The Art of Hysteria in The Wings of the Dove

Sigi Jöttkandt

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Abstract :
International audience
This article argues that Milly Theale's choice to "tum face to the wall" in The Wings of the Dave must be understood as an ethical decision, one which uses the specific properlies of the aesthetic in order, paradoxically, to sustain life. Milly's central defining question -which is the same one as Sigmund Freud's, "what does Woman want?" -creates an opening in the closed representational world that dominates Kate Croy' s London. But as the plot tightens around Milly, and the question of Kate's desire threatens to become fixed in the single answer of "Merlon Densher", Milly's imitation of the Veronese painting positions her body a site of defence against this knowledge, much in the way the hysteric produces symptoms. Although Milly dies, hers is a willed death rather than a death by "apotheosis". Its success in maintaining the absence of a signifier for feminine desire is judged against what we know about Kate' s future plans following her final interview with Densher.
Published : 2020
Document Type : Journal articles


Sigi Jöttkandt, « The Art of Hysteria in The Wings of the Dove », Cycnos, 2020. URL :