"Washington Square"

Washington Square by Henry James

The first thing I want to say about this book is how enjoyable it was to read. After everything I'd read about it's dullness and lack of plot, I wasn't expecting much. In spite of that I dove in because I'd like to become more familiar with Henry James' writing and anything set in this particular period in history is appealing to me.

The novel centers around Catherine Sloper and her life on Washington Square in New York City. She lives in comfort in a large home with her father and widowed aunt, her mother having died when she was an infant. Her father decided when she was young that she was a disappointment and nothing in the passing years altered that opinion. Her aunt Lavinia longs for romance and being unable to find it herself, she tries to force it upon her niece.

Enter Morris Townsend, a handsome young man who has wasted his own inheritance and is now in the market for a wealthy wife to make his future secure. Catherine, who has never been paid any attention by young men, is at first awkward, then hopeful, then completely taken in. Her father is not fooled at all and thus Catherine is torn between the two men who mean the most to her. Her father makes it clear he will not leave her a penny if she marries Morris.

Morris wants the money, Lavinia wants the drama and romance, Catherine wants Morris and Dr. Sloper wants Catherine to marry and make a family, but absolutely not with Morris Townsend. In the end this novel is a battle of wills. Who can hold out the longest against the others? I have a feeling that different readers would answer the question of who wins with different answers, depending on whether you'd like greed, revenge, peace or romance to hold sway. I don't think any of them gets what they want in the end, but there is some sense of justice amid the reality that no one ever truly gets to live "happily ever after". Unless you're in a Jane Austen novel, but that's a different review.


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