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Paperback Washington Square Book

ISBN: 0375761225

ISBN13: 9780375761225

Washington Square

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Book Overview

Washington Square follows the coming-of-age of its plain-faced, kindhearted heroine, Catherine Sloper. Much to her father's vexation, a handsome opportunist named Morris Townsend woos the long-suffering heiress, intent on claiming her fortune. When Catherine stubbornly refuses to call off her engagement, Dr. Sloper forces Catherine to choose between her inheritance and the only man she will ever truly love. Cynthia Ozick, in her Introduction to what...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Early James At His Best

Though James rejected this tale for inclusion in the New York Edition of his works, presumably because it was too simple and straightforward, many readers have not shared his judgment, insisting instead the work has great merit. Its theme is an intriguing one that raises the following question: Is it better to be clever or good? Even here, for James, the answer is not all that simple, his conclusion being it's probably best to be some subtle combination of both. Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend, the central male figures, are clever men, but each is deficient in his own way. The caustically witty Doctor wants to be just, but his pride in being right about Morris as a fortune hunter ultimately overrides his fatherly concerns. For this reason, he becomes a sort of Hawthorne-like villain, a scientific, detached, almost gleeful observer of his own daughter's plight, rather than a suitably caring parent. He suffers, finally, not from an excess of cleverness, but from a defect of generous felt emotion. Morris, too, is a definitely clever character, but at the same time he's the spoiled creation of enabling women, a boy-man who's more a self-interested player at life than a vital participant in it, an early version of the fatherless "It's all about me" youth of later modern fiction. The heroine Catherine is a sorely beset young woman, pulled this way and that, now by her right-at-all-costs father, then by her fortune hunting suitor. She is a good, dutiful daughter throughout, though the novel details her growth in intelligent personhood. She finally gains the independence needed to tell her manipulative father where his parental rights end and her own moral self begins. Similarly, once her education in life is complete, she is able to avoid a final romantic capitulation, telling the shameless Morris in the novel's last scene what her mature self now requires he hear from her. Naturally, he's too self-involved to accurately understand her real character. This short novel, finally, is rich in witty literary parody. It's closing chapters read like an inverted "Odyssey," with the patiently waiting Catherine weaving embroidery in Penelope-like fashion, until the surprise return of the long wandering Morris. All in all, despite the masterly author's doubts, this is a work of considerable distinction.

Bartleby the Spinster

Washington Square is a searing portrait of selfishness, cruelty and manipulation that brings a radically new psychological depth to the traditional 19th century novel of manners. In Dr. Sloper James created one of his most insidious characters; a clever, genial man of the world who would rather sees his principles confirmed than his daughter happy. Catherine, the plain victim of a suave fortune-seeking fiancé, has to rank with Melville's Bartleby as a model of passive resistance. As she awakens to her father's flaws, Catherine shows the plodding strength of innocence in the face of his high-handed manipulation. The self-absorbed spinster aunt Lavinia completes the picture, using her niece's courtship as a way to work out her own thwarted romantic desires. Everyone is using everyone for something else, in typical Jamesian fashion, but doing it with style--even in this early work, James had an uncanny feeling for the crude drives that veiled themselves behind good manners and the conventions of respectable society. A great read that has to rank as one of James's darkest and most insightful novels.

One of James' most accessible works

I love the writing of Henry James, but it can be dense and difficult to navigate. I recommend Washington Square as a good introduction to his work. The book is quite short, and the writing is fairly straight forward, but still complex and beautiful. The story is a classic and has been retold in several movies, including the brilliant "The Heiress." The theme of a person with inner beauty, but who is physically unappealing and awkward being unappreciated by his/her parents and society is certainly relevant, and the novel's herione remains contemporary. If you like this novel, then move on and sample some of James' more difficult work.

"Everyone likes Washington Square."

"Everyone likes Washington Square. Even the denigerators of Henry James." This short novel combines the deeply insightful character analysis almost exclusive to Henry James, without all of his often difficult and tiresome prose style. The plot seems simple enough: Catherine, our strikingly three-dimensional protagonist, is faced with a difficult decision. Should she follow the advice of her sentimental aunt and marry Morris, the poor, jobless, seemingly benevolent lover? Or should she listen to her cold, intellectual father, to whom she is completely devoted, and examine Morris' admittedly questionable motives for wanting to marry Catherine, an heiress? James' depth of analysis of his characters psychology is unparalleled throughout American literature, and this too-often forgotten classic should appeal to most of us. "Washington Square" is one of James' earlier works, but it does not lack the brilliant psychological observations and social critique of his later novels. However, for those who find his sometimes laborious and complex prose style a bit tiring, "Washington Square" is a breath of fresh air. I recomend this book to anyone who enjoys American literature.

A Master Craftsman at an Early Peak of his Art

Henry James's novel looks almost alarmingly simple: A young woman must choose between the love of a father and the love of a young man. Surely, the notion is too slender to sustain a whole book. How can he pull it off? Yet James manages a number of surprises. The simplicity is a ruse. Chief among the surprises is the character of Catherine Sloper, James's protagonist. James immediately tells us she is stupid. How dare he? Who wants to read about such a creature? Perhaps because readers naturally empathize with the defenseless, our sympathies sweep to her; no one should deserve the opprobrium of this narrator. And we are not wrong. Catherine is simple, but she is gifted with dignity, honesty, and the ability to endure. Her position is morally superior, even if her father is correct; her paramour is a bounty hunter, and nothing more. Yet that is among the other surprises in store, since James uses his omniscient narrator selectively, keeping Townsend's heart obscured for nearly 3/4ths of the book. The story still fascinates us, because it is essentially about money. Gaining wealth and status we have not earned is an American obsession. Perhaps it is the American dream. And while eschewing it will not make us happy--there is no happiness in Washington Square, only the kind of humor that would be cruel if it were not so funny--it will finally allow us to maintain our dignity "for life, as it were."
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