Washington Square

Washington Square

4.1 16
by Henry James, Adrian Poole

View All Available Formats & Editions

One of the most instantly appealing of James's early masterpieces, Washington Square is a tale of a trapped daughter and domineering father, a quiet tragedy of money and love and innocence betrayed. Catherine Sloper, heiress to a fortune, attracts the attention of a good-looking but penniless young man, Morris Townsend, but her father is convinced that…  See more details below


One of the most instantly appealing of James's early masterpieces, Washington Square is a tale of a trapped daughter and domineering father, a quiet tragedy of money and love and innocence betrayed. Catherine Sloper, heiress to a fortune, attracts the attention of a good-looking but penniless young man, Morris Townsend, but her father is convinced that his motives are merely mercenary. He will not consent to the marriage, regardless of the cost to his daughter. Out of this classic confrontation Henry James fashioned one of his most deftly searching shorter fictions, a tale of great depth of meaning and understanding. First published in 1880 but set some forty years earlier in a pre-Civil War New York, the novel reflects ironically on the restricted world in which its heroine is marooned. In his excellent introduction Adrian Poole reflects on the book's gestation and influences, the significance of place, and the insight with which the four principal players are drawn. The book also includes an up-to-date bibliography, illuminating notes, and a discussion of stage and film adaptations of the story.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

Read More

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.
From the Publisher

“Perhaps the only novel in which a man has successfully invaded the feminine field and produced a work comparable to Jane Austen’s.” –Graham Greene

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Oxford World's Classics Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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 belongto 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...

Read More

What People are saying about this

Graham Greene
Henry James is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare is in the history of poetry.
From the Publisher
"Lorna Raver doesn't just read this book; she inhabits it." —-AudioFile
Elizabeth Hardwick
Washington Square is a perfectly balanced novel... a work of surpassing refinement and interest.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Washington Square 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
swift__cat More than 1 year ago
Henry James is the master of "showing" without "telling". Washington Square is a good book to start with if you are interested in this author. In some of his later books it might require some discussion to identify the antagonist, but it is not a lack of skill which makes this so. James writes his characters with such complexity that you feel as if you are spying on real people. The main character of Washington Square is a young woman who moves in the constricting circle of both society and her father's wishes. As a suitor presents himself for her hand, the reader will be silently deliberating his intentions. In the end, the reader will still be deliberating. Read it and discover the mystery/realism/skill of Henry James.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In an age when trash like 'The Da Vinci Code' is hyped as great fiction and discussed by book clubs (such as one of mine) with a straight face, I rejoiced to read a novel that depended entirely on personality and character, something the incomparable James does here. The four principal characters, an entirely sympathetic heroine, her fairly worthless lover, her autocratic and unsympathetic father, and her meddlesome aunt, are set against one another masterfully. I urge you to read it, even to read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To start out, I would like to explain how i dont like to read. I dont care for Mark Twain or many other classic authors. My mom had bought me this book over 5 years ago. I never read it because i just didnt take interest in it. One day I was bored and went over to my shelf and saw the book. I read the back and it seemed interesting. I live in NY so the fact that it takes place in NY fascinated me. I started reading it and never put the book down. I read it strait through without stopping. Its one of the best books if not the best I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!!
comett More than 1 year ago
Henry James' Washington Square (1881) is one of his shorter novels, but flows smoothly and has a plot that is easy to follow. Commas, dashes, and elongated sentences remain as prevalent as ever, although New York might be a less romantic setting than his European venues. Nevertheless, the theme of two adversaries competing for an innocent with the villain aided and abetted by a (not so) useful idiot is not atypical of James. Dr Austin Sloper is a well respected member of society who prides himself on being a good judge of character. His daughter Catherine, by contrast is deemed to be very average at best, both physically and intellectually. Indeed, general narration and Dr Sloper remind us of this so often that we may be forgiven for concluding that there must be more to this young woman than meets the eye. And to her credit, Catherine possesses tremendous intestinal fortitude and stoicism, both of which contribute to her ultimate survival, despite life's disappointments. Her suitor, Morris Townsend, is perceived as a ne'er-do-well gold digger by her father, who takes it upon himself to protect his daughter from this man, a handsome charmer who has very much won Catherine over. And while romantics may hope Townsend's intentions are honourable, readers learn early on that Dr Sloper's instincts are correct. On one hand, Dr Sloper does not appear to mind using his daughter as a pawn in a metaphorical chess match that he actually seems to enjoy. But then again, his positioning vis a vis Morris Townsend suggests that he genuinely has Catherine's best interests at heart. Indeed, he is protecting her from someone who will squander her fortune and subject her to a life of unrequited love. Surely there are better options and Dr Sloper seems more accepting of other suitors. The meddling and (not so) useful idiot is Catherine's aunt (and Dr Sloper's sister) Lavinia Penniman. Like Catherine, she is very much smitten with Morris Townsend and is quite willing to help him woo her niece. The good news for Catherine is that dear Aunt Penniman is no constructive help to Townsend, and merely possesses inflated notions of her own importance and ability to shape events. Again, James proves himself a literary giant who does not disappoint. He does a masterful job with character development and pitting adversary against adversary. In Catherine, he creates a sympathetic heroine and innocent who survives, gaining tremendous inner strength in the process. All of this is augmented by a well constructed and compact plot that is easy to comprehend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shrew More than 1 year ago
It was enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for school over the summer. It seemed as though it would be a great classical novel. I was sadly mistaken. The characters were plain and uninteresting. Catherine, not to mention her aunt, was annoying and pretty much spineless. This book was also way too long considering nothing happened. I had great hopes for the ending, but that too left me stunned and angry. There was a little plot build up at the end, but then once again nothing happened. In two words this book is a 'horse tranquilizer' and a complete waste of my time.