Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 1

By Henry James

Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 1

  • In Book 2, we find ourselves following Merton Densher, the young newspaperman who is in a relationship with Kate Croy.
  • The book introduces us to Merton by saying that on his breaks from work, his favorite thing to do is just to walk around. He does it so much, in fact, that most people assume he's a guy with nothing to do.
  • In terms of appearances, the book basically describes him as a sort of everyman, a regular-looking person you'd never pay much attention to on the street. Yeah, but judging on how the women he meet respond, he must also be pretty sexy.
  • Merton has also made it a habit to walk past Lancaster Gate (Aunt Maud's house) and meet Kate while she's leaving for her own walk. This makes their meetings a thing of public knowledge, as everyone in town knows that he stops there to see Kate. This is why the news of their relationship has gotten all the way back to a shut-in like Kate's sister Marian.
  • Merton and Kate wander and stroll together, enjoying the freedom of being together with no one around to tell them how to live their lives.
  • Kate liked Merton the first time she met him because she found him witty and interesting, which is something she rarely sees in men. She also thinks of Merton as an intellectual equal, which she rarely feels when she meets a man.
  • Their first meeting was pretty straightforward: they met at a party and afterwards, found themselves staring at one another all through the night.
  • Their next meeting was totally by chance. They were in the subway and found themselves sitting across from one another. This coincidence made them decide to start hanging out more often.
  • When she first started bringing Merton around Lancaster Gate, Kate was surprised at how mild her aunt was around him. She'd expected Maud to throw the young man out, but instead, Maud told Kate that she could hang out with whomever she liked. We just know, though, that there has to be some sort of catch to this.
  • We also find out that after Kate's recent visit to her father, she went out almost immediately for a walk with Merton. They spent most of the afternoon talking about life.
  • They even talked about getting married; but they agreed that their relationship had been too short to get married just yet.
  • Kate tells Merton that her Aunt Maud will no doubt write him soon and ask to meet with him. The purpose of the meeting will be for Maud to tell Merton that he's not good enough for Kate and that he shouldn't expect to marry her.
  • Kate and Merton reassure one another that they're committed to staying together.
  • Merton, though, feels a little guilty over what he's asking Kate to do—to throw away her financial future to be with him.
  • They get more intimate when Kate tells Merton about her family's troubles and her cruel father. Kate explains to Merton that she doesn't actually know what her father did to ruin her mother so badly. She can only imagine that it must have been terrible. Merton says he's not interested in knowing one way or the other.
  • Kate talks about how much her father objects to her seeing Merton, and Merton thanks her for staying with him. He knows that her father's a jerk, but also knows that she still feels a duty toward him.
  • Kate admits that she'd also like to get out from under Aunt Maud's thumb. Then she tells Merton about how she is only able to see now how badly the things in her mother's life pulled her down, things like Marian and Lionel and their selfishness. They were takers and Kate's mom was a giver, and she was destroyed because of it.
  • This has made Kate herself a little cynical, and she often wonders why she would ever do anything with her life other than take Aunt Maud's money. She doesn't believe she deserves real happiness.
  • Kate asks Merton not to do anything drastic, since she believes there's still an outside chance that they can win Aunt Maud to their cause. Kate, in other words, believes they can have it all—marriage and Aunt Maud's money.
  • They end the meeting with Merton agreeing to go visit Aunt Maud and try to win her over.