Mildred (Milly) Theale
Mildred (Milly) Theale, “the dove” who goes to Europe to learn to live and to die there of an incurable disease. A handsome young woman of great means, inherited through the deaths of her entire family of six, this New Yorker with her Bostonian writer friend and a companion her own age tries to extend her experiences so as to encompass a lifetime in a few short months. Although Milly seems never to suffer, she is the first to know that her sickness will be fatal, and she needs only the strength and subtlety of an eminent physician to confirm this fact. Her fine manners and sensitivity to others’ needs make her a delightful companion to all, even when the truth of her condition would otherwise make others pity her. Bright, vivacious, and charming in all ways, she finally wins a heart and ironically loses both hers and his to the tragic situation. Her generosity in remembering her two closest friends (whom she forgives for plotting a scheme of marriage) is unacceptable finally. The wings meant for sheltering then become symbols of religious purity.
Kate Croy, the young woman who befriends Milly Theale in England and seeks through her a solution to her own problems. A victim of her father’s bad reputation and her uncompromising aunt’s machinations, Kate is a beautiful, stylish, and acute observer of the society in which her aunt, Mrs. Lowder, has placed her. Her hopeless love for a young newspaper reporter only makes her decisions more poignant, for she decides he must marry the rich and doomed Milly for their own marriage finally to be realized. Sparkling and perceptive as she is, Kate fails to live the lie so calmly planned and must live out...
(The entire section is 707 words.)