Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Volume 2, Book 8, Chapter 3

By Henry James

Volume 2, Book 8, Chapter 3

  • Merton goes to Milly's rented palace for a visit. It turns out Milly won't be able to make it down for dinner, but will perhaps come down later. Kate and Maud haven't arrived yet, which gives Merton five minutes alone with Susan Stringham.
  • Merton asks if Milly should come down at all if she isn't feeling well. To this, Susan simply answers, "I'm so glad you're here" (2.8.3.3). Yeah, it's getting pretty awk.
  • Susan says that Milly is saving up all of her strength for a party that they're going to throw. By the sounds of things, it might even be a going away party.
  • Susan adds that Sir Luke Strett is arriving in Venice at that very moment, and that Milly is excited for Merton to spend time with him, since he's kind of a symbolic father to her.
  • Susan hopes that Merton will stick around, though it's unclear if she means after dinner, or in Venice in general. Henry James tip # 3,461: everything everyone says can be interpreted at least two ways.
  • Merton says that unfortunately, there is business that will soon bring him back to London. It turns out that you can't just pick up and leave your job for months at a time, unless you do stuff like rent palaces. Who would've thought?
  • Susan says she's given up everything (including her creative writing) to follow Milly, and that she wishes Merton would do the same. Besides, isn't there something he could write about Venice for his newspaper?
  • Merton comes out and says that Milly simply isn't connected to him the way she is to Susan. He risks saying here that he's not in love with Milly, but doesn't seem to care.
  • Merton says he's going to do something for Milly, and Susan answers that he can do "everything" for her, which probably means marrying her.
  • People arrive and the dinner begins. When that's done, Milly comes down and blows away everyone with her loveliness and beauty. Kate walks up to Merton and asks whether he can resist Milly's charms now. He says that he has always admired her. But Kate counters with the criticism that Milly now seems too nice. Ugh, Kate. Stop with the mind games.
  • Merton senses Milly is like a dove (title alert!) spreading her wings over the people in the room, protecting them from something. Maybe she's protecting them from death by being so young and so unafraid.
  • Kate says that the reason Milly looks so good is because Sir Luke is there, and she always wants to look her best for him. The problem is, Kate says, that Milly can't fool him. There's no getting around how close she is to death.
  • While Aunt Maud tries to talk Sir Luke's ear off, Kate notices that Luke is looking directly at Merton. Merton already knows that Sir Luke's been told to speak to him.
  • Finally, finally, finally, Kate says directly to Merton that she wants him to marry Milly so that he can get her money when she dies so he can be rich enough to marry Kate. Yeah, this has been implied for-ever. But this is the first time in this book anyone has said this directly.
  • Merton can't believe Kate can go through with this plan without feeling angry or mad jealous of Merton marrying another woman. She's cynical and practical about it, though, just like her daddy (remember that d-bag?) taught her to be.
  • Kate informs Merton that she and Maud are heading back to London in two days. It's Merton's job to stay in Venice and propose marriage to Milly.
  • In all honesty, Merton isn't sure if Maud will accept him as a son-in-law even if he does get all of Milly's money.
  • Kate also suggests that if Merton stays, Milly might actually propose to him instead of having to do it the other way around. Merton says (again) that he'll only stay on with Milly if Kate comes to "see him" alone in his rented rooms.