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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 215

so here Milly Theale magnificently rises to meet death. The book is the drama of her “inspired resistance.” Without gross or overt agonies, she struggles to experience “as many of the finer vibrations as possible, and so achieve, however briefly and brokenly, the sense of having lived.” James made her a New Yorker, the last of her family, rich and free, as the best way he could imagine to endow her with all the ages, and he took her of course to Europe to inherit her domain. There her battle and collapse, since she moves through her fate like a reigning princess, draw a whole circle with and after her; and in the end her tragedy shakes them all. The particular blackness against which she is exhibited is the scheme of Kate Croy and her lover Merton Densher to make Milly believe he is in love with her in order that before her death she may leave him her fortune. Yet so radiant is the whiteness of Milly’s character that, though the plot superficially succeeds, the plotters are separated by disgust at their own shame. Every dexterity was required in such a story to keep Milly from seeming a prig or at best a tedious saint. James avoids this fatal defect by revealing her not so much in her words and deeds as in the effect she has on those who devotedly or selfishly surround her. She stands, as it were, in the beauty from every angle and which themselves report her quest of a crowded existence during her numbered days. As she slowly fades under her malady the mirrors have an increasing task, until at last she is no longer visible except in them, where eventually her image lingers even after her death. Such puissance as hers does not lapse with bodily extinction,



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