Washington Square

Washington Square

by Henry James

Hardcover

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Overview

The setting is New York City in the 1850s (one of the few Jamesian novels set in his native land). The story centers on an heiress who lacks beauty and wit, her proud father, and her fortune-hunting suitor.

The force of this outstanding short novel lies in paradox. The father accurately appraises the suitor and forbids the marriage.

His judgment is correct: his fault is to call the trifler a trifler. Paradox is carried further when out of love comes cruelty, out of innocence, treachery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684819112
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/01/1996
Pages: 197
Product dimensions: 6.92(w) x 9.75(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Adrian Poole is Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge.

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practiced in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in America has constantly been held in honor, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of 'liberal.' In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognized sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science--a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.

It was an element in Doctor Sloper's reputation that his learning and his skill were very evenly balanced; he was what you might call a scholarly doctor, and yet there was nothing abstract in his remedies--he always ordered you to take something. Though he was felt to be extremely thorough, he was not uncomfortably theoretic; and if he sometimes explained matters rather more minutely than might seem of use to the patient, he never went so far (like some practitioners one had heard of) as to trust to the explanation alone, but always left behind him an inscrutable prescription. There were some doctors that left the prescription without offering any explanation at all; and he did not belong to that class either, which was afterall the most vulgar. It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Doctor Sloper had become a local celebrity.

At the time at which we are chiefly concerned with him he was some fifty years of age, and his popularity was at its height. He was very witty, and he passed in the best society of New York for a man of the world--which, indeed, he was, in a very sufficient degree. I hasten to add, to anticipate possible misconception, that he was not the least of a charlatan. He was a thoroughly honest man--honest in a degree of which he had perhaps lacked the opportunity to give the complete measure; and, putting aside the great good nature of the circle in which he practiced, which was rather fond of boasting that it possessed the 'brightest' doctor in the country, he daily justified his claim to the talents attributed to him by the popular voice. He was an observer, even a philosopher, and to be bright was so natural to him, and (as the popular voice said) came so easily, that he never aimed at mere effect, and had none of the little tricks and pretensions of second-rate reputations. It must be confessed that fortune had favored him, and that he had found the path to prosperity very soft to his tread. He had married, at the age of twenty-seven, for love, a very charming girl, Miss Catherine Harrington, of New York, who, in addition to her charms, had brought him a solid dowry. Mrs. Sloper was amiable, graceful, accomplished, elegant, and in 1820 she had been one of the pretty girls of the small but promising capital which clustered about the Battery and overlooked the Bay, and of which the uppermost boundary was indicated by the grassy waysides of Canal Street. Even at the age of twenty-seven Austin Sloper had made his mark sufficiently to mitigate the anomaly of his having been chosen among a dozen suitors by a young woman of high fashion, who had ten thousand dollars of income and the most charming eyes in the island of Manhattan. These eyes, and some of their accompaniments, were for about five years a source of extreme satisfaction to the young physician, who was both a devoted and a very happy husband.

The fact of his having married a rich woman made no difference in the line he had traced for himself, and he cultivated his profession with as definite a purpose as if he still had no other resources than his fraction of the modest patrimony which, on his father's death, he had shared with his brothers and sisters. This purpose had not been preponderantly to make money--it had been rather to learn something and to do something. To learn something interesting, and to do something useful--this was, roughly speaking, the program he had sketched, and of which the accident of his wife having an income appeared to him in no degree to modify the validity. He was fond of his practice, and of exercising a skill of which he was agreeably conscious, and it was so patent a truth that if he were not a doctor there was nothing else he could be, that a doctor he persisted in being, in the best possible conditions. Of course his easy domestic situation saved him a good deal of drudgery, and his wife's affiliation to the 'best people' brought him a good many of those patients whose symptoms are, if not more interesting in themselves than those of the lower orders, at least more consistently displayed. He desired experience, and in the course of twenty years he got a great deal. It must be added that it came to him in some forms which, whatever might have been their intrinsic value, made it the reverse of welcome. His first child, a little boy of extraordinary promise, as the doctor, who was not addicted to easy enthusiasm, firmly believed, died at three years of age, in spite of everything that the mother's tenderness and the father's science could invent to save him. Two years later Mrs. Sloper gave birth to a second infant--an infant of a sex which rendered the poor child, to the doctor's sense, an inadequate substitute for his lamented firstborn, of which he had promised himself to make an admirable man. The little girl was a disappointment; but this was not the worst. A week after her birth the young mother, who, as the phrase is, had been doing well, suddenly betrayed alarming symptoms, and before another week had elapsed Austin Sloper was a widower.

