Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Family

By Henry James

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Family is no straightforward—or laughing—matter in The Wings of The Dove. For starters, Kate Croy has a terrible father, and, as a result, a cynical and self-interested view of the world. Milly Theale, on the other hand, has no family at all, which leaves her vast fortune up for grabs to any man who marries her. Aunt Maud and Susan Stringham are both widows, which causes both of them to invest all their happiness in controlling the young people in their lives. Throughout this book, people always seem to be compensating for the ideal family they lack. The problem is that, while they're compensating, these characters are usually busy meddling in other people's affairs.

Questions About Family

  1. What do you make of the opening scene in the novel between Kate Croy and her father? What's their backstory and how does it set up Kate as a character for the rest of this book?
  2. How does the narrator explain the connection between Susan's being a childless widow and the interest she takes in Milly? Is it a healthy connection?
  3. What are the conditions that Aunt Maud gives Kate for giving her (Kate) money? Do you think they're fair conditions? Why or why not?
  4. What kind of family figure does Sir Luke Strett become in Milly's life? Why is the famous doctor so important to her?

Chew on This

In The Wings of the Dove, Henry James shows us that family is created by bonds of love, not bonds of blood.

In The Wings of the Dove, we find that difficult family situations can leave emotional scars that never heal and hinder us from being the people we want to be.

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