Everything and Nothing: Disembodiment in The Wings of the Dove
Henry James writes in his Preface that in Milly Theale "[o]ne would see her then as possessed of ail things, ail but the single most precious assurance." Her disease, and her will to live in spite of it, spur the plot of the nove!, despite the disease being unnamed and her demise undescribed. Her disembodied dying is about as far from a Dickensian deathbed scene as can be imagined, just as James's compressed style departs from Victorian realism to suggest early modemism. Besides the Jack of a corpse, the nove! shows the sty listic effects of its not being prepared for publication in serial form: James has the artistic freedom to play up ambiguity, and his characters speak so obliquely that their interlocutors, not to mention the reader, can barely follow. One part of speech they use most often in dialogue is the indefinite pronoun, particularly "everything" and "nothing," words that seem key to the absent bodies in the text. The "everything" in question can mean wealth or physical health: characters without them face being reduced to "nothing." Milly's wealth without health means her greatest value to her sui tors is in death, while Kate Croy' s health without wealth means her greatest value is in her sexuality, and as a result she must in a sense prostitute herself to her own fiancé. Their transaction is transformative: from then on, she agrees to go without Merton Densher's letters and telegraphs, formerly disembodied but tangible proof of his love, which had circulated between them during his trip to America. Absence, particularly in death, gains a moral superiority to presence, so the embodied Kate must bum the last physical trace of Milly in her letter and resign herself to the impossibility of incamating goodness.
Keywords : correspondence, disembodiment, doubles, modemism, morality, narrative, sexuality, symbolism.
Published : 2020
Kendra Drischler Attnäs, « Everything and Nothing: Disembodiment in The Wings of the Dove », Cycnos, 2020. URL : https://hal.science/hal-04146666