Washington Square (Modern Library Series) [NOOK Book]

Overview

'Washington Square is perhaps the only novel in which a man has successfully invaded the feminine field and produced work comparable to Jane Austen's,' said Graham Greene.

Inspired by a story Henry James heard at a dinner party, Washington Square tells how the rakish but idle Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her ...
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Washington Square (Modern Library Series)

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Overview

'Washington Square is perhaps the only novel in which a man has successfully invaded the feminine field and produced work comparable to Jane Austen's,' said Graham Greene.

Inspired by a story Henry James heard at a dinner party, Washington Square tells how the rakish but idle Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her father. Precise and understated, the book endures as a matchless social study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.

'Washington Square has long been beloved by almost all readers,' noted Louis Auchincloss. 'The chief beauty of the novel lies in its expression--by background, characterization, and dialogue--of its mild heroine's mood of long-suffering patience. Everything is ordered, polite, still: the charming old square in the pre-brownstone city, the small, innocent, decorous social gatherings, the formal good manners, the quaint reasonableness of the dialogues. . . . James was the poet of cities: New York in Washington Square.' Clifton Fadiman agreed: 'It has extraordinary charm, deriving from an almost Mozartian combination of sweetness and depth.'
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The classics have become hot film properties, and the forthcoming feature film version of this book should bring readers into the library looking for the original.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679641575
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Series: Modern Library Series
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,335,704
  • File size: 436 KB

Meet the Author

Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a whimsical, utterly charming, maddeningly openminded parent--a Swedenborgian philosopher of considerable wealth who believed in a universal but wholly unformed society. He gave both Henry and his elder son, William, an infant baptism by taking them to Europe before they could even speak. In fact, Henry James later claimed that his first memory, dating from the age of two, was a glimpse of the column of the Place Vendome framed by the window of the carriage in which he was riding. His peripatetic childhood took him to experimental schools in Geneva, Paris, and London. Even back in the United States he was shuffled from New York City to Albany to Newport to Boston and finally to Cambridge, where in 1862 he briefly attended Harvard Law School. 'An obscure hurt,' probably to his back, exempted him from service in the Civil War, and James felt he had failed as a man when it counted most to be one and he vowed never to marry.

In search of a possible occupation, the young James turned to literature; within five years it had become his profession. His earliest story appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1865, when he was twenty-two. From the start of his career James supported himself as a writer, and over the next ten years he produced book reviews, drama and art criticism, newspaper columns, travel pieces and travel books, short stories, novelettes, a biography, and his first novel--Roderick Hudson (1876). Late in 1875, following two recent trips to Europe, James settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where he produced The Europeans (1878). Soon afterward he achieved fame on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of Daisy Miller (1879), the book that forever identified him with the 'international theme' of the effect of Americans and Europeans on each other.

Yet Henry James aspired to more than the success of Daisy Miller. Determined to scale new literary heights, James abandoned the intense social life of his earlier years and, with Balzac as his role model, devoted himself all out to the craft of fiction. Although The Portrait of a Lady (1881) was critically acclaimed and sold well, the other novels of James's 'Balzac' period--Washington Square (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), and The Tragic Muse (1890)--were not popular with the public. As a result, he decided to redirect his efforts and began writing for the stage. In 1895, the disastrous opening night of his play Guy Domville--when James came onstage only to be hissed and booed by the London audience--forever ended his career as a playwright.

Rededicating himself to fiction, he wrote The Spoils of
Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and The Awkward Age (1899). Then, as he approached and passed the age of sixty James's three greatest novels appeared in rapid succession: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). He spent most of his remaining years at Lamb House, his ivy-covered home in Rye, writing his memoirs and revising his novels for the twenty-four-volume New York Edition of his lifework. When World War I broke out, he was eager to serve his adopted country and threw himself into the civilian war effort. In 1915, after four decades of living in England, James became a British subject, and King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him in January 1916. Henry James died in London on February 28, 1916, and his ashes were buried in the James family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Commenting on the enormous contemporary interest in James, novelist Louis Auchincloss said: 'How he would have loved his posthumous fame! One can imagine Emily Bronte and Herman Melville shrugging shoulders, faintly scornful, but James would have bristled with pride at every mention of his name. . . . It is pleasant to think that in the end he had at least a whiff of it and that the silent, grave, bearded young man should have evolved into the portly figure of the rolling, resolute gait, simple in emotion but quick and spontaneous in affection, leaving among his recording disciples a deep impression of majesty, beauty and greatness.'

Biography

Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines. In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907). During his career, he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 15, 1843
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      February 28, 1916
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practiced in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in America has constantly been held in honor, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of 'liberal.' In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognized sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science--a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.

