James’s characters are nothing if not willful—and ultimately alone—in their quests. Like figures from ancient Greek drama, they demand everything and give up nothing, enacting Jacques Lacan’s ethical claim that “the only thing of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one’s desire.”[i] In doing so, they seem to call into question, or at least complicate, the Kantian categorical imperative and the ideal of disinterested action, offering a radical ethical alternative. James’s characters enact, I will argue, an ethic of desire.
[i]Lacan, Seminar VII, 319.
VanSlyck, Phyllis E., "Charting an Ethics of Desire in "The Wings of the Dove”" (2005). CUNY Academic Works.