Washington Square (Oxford World's Classics)
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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.
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hard, and crying out before he was hurt. He must not condemn Morris Townsend unheard. He had a great aversion to taking things too hard; he thought that half the discomfort and many of the disappointments of life come from it; and for an instant he asked himself whether, possibly, he did not appear ridiculous to this intelligent young man, whose private perception of incongruities he suspected of being keen. At the end of a quarter of an hour Catherine had got rid of him, and Townsend was now
interview in a chintz-covered parlor to a sentimental tryst beside a fountain sheeted with dead leaves, and she was lost in wonderment at the oddity— almost the perversity—of the choice. CHAPTER 10 Catherine received the young man the next day on the ground she had chosen—amidst the chaste upholstery of a New York drawing room furnished in the fashion of fifty years ago. Morris had swallowed his pride, and made the effort necessary to cross the threshold of her too derisive parent—an act of
sufficiently serene—he appeared to have forgotten the “insult” for which he had solicited Catherine’s sympathy two evenings before—and Doctor Sloper lost no time in letting him know that he had been prepared for his visit. “Catherine told me yesterday what has been going on between you,” he said. “You must allow me to say that it would have been becoming of you to give me notice of your intentions before they had gone so far.” “I should have done so,” Morris answered, “if you had not had so
his daughter simply misrepresented—justifiably, if one would, but nevertheless, misrepresented—the facts; and he eased off his disappointment, which was that of a man losing a chance for a little triumph that he had rather counted on, by a few words that he uttered aloud. “How does he take his dismissal?” “I don’t know!” said Catherine, less ingeniously than she had hitherto spoken. “You mean you don’t care? You are rather cruel, after encouraging him and playing with him for so long!” The
goes on and on in looping sentences with a melody that may be beautiful but is also monotonal enough to tune out, if you don’t know how to listen. Henry James is an adult taste, like coffee, that has to be acquired. It’s addictive, but not flamboyantly so, one of the deep necessary flavors, a little bitter, always complex, that settles in slowly and for life. His whiff of grandmaternal sweetness blunts the edge of his modernism and yet he’s not cozy, the way George Eliot still can feel. Only a