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^ The Great Empty Cup of Attention: The Doctor and the Illness in The Wings of the Dove* Rita Charon Milly Theale in Henry James's The Wings of the Dove is a young American orphaned millionairess who travels to Europe, believes that she is terminally ill, forms personal relationships with members of an uppercrust drde in London, falls in love with one of them, and dies after learning that her lover has deceived her. She turns her face to the wall. Milly travels with her companion Susan Shepherd Stringham. She meets Kate Croy, a handsome poor young Englishwoman who is sponsored by her wealthy and influential aunt, Maud Lowder, and saved from her poverty as long as she follows Aunt Maud's bidding. Kate loves Merton Densher, an accomplished journalist with no fortune whom Aunt Maud refuses to entertain as a suitor for her niece. Milly visits Sir Luke Strett, a medical light of London, and then tells of her illness. Kate hatches a plot by which she and Densher can marry with means. She asks Densher to pretend love for Milly, to marry Milly, to gain MiIIy7S fortune upon her impending death, and then to marry Kate with Milly's fortune. Milly, who has fallen in love with Densher, dies in her palazzo in Venice when she learns of this scheme. Densher, however, has fallen in love with Milly. Milly leaves Densher a stunning amount of money. He refuses to accept it. What is wrong with Milly Theale? In order to answer that question, many other questions must be recognized. Who says she is sick? What kind of dodor does she visit? What constitutes health in this novel? Who, * The research for this paper was supported by a May Rudin Fellowship in Sodal Medidne awarded through the Center for the Study of Sodety and Medidne, Columbia University, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Faculty Scholar Program in General Internai Medicine. Literature and Medicine 9 (1990) 105-24 © 1990 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 106 THE GREAT EMPTY CUP OF ATTENTION in fact, is well? James tells us straight out in his preface to Wings that there are many cases to be diagnosed: "One had seen that her stricken state was but half her case, the correlative half being the state of others as affected by her (they too should have a 'case/ bless them, quite as much as she!). . . Z'1 This paper reviews the process of diagnosis in the novel and suggests that the patient rather than the physidan names the ailment and diooses the treatment. James's fiction making is read as an assodative and projective search for a personal narrative truth. He chooses the vehides of illness, diagnosis, and healing. A Diagnostic Novel James puts the physidan up front in his notes for Wings. His notebook entry of 3 November 1894 describes an idea for a story about a woman who, "at 20, on the threshold of a life that has seemed boundless, is suddenly condemned to death (by consumption, heart-disease, or whatever ) by the voice of the physidan."2 The sentence pronounced is not as important, in his first lines about Milly Theale, as is the judge. To ask, then, "What was wrong with Milly Theale?" begs the accompanying question , "And who said so?" By positioning the illness or, more accurately, the condemnation to death of the major character as the central element of plot, James sets his readers on a diagnostic course. He begins by conceptualizing the physidan as the one who condemns the heroine to death.3 Over the course of the novel, the physidan's role is radically transformed and becomes crudal to the unfolding of events and the meaning they take. To understand the relationship between Sir Luke and Milly is perhaps to understand the heart of the story. Review of Published Critidsm The traditional critidsm of Wings addresses several themes. In this novel as in many, James dramatizes England's moral decay and America's inability to protect itself from the downward drag of Europe's values on its own freshness and courage. This American/English conflict can be universalized in James's hands to stand for...


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