The Wings of the Dove

by Henry James
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What does “the publicity implied by such privacies” mean in paragraph 1, chapter 1 of The Wings of the Dove?

The “publicity implied by such privacies” means that the vulgarity of the public street strongly hints that Kate’s private space is similarly inelegant.

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The “publicity implied by such privacies” has a paradoxical meaning. The statement issued by Henry James ’s omniscient narrator in the first paragraph of the novel appears incompatible. If something is private, it's not public. Likewise, if something is public, it’s not private. However, James’s statement reconciles these two ostensibly...

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The “publicity implied by such privacies” has a paradoxical meaning. The statement issued by Henry James’s omniscient narrator in the first paragraph of the novel appears incompatible. If something is private, it's not public. Likewise, if something is public, it’s not private. However, James’s statement reconciles these two ostensibly opposite states.

The merger of the public and private seems linked to Kate Croy’s surroundings. Think about the context of the line. Prior to its arrival, the narrator was detailing Kate’s living situation. Terms like “shabby,” “sticky,” and “sallow” do not point towards a pleasant domicile for Kate. These words create an image that’s sickly, rundown, and oppressive.

To try to get away from her “vulgar little room,” Kate goes on the balcony. The view provided by the balcony offers “scant relief.” Like the room, the street is categorized as “vulgar.” A street is a public place. Anyone, hypothetically, can walk down a public street. Rooms in which people live aren’t public places. It’s against the law for someone to enter someone’s living space uninvited. A person’s room, unlike a street (Chirk Street, in Kate’s case), is a private realm.

For Kate, the crassness of the street communicates the charmlessness of her room. One needn’t see her private space to deduce that it’s not very lovely. All they have to do is observe her street. The unpleasant display of the public street implies that her private living situation is equally unbecoming.

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