'She found herself, for the first moment, looking at the mysterious portrait through tears. Perhaps it was her tears that made it just then so strange and fair ... the face of a young woman, all splendidly drawn, down to the hands, and splendidly dressed ... And she was dead, dead, dead'
Emerging from the grit and stigma of poverty to a life of fairytale privilege under the wing of her aunt, the beautiful and financially ambitious Kate Croy is already romantically involved with promising journalist Merton Densher when they become acquainted with Milly Theale, a New York socialite of immense wealth. Learning of Milly's mortal illness and passionate attraction to Densher, Kate sets the scene for a romantic betrayal intended to secure her lasting financial security. As the dying Milly retreats within the carnival splendour of a Venetian palazzo, becoming the frail hub of a predatory circle of fortune-seekers, James unfolds a resonant, brooding tale of doomed passion, betrayal, human resilience and remorse.
Penguin English Library