Washington Square Henry James Analysis Essay

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1. Discuss the relationship between Dr Sloper and Catherine.

The connection between this father and daughter is strained to say the least and this is largely because of the negatively colored view he has of her, and because of her inability to see that he is correct about Morris Townsend’s lack of desire for her. The father and daughter are held in tension with each other, as she refuses to acknowledge the mistake she has made because she cannot bear to submit once more to her father’s ironic and, at times, cruel perceptions. It is also strongly suggested that she does not measure up to her idealized dead mother, and she believes this underpins what she sees as his disregard for her when they are in Liverpool as they wait to return to the United States.

 

It is also as though the Doctor’s unsympathetic reading of Catherine becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as she separates herself from him as her attraction to Morris deepens. Her father’s demeaning interpretation of her is seen to at least partially influence her behavior, as when she avoids telling him fully about their separation.

 

2. Describe Morris Townsend and explain how he relates to the different characters he has contact with.

Morris is glimpsed through the eyes and perspectives of several characters, as well as the narrator, and he is rarely seen in a complimentary light. His attraction to Catherine is, as her father suspects, based largely on the inheritance she would have if her father does not cut her out of his will. This opinion is reinforced when Morris brings about a separation from her after she returns from Europe and he has learned that her father has not relented against him. He is, then, as mercenary as he claims Dr Sloper will accuse him of being, but he is also without means or support (unlike Catherine) in a capitalist society.

 

Catherine and her aunt, Mrs Penniman, are the two who are most attracted to him and both refuse to regard him critically while he is ‘a-courting’ Catherine. Mrs Penniman even goes as far as to begin to see him as a son and appears to favor him over her niece.

 

3. Consider how marriage is depicted.

With Catherine as the central figure, her decision to marry for love rather than economic gain is a key aspect of the novel. This decision is, of course, influenced by her already wealthy and independent status that has come from the inheritance she receives from her mother. Wealth, as Morris points out at the end of the novel, also means she is free to choose not only who she might marry but whether she marries or remains single.

 

Marriage is depicted, therefore, as irrevocably tied to economic constraints, as Morris’s decision to marry Catherine is tied to her possible future wealth. Romance and love are seen to be significant from Catherine’s perspective, and this is because she is rich enough to have this luxury.

 

4. To what extent are romance and intrigue portrayed negatively?

Because Mrs Penniman is depicted as both the most romantic and foolish of all the characters, romance, and intrigue and mystery are seen to be inseparable from a desire to manipulate and meddle in the lives of others.

 

She is also seen to lie when she sees fit in order to be excited by the melodrama she associates with romance and this is evident, for example, when she encourages Morris to see Catherine so that he can have his last parting from her. Her opinion of romance appears to be derived from fiction in that she treats Morris and Catherine (ironically) as though they are characters in a play or novel. This incidentally is how Catherine has also viewed Morris, although she has also omitted to see any examples of dishonesty in the role he assumes.

 

5. Analyze the portrayal of Catherine, the single, independent woman.

It is only towards the end of the novel, as Catherine ages and has settled on being single, that her independence is made obvious. As stated earlier, this independence is achieved through the money she has inherited from her mother, but nevertheless she has chosen to be single and free rather than marry for convention’s sake.

 

As a young woman, she is depicted as being in thrall to first her father and later Morris and it is only as time passes that she is given a degree of sympathy by the narrator and author. It is left ambiguous, though, as to whether this final Catherine who picks up her fancy-work as Morris leaves is pleased with her independent, single life.

A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square

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A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square


I will admit it; I did not like Washington Square. That said, when I read the first line to Donald Hall's afterword, I felt like throwing the book away! "Everyone likes Washington Square" (220), HA! Well not me, Mr. Hall. I am not exactly sure why I kept on reading; maybe I was feeling a little masochistic that day! So, behold my surprise when I began to come across some of the author's words that expressed many of the thoughts that I had about the novel and its characters. Luckily, I did not have to read much before some of these ideas came into play.

Throughout the "critique," the author addresses not only the work itself, but also how the story came to be. I found it interesting to learn that Henry James had, in reality, only invented the character of Dr. Sloper. The other characters, as well as the novels main plot, had come from a story that James had been told. Considering the absolute realism of the novel, the fact that James had adapted it from reality makes perfect sense.

The aspect of this afterword that I found the most intriguing was Hall's critique of Mrs. Penniman. "Morris Townsend is revealed as her fantasy of an oedipal lover" (230). That line really struck me for it seemed to be the first comment that I had read that was unusual and new. Anyone reading the novel could, rather quickly, deduce the general personalities of the characters. The author's observations about Catherine, Dr. Sloper and Morris do not reveal any new character dynamics. But, his ideas about Mrs. Penniman elaborate beyond the usual "annoying and selfish" remarks.

Throughout the Afterword, Hall remarks about the moral conflict of the novel. The author states that "The moral force of this novel lies in the paradox of Dr. Slopers' wrong-rightnes" (224). He goes on to explain that the reader has a love-hate relationship with Dr. Sloper. You know that he is right about Morris from the beginning, but it is very difficult to overlook what a horrible and cold man he is. In part, I agree with the author's idea; it is difficult to fully despise a man who is right. But, Dr. Slopers' concerns about Catherine marrying the fortune hunting Morris seem more to be concerns over his money, rather than his daughters well being and happiness.

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Because of that I found that Dr. Sloper was always "wrong." He never became a character that I could like or even respect.

In general, I found that I agreed with the author. There were a few instances when I disagreed with Hall, but overall reading his "critique" left me almost enjoying the novel…. Almost.

Work Cited

Hall, Donald. Afterword. Washington Square. By Henry James. New York: New American Library, 1964. 220-32.



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