Washington Square by Henry James

Title: Washington Square, Author: Henry James Washington Square. Finished 9-10-19, 4/5, classic, 199 pages, pub. 1880

The plot of Washington Square has the simplicity of old-fashioned melodrama: a plain-looking, good-hearted young woman, the only child of a rich widower, is pursued by a charming but unscrupulous man who seeks the wealth she will presumably inherit. On this premise, Henry James constructed one of his most memorable novels, a story in which love is answered with betrayal and loyalty leads inexorably to despair.”  from Goodreads

“Try and make a clever woman of her, Lavinia; I should like her to be a clever woman.”

Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked thoughtful a moment.  “My dear Austin,” she then inquired, “do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?”

“Good for what?” asked the Doctor.  “You are good for nothing unless you are clever.”

But, sadly, Catherine is not clever and never quite manages to gain the respect of her father no matter how much she tries.  She is quiet and meek, but a spinster.  In 1840’s New York City a 21 year old woman has been passed over quite a few times already, especially if her father is a well respected physician and she stands to inherit quite a bit of money someday.  So when Morris Townsend, a handsome family friend, pays attention to her, love comes quick for the young woman.

Dr. Sloper distrusts Morris immediately.  Morris finds that his charm doesn’t  work on the good doctor, but does exceedingly well with Catherine’s companion, her aunt Lavinia.  Catherine is torn between a handsome man and an overbearing one.  What lengths will the two men go to for Catherine’s affection and loyalty?

This slim classic tells a timeless story that is still being played out 140 years later.  Catherine was an unusual heroine given that she had no real sparkle or cleverness.  The end was somewhat unexpected and made me look at her in a different way and I appreciated that considering that I wanted to give a shake more than once while reading.  I liked this one quite a bit.

This is   my 29th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

2 thoughts on “Washington Square by Henry James

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