Washington Square (Henry James)

Topics: Henry James, Novel, Short story Pages: 3 (1001 words) Published: April 16, 2013
Washington Square is a short novel by Henry James. Originally published in 1880 as a serial in Cornhill Magazine and Harper's New Monthly Magazine, it is a structurally simple tragicomedy that recounts the conflict between a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, domineering father. The plot of the novel is based upon a true story told to James by his close friend, British actress Fanny Kemble.[1] The book is often compared to Jane Austen's work for the clarity and grace of its prose and its intense focus on family relationships. James was hardly a great admirer of Jane Austen, so he might not have regarded the comparison as flattering. In fact, James was not a great fan of Washington Square itself. He tried to read it over for inclusion in the New York Edition of his fiction (1907–1909) but found that he couldn't, and the novel was not included. Other readers, though, have sufficiently enjoyed the book to make it one of the more popular works of the Jamesian canon. -------------------------------------------------

The novel is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, although we don't know anything about the narrator. The narrator often offers his comments directly to the reader. The novella begins at a distance from the characters, describing the background of the Sloper family. It then recounts in detail the story of Catherine's romance with Morris Townsend. When Morris jilts her, the focus shifts back to a long view. As James puts it: "Our story has hitherto moved with very short steps, but as it approaches its termination it must take a long stride." The final few chapters are taken once more in short steps, ending with the striking vignette of Catherine's refusal of Morris. -------------------------------------------------

Major themes
The bitterest irony in the story is that Dr Sloper, a brilliant and successful physician, is exactly right about Morris Townsend, and yet he shows cruelty to his defenseless and loving daughter. If...
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