It was an element in Doctor Sloper's reputation that his learning and his skill were very evenly balanced; he was what you might call a scholarly doctor, and yet there was nothing abstract in his remedies--he always ordered you to take something. Though he was felt to be extremely thorough, he was not uncomfortably theoretic; and if he sometimes explained matters rather more minutely than might seem of use to the patient, he never went so far (like some practitioners one had heard of) as to trust to the explanation alone, but always left behind him an inscrutable prescription. There were some doctors that left the prescription without offering any explanation at all; and he did not belong to that class either, which was after all the most vulgar. It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Doctor Sloper had become a local celebrity.

At the time at which we are chiefly concerned with him he was some fifty years of age, and his popularity was at its height. He was very witty, and he passed in the best society of New York for a man of the world--which, indeed, he was, in a very sufficient degree. I hasten to add, to anticipate possible misconception, that he was not the least of a charlatan. He was a thoroughly honest man--honest in a degree of which he had perhaps lacked the opportunity to give the complete measure; and, putting aside the great good nature of the circle in which he practiced, which was rather fond of boasting that it possessed the 'brightest' doctor in the country, he daily justified his claim to the talents attributed to him by the popular voice. He was an observer, even a philosopher, and to be bright was so natural to him, and (as the popular voice said) came so easily, that he never aimed at mere effect, and had none of the little tricks and pretensions of second-rate reputations. It must be confessed that fortune had favored him, and that he had found the path to prosperity very soft to his tread. He had married, at the age of twenty-seven, for love, a very charming girl, Miss Catherine Harrington, of New York, who, in addition to her charms, had brought him a solid dowry. Mrs. Sloper was amiable, graceful, accomplished, elegant, and in 1820 she had been one of the pretty girls of the small but promising capital which clustered about the Battery and overlooked the Bay, and of which the uppermost boundary was indicated by the grassy waysides of Canal Street. Even at the age of twenty-seven Austin Sloper had made his mark sufficiently to mitigate the anomaly of his having been chosen among a dozen suitors by a young woman of high fashion, who had ten thousand dollars of income and the most charming eyes in the island of Manhattan. These eyes, and some of their accompaniments, were for about five years a source of extreme satisfaction to the young physician, who was both a devoted and a very happy husband.

The fact of his having married a rich woman made no difference in the line he had traced for himself, and he cultivated his profession with as definite a purpose as if he still had no other resources than his fraction of the modest patrimony which, on his father's death, he had shared with his brothers and sisters. This purpose had not been preponderantly to make money--it had been rather to learn something and to do something. To learn something interesting, and to do something useful--this was, roughly speaking, the program he had sketched, and of which the accident of his wife having an income appeared to him in no degree to modify the validity. He was fond of his practice, and of exercising a skill of which he was agreeably conscious, and it was so patent a truth that if he were not a doctor there was nothing else he could be, that a doctor he persisted in being, in the best possible conditions. Of course his easy domestic situation saved him a good deal of drudgery, and his wife's affiliation to the 'best people' brought him a good many of those patients whose symptoms are, if not more interesting in themselves than those of the lower orders, at least more consistently displayed. He desired experience, and in the course of twenty years he got a great deal. It must be added that it came to him in some forms which, whatever might have been their intrinsic value, made it the reverse of welcome. His first child, a little boy of extraordinary promise, as the doctor, who was not addicted to easy enthusiasm, firmly believed, died at three years of age, in spite of everything that the mother's tenderness and the father's science could invent to save him. Two years later Mrs. Sloper gave birth to a second infant--an infant of a sex which rendered the poor child, to the doctor's sense, an inadequate substitute for his lamented firstborn, of which he had promised himself to make an admirable man. The little girl was a disappointment; but this was not the worst. A week after her birth the young mother, who, as the phrase is, had been doing well, suddenly betrayed alarming symptoms, and before another week had elapsed Austin Sloper was a widower.

