Places: The Wings of the Dove

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1902

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: c. 1900

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedLancaster Gate

Lancaster Wings of the Dove, TheGate. Large London estate belonging to Mrs. Maud Lowder that symbolizes the vulgarity of wealth with power but without taste. Merton Densher describes the estate as immense but ostentatiously vulgar and, because Mrs. Lowder controls Kate’s prospects for the future, a place much like a prison. The vulgarity of Lancaster Gate symbolizes the vulgarity of the position of Mrs. Lowder’s niece, Kate Croy, as her ward. Kate must marry for money and position in order to inherit her aunt’s fortune and fulfill her obligations to her impoverished family.


Matcham. Estate in England belonging to Lord Mark, one of Milly Theale’s suitors. Clearly historic, the house is adorned with armor and tapestries. In contrast to the vulgar Lancaster Gate, Matcham is elegant, tasteful, and unostentatious, but its seamless elegance begins the seduction of Milly, whose innocent American eyes see it as if it were a highly idealized and romantic painting by the early eighteenth century painter Antoine Watteau. The estate symbolizes Milly’s naïve perceptions of Great Britain and Europe.


*Venice. Famous northeastern Italian city made up, in large part, of islands and canals. To James’s contemporary readers, Italy was an exotic land of sumptuous palaces, handsome noblemen, and a mysterious religion–Roman Catholicism–and Venice was an essential stop on the Grand Tour of Europe–the capstone of a young person’s education. Sunny Italy was also a land where one might recover one’s health, and where one might be seduced into letting one’s passions have their way.

Far from the stifling formality of London society and the watchful eyes of Mrs. Lowder, Venice provides the atmosphere in which Merton Densher can seduce the naïve Milly, and in which Milly, trying to live life to the fullest while she knows she is dying, willingly gives in to her feelings for Densher. One of the most mysterious of Europe’s cities, Henry James’s Venice symbolizes the European decadence and corruption that test–and often destroy–his innocent heroines.

Palazzo Leporelli

Palazzo Leporelli. Elegant old island mansion rented by the wealthy Milly during her stay in Venice. Modeled on the real Palazzo Barbaro, which was owned by friends of Henry James, the Palazzo Leporelli should be Milly’s refuge, but instead it symbolizes her besieged state. “Leporelli” suggests “lepers,” whom society has traditionally shunned; however, Milly is pursued by Densher and Lord Mark precisely because she is physically ill. The “friends” who surround her are really her enemies, just as her rented house is surrounded by the sea.


*Alps. Europe’s most famous range, the playground of the wealthy and, like Venice, an essential stop on the Grand Tour. Here Milly’s American friend Susan Stringham secretly follows her to the rim of a deep abyss and spies her seated at its very edge. The abyss, which symbolizes death and the despair of the terminally ill Milly, is described in terms that ironically echo Satan’s temptation of Christ: The world and its kingdoms are spread before Milly, but the temptation she must resist is suicide. Jesus turned his back on the world, knowing he would soon die, but Milly, who also knows she will soon die, instead embraces the world fully.

*Regent’s Park

*Regent’s Park. Large public park in London, into which Milly wanders by accident after meeting with her doctor, Sir Luke Strett. The park symbolizes real life because Milly has only seen it before from a distance while riding in her carriage. Now she sees the park as it really is, with its poorly kept grass, its dirty sheep, its loafers playing games, and its tired, anxious people. Here Milly decides to live to the fullest the short life she has remaining.

BibliographyCargill, Oscar. The Novels of Henry James. New York: Macmillan, 1961. In a substantial chapter on The Wings of the Dove, the author analyzes the novel’s plot, central characters, and main themes. Also reviews and critiques previous scholarship.Fowler, Virginia. “The Later Fiction.” In A Companion to Henry James Studies, edited by Daniel Mark Fogel. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Discusses the structure, international theme, possible redemption motif, and psychodynamics of the main characters in The Wings of the Dove. Emphasizes the constraints placed by society on the female characters, especially Kate Croy and Milly Theale, and analyzes Merton Densher’s threatened masculinity.Gale, Robert L. A Henry James Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989. Contains a critical summary of the plot of The Wings of the Dove and descriptive identifications of its twenty-five characters. Discusses James’s preface to the novel and entries in James’s Notebooks that are relevant to the novel.Tintner, Adeline R. The Museum World of Henry James. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986. Shows how art objects, especially paintings (mostly from the Italian Renaissance) but also architectural details, costumes, and furniture, provide James with sources and analogues for his fiction, notably including The Wings of the Dove.Wagenknecht, Edward. The Novels of Henry James. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Includes a conservative discussion of The Wings of the Dove that touches on composition and publication data, the inspiration that led to the work, an analysis of the plot (referring also to the two-part structure and stressing the closure), and an evaluation of the central characters.
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