Study Guide

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

By Henry James

Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 2

  • Merton goes to Aunt Maud's house and finds himself waiting in her sitting room for more than fifteen minutes. He speculates that this is definitely a tactic on Maud's part to make him squirm like a worm. The longer she keeps him waiting, the more he begins to resent her.
  • Once their meeting begins, Merton is taken off-guard by how normal and welcoming Aunt Maud acts. She strikes him as someone who has a lot of verbal weapons but chooses not to use them. In fact, Merton gets the impression that Maud likes him quite a bit.
  • In their meeting, Aunt Maud informs him that she plans on marrying Kate to a great person, someone either rich or of a very high class, like a duke. She says it's nothing personal, but she has huge ambitions for Kate and won't let him Merton mess them up.
  • Further, Maud tells Merton that she won't ever forbid him from seeing Kate. She is utterly confident that Kate will make the right decision and follow her orders. In other words, Aunt Maud doesn't feel threatened in the least by Merton.
  • On top of this, Merton finds out soon afterward that his newspaper has ordered him to go to the United States for four months to do some work. That's four months away from his beloved Kate.
  • For everything that's happened, though, Merton still wants to make Aunt Maud like him. It's not just for the sake of his relationship with Kate, but because he likes and respects Aunt Maud.
  • The problem is that Aunt Maud can detect something not totally "English" about Merton. This is because his parents were travellers and he spent most of his young life moving around Europe and being educated in a German university. Merton knows that his non-English upbringing has made him less worthy in Aunt Maud's eyes.
  • When Merton later talks to Kate about his upcoming departure for The States, Kate comes out of nowhere and tells him that she engages herself to him forever. Or in other words, she just committed to being his fiancĂ©. The two of them end the chapter by pledging to write letters to one another while Merton is away.