For a man whose trade was to keep people alive he had certainly done poorly in his own family; and a bright doctor who within three years loses his wife and his little boy should perhaps be prepared to see either his skill or his affection impugned. Our friend, however, escaped criticism; that is, he escaped all criticism but his own, which was much the most competent and most formidable. He walked under the weight of this very private censure for the rest of his days, and bore forever the scars of a castigation to which the strongest hand he knew had treated him on the night that followed his wife's death. The world, which, as I have said, appreciated him, pitied him too much to be ironical; his misfortune made him more interesting, and even helped him to be the fashion. It was observed that even medical families cannot escape the more insidious forms of disease, and that, after all, Doctor Sloper had lost other patients besides the two I have mentioned; which constituted an honorable precedent. His little girl remained to him; and though she was not what he had desired, he proposed to himself to make the best of her. He had on hand a stock of unexpended authority, by which the child, in its early years, profited largely. She had been named, as a matter of course, after her poor mother, and even in her most diminutive babyhood the doctor never called her anything but Catherine. She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need have no fear of losing her. I say 'such as she was,' because, to tell the truth-- But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.

What People are Saying About This

Graham Greene

Henry James is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare is in the history of poetry.

From the Publisher

"Lorna Raver doesn't just read this book; she inhabits it." —-AudioFile

Elizabeth Hardwick

Washington Square is a perfectly balanced novel... a work of surpassing refinement and interest.

Reading Group Guide

'Washington Square is perhaps the only novel in which a man has successfully invaded the feminine field and produced work comparable to Jane Austen's,' said Graham Greene.

Inspired by a story Henry James heard at a dinner party, Washington Square tells how the rakish but idle Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her father. Precise and understated, the book endures as a matchless social study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.

'Washington Square has long been beloved by almost all readers,' noted Louis Auchincloss. 'The chief beauty of the novel lies in its expression--by background, characterization, and dialogue--of its mild heroine's mood of long-suffering patience. Everything is ordered, polite, still: the charming old square in the pre-brownstone city, the small, innocent, decorous social gatherings, the formal good manners, the quaint reasonableness of the dialogues. . . . James was the poet of cities: New York in Washington Square.' Clifton Fadiman agreed: 'It has extraordinary charm, deriving from an almost Mozartian combination of sweetness and depth.'

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Washington Square 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
IMBEdison More than 1 year ago
Read this classic book many years ago, and saw the Broadway play version twive (called "The Heiress"). But book reads as freshly as if it were just written.
darcicat More than 1 year ago
One of the worst free book copies - This is what the first sentence looks like. "Ddbing a portion of the lint half of the present century, and more particularly dnr-I ing the latter part of it, there flourished and >>, practised in the city X I of New York a phy-1 I sician who enjoyed I perhaps..." Spend 99 cents.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
HJ himself didn't much care for this but lots of his readers (including me) emphatically disagree. This was also made into a terrific movie with Olivia DeHavilland as Catherine Sloper and Ralph Richardson and Montgomery Clift as the bad guys. (The Heiress, 1949)
natumi.s on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rich people live in Washington Square.This story is about one rich woman and poor man.After I read this story, I felt sad.But,I wonder if Moriss actually loves Catherine.I think that rich people is not always happy.
kawayu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherine Sloper is this story's heroine.She is an ordinary girl and not beautiful,not wise.She falls in love with Morris Townsend.But her father who is doctor and rich neve admit marriage of two because he thinks that Morris wants Catherine's money.I thought this story is so simple and common.There have been no sudden changes to last from start.It is interesting to read feeling each other like this book.So I think it is too short and brevity to read like that.But I may have not ability to read so much.
Nickki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherine is rich gils, she will have a lot of money when father dies.One day she met a guy who name is Morris. He soon said he wants to marry her, but her fatherdoubt that Morris just want her money, not love. This story makes me to think about love. But I don't understand Morris thought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great story but this free copy is full of typos and extremely hard to read, with missing letters in words and randomly inserted numbers and punctuation marks. Poor quality.
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Long time no see, 'seth'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess so.