Ever since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few months ago, Daisy Miller by Henry James has been on my reading list. I’ve stopped by the library a couple of times in hopes of borrowing Daisy Miller, but it’s a popular book and hasn’t been there. I grabbed James’ Washington Square the first time, and found it to be a good read – nothing too extraordinary, but good. The second time, I borrowed James’ The Wings of the Dove. I knew it had been made into a movie, so I figured it must be good. Well…I found this book to be unreadable. After struggling to read about forty extremely convoluted pages, I had a muddled idea of what James was trying to describe, at best. To decide if I should persevere with this rambling, confusing book, I read some reviews on amazon.com, and found others who seemed to have similar feelings about The Wings of the Dove.
From Amazon reviewer JAD:
In this work dating from 1902, Henry James writes favoring obscurity over clarity, circuitousness instead of directness and vagueness rather than subtlety. When the reader struggles valiantly onward, it is much as if one were to attempt to hack one’s way through the trackless Amazonian rain forest using only tweezers and butter knife, all the while, wondering whether is it worth so much to learn so little. It is a question each reader must answer for herself or himself…..Kudos to all valiant readers who persist to the end.
From Amazon reviewer J. Breithaupt:
It’s astonishing to me that this thinly plotted, atrociously incomprehensible tangle of verbiage ever gained a reputation for being a ‘great work.’ Sadly, this was my first reading of James, and I’m powerfully dissuaded from wading any further into his inky depths. What a craven mess…..Meanwhile, for those interested in a far superior example of American fiction in the immediate post-Victorian era, try Edith Wharton’s brilliant and deeply moving “The House of Mirth,” which appeared just three years after “Wings…” With the former, you’ll occasionally re-read its sentences because you’ll want another taste of their construction and underlying wisdom, not – as with the latter book – because you are trying to decipher their unintentionally elusive sense.
This book is only the second in my life that I have given up on (the first being A Tale of Two Cities), and absolutely deserves the literary smackdown those reviewers gave it. I’m going to rent the movie and move on.