down in that chapter.

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