Those of you who have paged through Gordon’s Good Reads know that I have a penchant for playing catch-up with great writers who have escaped my time and attention.
Henry James, the American born novelist ( 1843-1916) whose most prolific years were spent living and writing in England, is a classic example of a novelist for whom anyone who has a love for the form will find his work a Good Read. In making my “classic” Henry James selection I chose The Wings of the Dove (1902) a book credited by many as among the best novels of the 20th Century.
Henry James writes in a unique style. His sentence and paragraph structure is complex and his character development is intricate. The characters are the narrators of the story. The Wings of the Dove is typical of many James novels in that it pits American and British traditions and values against one another. James creates eight central characters that interact in life’s dramas of love, greed, envy and deception. The book travels from America to England and Venice.
Henry James has been described as an “Impressionist” in his ability to create characters and then with the minutest attention to personality cast them in relationships and enviornments that are so complex that they sometimes defy a “Now I understand!” moment. One is constantly required to turn yet another page for answers which often lead to more questions.
The reader of Henry James ought to be prepared to traverse a hundred pages to become accustomed to the rhythm of his prose. However, once you find the tempo the paragraphs become lyrical. You will come to be accustomed to sentence structure where a half-dozen commas and a few added semi-colons are commonplace! The complexity has a magnetic effect that draws the reader to make every word count. No skimming in reading The Wings of the Dove!
James wrote his greatest works during three periods, the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s. The first period culminated with The Portrait of a Lady (1881), which remains his most popular work of fiction. In 1886 James wrote The Bostonians themed around the early feminist movement in America. Following The Wings of the Dove, James wrote The Ambassadors (1903), and then the famous short story The Turn of the Screw, later adapted for the stage.
I have often said in these pages “The best new book is one you have not read.” Henry James, The Wings of the Dove is no easy literary undertaking but I found it to be worth every minute.
Like many writers, James has favorite words which reappear throughout his work. In The Wings of the Dove you will come upon “prodigious,” again and again. It is a fitting description of The Wings of the Dove. “Impressively great in size, force and extent. Marvelous.”