For a man whose trade was to keep people alive he had certainly done poorly in his own family; and a bright doctor who within three years loses his wife and his little boy should perhaps be prepared to see either his skill or his affection impugned. Our friend, however, escaped criticism; that is, he escaped all criticism but his own, which was much the most competent and most formidable. He walked under the weight of this very private censure for the rest of his days, and bore forever the scars of a castigation to which the strongest hand he knew had treated him on the night that followed his wife's death. The world, which, as I have said, appreciated him, pitied him too much to be ironical; his misfortune made him more interesting, and even helped him to be the fashion. It was observed that even medical families cannot escape the more insidious forms of disease, and that, after all, Doctor Sloper had lost other patients besides the two I have mentioned; which constituted an honorable precedent. His little girl remained to him; and though she was not what he had desired, he proposed to himself to make the best of her. He had on hand a stock of unexpended authority, by which the child, in its early years, profited largely. She had been named, as a matter of course, after her poor mother, and even in her most diminutive babyhood the doctor never called her anything but Catherine. She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need have no fear of losing her. I say 'such as she was,' because, to tell the truth-- But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.
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Reading Group Guide

1. 1. Henry James creates an atypical heroine in the plain-faced, dull-witted Catherine Sloper. Endeavoring to be a dutiful daughter, Catherine bears her predicament with an almost unbelievable passivity. Compare her strategy of obedience and patience with her aunt’s advice to her: “You must act my dear; in your situation, the great thing is to act.” Describe how Catherine both contradicts and coincides with your perception of a literary heroine.

2. 2. Dr. Sloper controls Catherine largely with his ironic tongue and cold sense of humor. Discuss Dr. Sloper’s reason for disliking Morris Townsend and his motive for continually objecting to Catherine’s engagement–are they one and the same, or does Dr. Sloper have another aim in seeing if Catherine “will stick.” Consider his belief that life had “played him a trick” in giving him a plain daughter, and also the language of gaming that he constantly uses when drolly referring to Catherine’s predicament.

3. 3. Examine James’s use of setting as the plot progresses and its effect upon his characters’ behavior. Compare specifically the quaintly upholstered sitting room at Washington Square, the seedy oyster bar, and the dark precipice in the Alps. Why does Dr. Sloper “flare out” in the ungoverned setting and admit that he is “not a very good man”?

4. 4. Cynthia Ozick refers to the theme of impersonation in the novel. Explain how Catherine, Dr. Sloper, Aunt Lavinia, and Morris Townsend figure as imposters. Who in the novel is the opposite: straightforward and real?

5. 5. Aunt Lavinia’s meddling goes from innocent prying to treachery. Describe her attitude toward Morris Townsend and her refusal to admit his shortcomings. Is her love for him romantic, friendly, motherly? Consider whether she could ever have been happy in her own marriage to the reverend.

6. 6. Determine who is the greater villain in the novel: Dr. Sloper or Morris Townsend. Do you think Catherine is better off as a coldly dignified spinster, or could she have found happiness as Morris Townsend’s wife? As Cynthia Ozick asks in her Introduction, “Will a wrong motive always do harm?”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 32 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2000

    A Very Quick, Good Read

    This book was a nice break from all of the 'Oprah's Book Club' garbage that everyone seems to be reading. This book is for people interested in reading serious literature who don't need to have their hand held w/comments from the author @ the end of the book. That being said, this a very quick read and is more accessible than something by Austen, for example. Catherine is a wonderful character; her issues and emotions still have relevance in today's society.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 27, 2010

    Better than most free copies, but still not great.

    This one has many fewer typos, but still has odd spacing in some words and paragraphs, but it is more readable than the other 3 free versions I downloaded.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    This is a great little novel for people who love history. It made me wish I had lived in turn of the century New York. I would also like to say that it illustrates the amount of change that has occurred over the last one hundred years. Was it a good change? I am not so sure.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2000

    Easy to read, a joy

    Its the first james book i have read, and found it most enjoyable, much easier to read than the golden bowl and portrait of a lady, i highly recommmend it!I fell in love with Catherine!!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 24, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Read this classic book many years ago, and saw the Broadway play version twive (called "The Heiress"). But book reads as freshly as if it were just written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    AWFUL COPY

    One of the worst free book copies - This is what the first sentence looks like.

    "Ddbing a portion of the lint half of the present century, and more particularly dnr-I ing the latter part of it, there flourished and >>, practised in the city X I of New York a phy-1 I sician who enjoyed I perhaps..."

    Spend 99 cents.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2002

    Beautiful

    The story is a fast reader. Has a great setting with awesome characters, specially Dr. Sloper. What's best, the ending was unpredictable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2001

    Good Story, But It Drags On

    How stubborn can Catherine be about her lover? How adamant can her father be? How annoying can Catherine's scheming aunt, Mrs. Penniman, get? Its a tense situation, but the reader may lose patience, not to mention interest, in the characters after a while. Its a decent book, nonetheless.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2013

    Teresa

    Then you need to make her jealous, right?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Teresa

    Long time no see, 'seth'.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2013

    Seth

    I guess so.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2010

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    Posted August 15, 2011

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    Posted November 30, 2010

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    Posted January 17, 2010

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    Posted February 5, 2012

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    Posted August 23, 2013

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    Posted September 5, 2010

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