Beautiful Kate Croy may have been left penniless by her relatives, but her bold, ambitious nature ensures she will not succumb meekly to a life of poverty. If the financial circumstances of Merton Densher, the man she is passionately in love with, are not sufficient to secure her future, perhaps her cunning will. So when Milly Theale arrives in Europe from America, laden with wealth but also gravely ill, Kate sees an opportunity to exploit her vulnerability and devises a plan that will see her and Merton financially provided for. Her scheming is flawed though, for it fails to take into account the inconstancies of the human heart.
John Bayley's introduction examines the novel in the context of James's other late, great works.