The Abyss and The Wings of the Dove: the Image as a Revelation (1956)
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One of the early presentations of television’s ‘Studio One’ was the touching story of a dying heiress who is tricked by a villainous English beauty and her reluctant fiancé. The girl’s delicate hold on life is shattered by the realization of the plot against her, and she dies, but in dying wins her man after all. Now this was a dramatization of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, and as such could be dismissed as a bald simplification of the plot of a very complex novel, except that this outline of the plot is the one accepted even by sympathetic James critics. With such an outline of the action, it is no wonder that Matthiessen himself questioned whether ‘a character like Milly’s is of sufficient emotional force to carry a great work’ and concluded that ‘her passive suffering is fitting for the deuteragonist rather than for the protagonist of a major tragedy’.1
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