The Matter with Milly Theale: The Logics of Consumption (pp. 217-219)
The issue of Milly Theale's mysterious condition has long engaged readers and critics, setting them on a diagnostic course that The Wings of the Dove consistently frustrates. In the scene under scrutiny, excerpted from Book Sixth, chapter four, Kate Croy and Merton Densher speculate that Milly may be suffering from a case of tuberculosis, or "consumption", white Kate voices for the first time the "abysmal trap" that would allow them to benefit from the American girl's immense fortune. In the course of their rarefied dialogue, however, the word "consumption" does not so much corne to index an observable physical illness, as it serves to designate figuratively a mode of relation between the novel's characters, whereby they ail consume and are consumed by one another. In order to unpack James's figurative logic of consumption, this study begins by exploring the diagnostic thrust that animates the dialogue between Merton and Kate. It then demonstrates how the effort toward diagnostic knowledge is thwarted by Kate's and Milly's strategies of reticence, which turns "consumption" away from the domain of the empirical and toward the realm of the metaphorical. It eventually investigates how Kate's and Merton's professed "pity for the poor girl" obscures, as much as it reveals, fantasies of financial consumption and sexual consummation.
Published : 2020