The Wings of a Dove

Inciting Event: Kate’s Aunt Maud rejects Merton Densher as a husband for Kate. Kate is love with Densher and engages herself to him “forever.” Their engagement, however, must remain a secret, since Kate will lose the fortune Aunt Maud has promised her if she marries Densher.

The main conflict in this story revolves around the American girl Milly, who doesn’t show up until later, but everything hinges on this scene. This is the final piece in the story’s setup, which will influence the main plot to come.

First Plot Point: Milly arrives in London and meets Kate. The two girls immediately strike up a friendship. Milly understands that Kate likely has a secret relationship with Densher, so she doesn’t tell Kate that she met (and fell in love with) Densher when he was visiting the states.

The narrative shifts away from Kate, almost entirely to Milly. Milly becomes the protagonist. This is her story. She leaves her Normal World in the U.S. and enters the adventure world of the main conflict in London, where her story will be defined by her relationships with Kate and Densher.

First Pinch Point: Milly learns she is dying. The pinch here is obviously primarily on Milly. The stakes are almost entirely upon Milly’s shoulders, although there are ripples through Kate’s life, since she is fond of Milly. Primarily, however, it is this revelation, paired with Densher’s return from America and his reunion with both Kate and Milly—who is in love with him—that moves the plot forward through Kate’s as-yet unrevealed new scheme.

Midpoint: Kate encourages Densher to pay court to Milly. He believes this is primarily a ruse to cover up his relationship with Kate, but he remains uncomfortable with the subtextual implications Kate isn’t talking about. This turns the plot, but the true revelation remains hidden, since Kate’s machinations are still private at this point.

Second Pinch Point: Milly goes to Venice to enjoy the rest of her life, and Kate and Densher follow. Densher feels the pinch still more, as he regrets both playing around with Milly and being ordered about by Kate. His relationship with Kate begins to grow strained.

Third Plot Point: Kate finally reveals outright that she wants Densher to marry Milly—and thus secure Milly’s fortune after her imminent death, so that Kate and Densher can then marry comfortably in defiance of Kate’s aunt. Densher is horrified, but is still in such thrall to Kate that he cannot outright refuse.

Climax: Milly is told—by one of Kate’s disappointed suitors—that Densher is, in fact, secretly engaged to Kate. Broken-hearted, she “turns her face to the wall” and her health grows immeasurably worse. Densher returns home to Kate.

Climactic Moment: After Milly leaves a good part of her fortune to Densher, he and Kate must face the fact that their relationship has been irreparably damaged by their misadventure with Milly.

Resolution: None.

Notes: Henry James absolutely floors me with the perfection of his structural timing. He consistently, from book to book, nails the timing of all the structural moments usually almost down to the exact page. The man was a master.

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