Washington Square

Washington Square

by Henry James
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Set in New York City in the 1840s, this celebrated novel tells the story of Catherine Sloper, the docile and affectionate daughter of a well-to-do physician, who appears destined for a lifetime of spinsterhood with only the companionship of her sardonic father and fatuous aunt.
When a flurry of attention from an attractive suitor causes the plain and unremarkable Catherine to fall deeply in love, the stage is set for a struggle of opposing wills between Catherine and her adored father. Dismayed by his prospective son-in-law's shallowness and lack of prospects, and strongly suspecting him of fortune-hunting, Dr. Sloper threatens Catherine with disinheritance and forces her into a choice between father and lover. As the tale unfolds, James explores, with acute psychological penetration and masterly storytelling skill, the moral consequences of the callous exploitation of trust and the ruthless manipulation of a tender heart.
While this memorable story plays itself out in the vanished world of nineteenth-century New York, its underlying themes and moral concerns are timeless and universal. Students and other lovers of great literature will appreciate this inexpensive edition of one of the great American novels.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486404318
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 06/18/1998
Series: Dover Thrift Editions Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 170,278
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

American author Henry James (1843–1916) spent most of his career in Europe and ultimately adopted British citizenship. A prolific writer of criticism, biography, and travel-related books and articles, James is known above all for his highly influential novels, which frequently explore the clash of Old and New World cultures.

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England


Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

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Chapter 1

Excerpted from "Washington Square"
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Copyright © 2007 Philip Horne.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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"Lorna Raver doesn't just read this book; she inhabits it." —-AudioFile

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?”

