Emotional F—wittage

by Maria on July 11, 2003

The more things change, the more they stay the same. On the metro this morning I got to the passage in The Wings of the Dove where James beautifully describes why Kate Croy, “a young person who wasn’t really young, who didn’t pretend to be a sheltered flower” readily allows Merton Densher to call on her;

“…she was just the contemporary London female, highly modern, inevitably battered, honourably free.”

I revere James’ two great heroines, Kate Croy and Isabel Archer, and wish I was like them; admirably cool without being coy, analytical but not truly manipulative, reserved and self-reliant yet possessing great depths of passion. But I’m afraid Bridget Jones is a much more accurate self-reflection; gossipy, hapless and profoundly trivial! And BJ II (the Edge of Reason) follows my favourite Jane Austen, Persuasion, which shows that even spinsters pushing thirty can sometimes be nudged off the shelf…



David 07.11.03 at 5:22 pm

But Archer blew it. She picked the wrong man for
the wrong reasons. Wasn’t James condemning her for her foolishness? She had three other suitors but went for Mr. Mysterious-and-Vaguely-Dark. He turns out to be a cad and a brute. That seems to indicate a rather significant failure upon her part, no?


Maria 07.11.03 at 5:37 pm

I definitely agree that Isabel blew it. (Me, I’d have gone for beautiful but doomed Ralph Touchett.) But I also think James is pretty emphatic that he’s not punishing her. She picks Osmond because she thinks his cultural discernment denotes high-mindedness, she wishes to do something noble with her wealth, and out of a maternal feeling for Pansy. Of course she is thwarted on all counts; he is nothing more than a mean-minded snob who commits the crassest offence of marrying her for cash, and blocks her from being a parent to his daughter. But her mistake is based on the purest and most generous of motives, and James is careful to illustrate how she sticks to these principles through thick and thin. So, rather than punishing her, I think he simply worships her.

I’d love to see the film of it with Nicole Kidman – she’s the only actress I can imagine doing justice to the part.


David 07.13.03 at 1:26 am

The point you wish to make is rather problematic for you give with the left hand and take with the right. If Isabel should have chosen another (of course not Caspar!) then her refusal of that suitor and her choice of the cad is blameworthy. If James worshipped her then we would need to see a bit more affirmation in the novel of her choice and her character. She had two decent offers (Lord what’s-his-face and Ralph T). She rejected both and went with the brute. Is that not an acknowledgement from James that his character–with her head too far into the clouds–chose poorly and must now live with that choice? The end of the book isn’t a crucifixion and a resurrection but an acknowledgement of failure. She doesn’t remain with her husband but leaves him. Since worshippers are predisposed to perceiving the best in the objects of their worship, this cannot be applied to James’s treatment of Izzy. She’s made a mistake, we are meant to see this mistake, and she is forced to live with this very serious mistake. How is this worship?


Katie 07.13.03 at 5:29 am

I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t finished the Wings of the Dove and haven’t read it before, but I don’t know if I’d agree that Kate isn’t manipulative. She and Merton come up with a pretty nasty scheme, IMO.

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