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Washington Square



This novel was praised for its depiction of the complicated relationship between a father and daughter. Catherine Sloper lives in New York City's fashionable Washington Square district with her aunt and her physician father. As Catherine is courted by Morris Townsend, her father threatens disinheritance.

A widowed father lives a comfortable, socially-respected life with his only daughter in the most fashionable part of town. Each manages to "accept with resignation" certain cooly-rationalized, major life decisions which sustain an enviable socio-economic status while not necessarily providing nurture and/or compassion. They each interact with a relative who lives in their house. She is the father's scatterbrained, penniless, meddling sister who expresses her gratitude for the pair's willingness to take her in by attempting to introduce nurture and compassion to their household. All three interact with a charming, presentable, spendthrift, itinerant fortune-hunter who offers the daughter an opportunity for nurture and compassion outside her ancestral home. The story has always fascinated its readers and the viewers of its multiple motion picture versions because the decisions which the four principal characters must make are similar to those which readers may have had to make in their own lives.--Submitted by Arrow

The world of fathers and daughters is expressed with full measure in this wonderful novel by the great Henry James. Posh, vibrant, modern New York City in the 1800's sets the tone for the setting of an age old tale of "my castle, my rules" father over a daughter who eventually finds her voice and strength to live her life on her own terms, at the cost of her own happiness. As usual, Mr. James tosses the reader back and forth in order for us to comprehend the complexity of love, honesty, and weaknesses amongst family members who hide true feelings and motives from one another, in order to comply with societal arrangements making all miserable in the process. A great tale that takes the reader back more than a hundred years only to find characters and their problems not unlike our very own today.--Submitted by Anonymous

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Recent Forum Posts on Washington Square

A final flaring of the Catherine Wheel

Once more I'm drawn to the last dialogue between a middle-aged Catherine and Townsend who has returned to Washington Square, as Dr Sloper predicted, a decent interval after the doctor's death. Now, terse and masterful, Catherine dismisses the gold-digger in no uncertain terms. But eureka, I now see her terse language as, above all, ironic. Catherine, once eminently straightforward, now speaks only in irony! You would have surprised him if you had told him so; but it is a literal fact that he almost never addressed his daughter save in the ironical form. Whenever he addressed her he gave her pleasure; but she had to cut her pleasure out of the piece, as it were. There were portions left over, light remnants and snippets of irony, which she never knew what to do with, which seemed too delicate for her own use; and yet Catherine, lamenting the limitations of her understanding, felt that they were too valuable to waste and had a belief that if they passed over her head they yet contributed to the general sum of human wisdom. What better testimony to her enduring regret, recovered respect, and enduring love for her late father than to finally adopt his "ironical form"? The same form Austen Sloper used in demolishing Morris Townsend two decades earlier, that afternoon at Washington Square. The ending, the tragedy, comes full circle. It was her habit to remain in town very late in the summer; she preferred the house in Washington Square to any other habitation whatever, and it was under protest that she used to go to the seaside for the month of August. At the sea she spent her month at an hotel. The year that her father died she intermitted this custom altogether, not thinking it consistent with deep mourning; and the year after that she put off her departure till so late that the middle of August found her still in the heated solitude of Washington Square.

“I have broken off my engagement.”

Morris Townsend, the gold-digger exposed, has deserted Catherine for New Orleans. Almost two weeks later, Dr. Sloper slyly questions Catherine on her leaving home to be married. The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “Has he backed out?” “I have broken off my engagement.” A year after first reading the novel, I now realise that Catherine, who is 'much addicted to speaking the truth', does not lie here. Tragically, Dr. Sloper, who perfectly anticipates Townsend and Penniman, yet again misjudges Catherine, unbeknown to her. Two decades later, at the reading of her father's will, Catherine learns this sad truth, while still ignorant of the great injustice she has done in underestimating his paternal love.

The shocking thing

The shocking thing about this story is that it is supposedly based on a real life story which James heard tell. A real life Catherine..........too dreadful to think about.

Morris towsend, a true villain?

I have always asked myself if Mr. Towsend woulld have been a really bad choice for Catherine. He was after her money, that's for sure. But by marrying both would have achieved what they wanted, don't you think?

shortened edition

Have you got any idea if Henry James himself provided a shortened edition of washington square?


Hi everyone, We have just finished reading W.S in class and have been directed to complete an assignment. the assignment asks the writer to "adopt" James' writing style. I have chsen to write a series of diary entries b Morris that will endeavour to reveal his true colours, but I am having trouble writing the entries from the point of view of the character, while still adopting H.J's techniques etc. I would really appreciate some help on how to go about this.

washington square

I'm studying 'Washington Square' for my AS level english, and I have never read such a teadious, slow and pointless book. The characters have no character, and the very simple story line never amounts to anything. I'm trying to revise for my lit exam at the moment, but trying to re-read such a novel is proving difficult. I wish we had studied 'Return of the Native' Verity

Help Me

Can anyone help me with my essay I have to write a essay looking at the language and techniques but am v.confused. My title is 'How are henry james three themes of his novels presented iun Washington square?' Can anyone help me with this or any other ideas Thanks


Henry James describes the unneccesary and the book was dull. I enjoyed the plot of te story.

Washington Square

I find that the comments that this book is boring and tedious is untrue. This book is a masterpiece. Its excellent and entertaining, and in a way, a suspense. It is beautifully written and it still amazes me how the author so subtly changed Catherine into a respectful woman. By the way, i was forced to read this book for literature and i'm 17 yr old.

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