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Washington Square 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story is a fast reader. Has a great setting with awesome characters, specially Dr. Sloper. What's best, the ending was unpredictable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
tomoyoh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Morris and Catherine love with each other . But Catherine's father does not like Morris .I think sometimes parents should not say " No. " for their children's love .Of course , maybe parents love their children . So they are worried about their children.But everyone has each personality .So I hope love of Morris and Catherine is congraturated by everyone .
Luli81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My second book by James and I still remain unimpressed when comparing him to Lawrence, Hardy or the Brontë sisters. Even to Austen.I know he writes about different times, different places and with different aims, but even though I appreciate his correct and composed style, I miss the passionate accounts of other classic authors.In "Washington Square" the setting takes place in the late XIXth New York where we are introduced to the Sloper family, consisting basically of the well respected and intelligent Doctor Sloper, her humble daughter Catherine and a couple of her manipulative aunts. Our heroine is a dull girl, who lives under her father's wing, whose will is completely subjected by the Doctor's poor opinion of her. Dr. Sloper is always kind to her but at the same time he treats her as an inferior creature, not relying on her judgements or her opinions. He is domineering and strict. The biggest praise we hear about her is that she is "a modest and a quiet girl", meaning that she is gullible, submitted and patient. Not exactly as Hardy's Tess or Charlotte's Jane Eyre or Lawrence's Lady Chatterley. The plot is settled when a new character is introduced, a young suitor, Mr Townsend, who wins the girl affection on the spot, seeing an opportunity to get a large sum of money if he marries her.In the end, this book talks about a family conflict, as all the characters have their own interests and only the girl is earnest and innocent in her desires. She is trifled by everybody, by her own father and aunt and also by her lover. I was sorry to witness her endurance, passive self control when her future and happiness were being decided by everybody but herself.All in all, I would say that I enjoyed this story much more in retrospection than while reading it. The whole composition makes sense in the end, and I find it highly realistic, but my guts can't help but shouting out loud to condemn the way women are mistreated in this novel.I'll have to read more books by James to see if that's a "general" in all his works. I hope it's not.
robinamelia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to the Librivox recording of this. The reader's mispronunciation of numerous words was distracting, but otherwise I enjoyed the story, probably one of the few by James simple enough to manage in an audio version.
zasmine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A psychologically acute construction of three interesting characters. Very short chapters with a lot of dialogue exchange, vocal as well as internal. Hardly any prose or description, the characters unfolded and grew as I turned the pages. Very nice.
mattmcg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Utterly claustrophobic. In this tiny world every scene relates to the courtship of the heroine (Catherine) by a transparently mercenary suitor, Townsend. Some things worth noting: 1) nobody at any point beats Townsend like a wild baboon. Such is justice in this world. 2) Henry James apparently found this narrative so compelling that he can speak of nothing else for a few hundred pages. I call that obsession, and more charitable people would call it... focus? 3) Seriously, I'm not asking for a vulgar diversion like a talking parrot sidekick or a sudden alien invasion. But please, two hundred and eighty pages of endless pondering... should she marry the twit? What happens if she doesn't? Maybe she should? Oh no, Muffy, she daren't! ......zzzzzzz please please Henry you don't have to sprawl like Dickens across your imaginary world, but give us just a smidge of variety!
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The great tragedy of this novel is that no one really understood Catherine, and she had so much to give and such value to offer in a relationship. Her father judged rightly of Morris and Aunt Penniman - but never saw the prize in his daughter. I felt such empathy for Catherine in the end, and sorrow that these two men in her life used her so poorly. Mr. James' prose is a joy to read - his descriptions are so interesting and so apt.
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)The CCLaP 100: In which I read a hundred so-called "classic" books for the first time, then file reports on whether or not I think they deserve the labelBook #10: Washington Square, by Henry James (1880)The story in a nutshell:Agreed by most to definitely be one of his minor works, Washington Square is in reality not much more than a novella, written between major novels in the late Victorian Age as James often did throughout his career. And there's not much of a plot either, to tell you the truth; it's primarily the story of Catherine Sloper, a pleasant but rather dim-witted and plain-looking young woman living in the ritzy old-money New York neighborhood of Washington Square, along with her father who she shares a large house with, Austin Sloper, a typical middle-aged business-focused white guy who sorta laughingly condescends to all the people around him who aren't middle-aged business-focused white guys. In fact, this is the crux of the problem between the two of them, the conflict that fuels almost the entire storyline; it seems that Catherine has met a good-looking charmer named Morris Townsend who wishes to marry her, but her father deems him a simple-minded dreamer who's most likely after her money, and Catherine herself as just too much of a blockhead to be able to make a realization like this on her own, which is why he forbids the two to wed for her own good.The father and daughter then whisk off to Europe for a year, as upper-class Americans so often did at the time; but instead of Morris heroically coming to the rescue and bringing his true love back, it turns out that her father was right all along, with Morris turning out to be a kinda skeevy loser who actually was kinda after her money, and who sorta slinks off in this weasely way once she gets back into the country and declares that her allowance will be cut off if they wed. Instead of this making her grateful to her father for seeing the light, though, Catherine just ends up pissed at both of them, eventually growing into a matronly middle-aged old maid who becomes the buddy of the younger crowd in the neighborhood, but who never experiences love for herself even once.The argument for it being a classic:The argument for Washington Square being a classic is not a strong one, truthfully, and seems to most concern what the small novel is not -- it's not one of James' ponderous epics, not one of his later experimental works, but rather a simple and entertaining little story in the spirit of Jane Austen, told in about the most straight-ahead fashion possible. This is why people become fans of James in the first place, after all; he's considered by many to be the godfather of the modern realistic novel, the kinds of no-nonsense, clearly-written stories that comprise most Pulitzer winners and other academically-revered books. Certainly there are a lot of other novels in James' ouevre that are better-written, better-known, more historically important and a much better argument for being a classic, even this book's fans would say; it's just that Washington Square is one of his most accessible novels, a great way to ease yourself into his larger and denser pieces, and thus should be included in "The Canon" as well.The argument against:As mentioned, the argument against Washington Square being a classic is clearly the stronger one, and consists mostly of what we've been talking about; that it is simply too slim and obscure to be considered a classic, certainly a good beginning for people new to James' work but definitely not something to be held up against early-career trans-Atlantic sagas as The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians, nor the proto-Modernist experimental stylings of such late-
savaran on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a love story.The cool man and the very shy women are main characters. They fall in love.But,her father against it. I think this story is very typical,so Iwas not surprised the end.I could imagine the last easily.I couldn't understandher feeling.
Clara53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Henry James has a talent of getting to the essence of not only typical personages, but quite surprising and unexpected characters. Page by page he slowly unfolds their true nature. His narrative runs with such fluidity and is worded so exquisitely that upon reading it you get this quiet kind of satisfaction, of gaining something very beautiful and worth knowing. That's what I felt. At first the plot might not seem anything out of the ordinary - an idle dashing young man calculating a marriage to a wealthy, yet not apparently popular young woman. But it's much more than that, as we discover...
Dorritt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a surprisingly ambiguous story with a deceptively simple plot. Set in New York in the early 1900s, the story tells the tale of Catherine Sloper, the rather plain, rather dull daughter of a wealthy, domineering father who becomes the target of a charming gold-digger of a suitor. Will she marry him over the objections of her father? See how simple that is? But this is Henry James, after all, so the plot extends ¿ like the proverbial iceberg - several layers below the surface.Catherine isn¿t a terribly sympathetic heroine ¿ her dullness, her lack of intelligence, and her refusal to stick up for herself will almost certainly grate with self-actualized women of the 20th century. However, she¿s much more sympathetic than the uniformly unpleasant cast of characters with whom she interacts in this tale, all of whom see her as little more than a tool to be manipulated for their own purposes. Her aunt uses her as the means by which to fulfill her own melodramatic fantasies of secret trysts and the tragedy of doomed love. Her lover sees her as the path to ready fortune and a life of indolence and ease. Even her own father demonstrates heartbreakingly few signs of genuine affection, viewing his daughter alternatively as an interesting scientific experiment (¿how will she react if I apply *this* stressor?¿) and as a ready affirmation of his own cleverness. The fundamental principle of sarcasm is making the wielder feel superior by belittling another, and in this tale Dr. Sloper wields sarcasm with the same brutal precision he brings to his surgeries.This is no pat morality tale, however, in which the wicked are punished and virtue is rewarded. Nor is it a thematically simplistic novel, characterized by a resolution in which the main characters change or grow in wisdom. The world isn¿t as simple as that, and James does us the favor of positing that we know this as well as he does ¿ and that, therefore, we can cope with an ending that is both morally and thematically ambiguous. The novel raises many provoking questions, some of which include: to what extent is a parent justified in preventing their children from making their own mistakes? At what point does principled defiance become merely obstinacy ¿ or, worse, cruelty? To what extent do we (knowingly and unknowingly) justify meddling in the affairs of others to achieve our own ends? Can harm and humiliation caused by the betrayal of others be mitigated by a steadfast refusal never to betray oneself? And is this steadfast determination never to betray one¿s own principles an acceptable substitute for living a life devoid of happiness? In other words, despite the relative simplicity of plot, this definitely isn¿t the kind of book you take with you to the beach. However, the novel¿s moral complexity makes it a worthy read and probably great fodder for book club discussions.
RebeccaReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This American classic is about a ¿crime of the heart.¿ Catherine Sloper is emotionally abused by her father and abandoned by her fiancé, but she triumphs in the end. James also offers a detailed portrait of the lives of New York¿s upper-middle class during the Gilded Age and realistic depicts the atmosphere of Greenwich Village¿s Washington Square. One of my all-time favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Movie was better than the book
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