Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Marriage

By Henry James

Marriage

Everyone wants to get hitched in The Wings of The Dove. Merton wants to marry Kate, Aunt Maud wants Kate to marry Lord Mark, and Milly wants to marry Merton. The only reciprocal relationship is Merton's and Kate's, which means that it's the one we're rooting for. As the plot unfolds, though, we learn that Merton marrying Milly might (ironically) be his only chance to marry Kate, since Milly will soon die and leave whoever her husband is a vast fortune. Merton, as you can imagine, takes the marriage oath very seriously, but his fianceé Kate is more than willing for him to fake it 'til she makes financial gain. We can understand a lot about the inner workings of characters' minds based on their attitudes towards marriage.

Questions About Marriage

  1. In your opinion, should Merton just man up and marry Milly to get her money? Why or why not?
  2. Why is Kate so willing to let her fiancé marry another woman? What in the book helps explain her cynical and selfish approach to marriage?
  3. If Merton and Kate did get married, do you think it would work out? Why or why not? Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.

Chew on This

At the end of The Wings of the Dove, the reader is left thinking that marriage is all about happiness, and that Merton should have married Milly in order to give Milly, Merton and Kate maximum happiness.

Merton is right to resist Kate's plan of him marrying Milly. Marriage isn't about anything practical or cynical. It's a symbolic form of love that shouldn't be messed with.

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