5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and depressing.
"Washington Square" is a story bursting with pain, sorrow, egotism, and shattered dreams. Having seen the movies "The Heiress" (1949) and "Washington Square" (1997), I possessed emotions and images going into the book, that others may not feel. Nonetheless, I came to many conclusions. Dr. Sloper, the father who emotionally-starved his only...
Published on July 16 2004 by MAB
3.0 out of 5 stars A smart character portrayal, not a love story: 3.5 stars
Henry James' work, Washington Square, is simply a love story with psychological undertones. In it, the main character Catherine Sloper falls deeply in love with a handsome suitor, Morris Townsend. The irony here is that Catherine is a plain girl who possesses a "poor dumb eloquence." As well, besides possessing great wealth of her own, Catherine has an enormous...
Published on Dec 1 2001 by Professional
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and depressing.,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Washington Square (Paperback)
"Washington Square" is a story bursting with pain, sorrow, egotism, and shattered dreams. Having seen the movies "The Heiress" (1949) and "Washington Square" (1997), I possessed emotions and images going into the book, that others may not feel. Nonetheless, I came to many conclusions. Dr. Sloper, the father who emotionally-starved his only daughter, Catherine, used his money to pit his daughter into her own private Hell. The same money Dr. Sloper thought Morris, Catherine's beau, would use frivolously. He had no qualms about hurting his daughter in any form, and viewed Catherine as the object that took away all of his happiness. Catherine, the plain heiress who was said to lack beauty, intelligence, wit, and anything worthwhile, fears, but loves her father. She thinks he is magnificent, even when he spurts hatred towards her. She falls in love with Morris Townsend, who is said to only want her for her money, and this is when the trials and tribulations begin. Aunt Lavinia, Dr. Sloper's sister and Catherine's Aunt, is a young girl at heart, and only worsens things by her imaginative involvement. Although it must be so, I did not get a full impression that Morris was only after Catherine's money. The story is heart wrenching and you'll feel disgust for the characters, but will also feel shame for them. As a side note, the 1997 movie "Washington Square" is the most faithful of the two movies, excluding the ending, and in my opinion, much more fulfilling than "The Heiress." The latter is dramatic, but does not delve into the main parts of the story. I recommend.
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncomplicated with cinematic appeal,
This review is from: Washington Square (Mass Market Paperback)
The introduction to this paperback edition, by Peter Conn, (I always read introductions after I finish a book)- places WS in the pantheon of American letters. Of itself, it does not belong. But by its birthright, it does. It was James' last American novel, a product of his distinguished NY childhood. James fled the states for Europe soon after its publication. NY, he explained had too little social conflict and diversity, (how's that for irony.) Pre Civil War New York was, at least to the middle classes who make up the characters, a tranquil, unhurried and well- mannered, society. The same manners, from a glamorous, if not tragic slant were drawn in The Age of Innocence and other (to me) more intoxicating tales by his friend Edith Wharton. Hawthorne, we are told, was one of James' masters, his influence is felt in W.S.
On its own, the story is middling. As an evocation of another time, without any real connection to what New York was soon to become, it lures the reader into a forgotten past. Any American lit student or NY city buff will cherish it for its august parentage.
The plot lacks surprises or unexpected twists. It centers on the maneuverings of a gold digging scoundrel in pursuit of a plain and unsophisticated heiress. Her father, a self-made, well-off physician, adamantly and sadistically condemns the match- he is right about the man's motives, but his methods are cruel. The comic and sometimes despicable aunt, Lavinia, living completely on her brother's charity, is turned into a divisive fool, so enamored of Townsend, the fox, that she allows herself to be manipulated against her niece and brother. During a trip abroad, where father and daughter hoped to resolve the division, Lavinia opened the door to the doctor's own office, drinking the doc's finest wine and puffing his cigars, we see the true soul of the pretender as though looking into the future.
Of the main characters, only Catherine, the heiress is sympathetic, and more so as she displays her resolve and honor. The others are ensconced in their own past beliefs and devious plottings, reducing Catherine to a symbol, without life. Her father's position and the strength of his objections, after all, are based less on feelings for his daughter than his mortification that Morris Townsend, a rogue and layabout would live off his estate.
The story has appealed to stage writers and filmmakers since it was written 120 years ago. Catherine was played by Olivia de Haviland to Montgomery Clift's Townsend; directed by William Wyler in 1949. In 1997, it was made into a film again starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney as the doctor, Maggie Smith as Lavinia. With the strength of those players and the cinematographers to vivify the otherwise pale story, I can imagine the results would bear watching. NY, before the great migrations seems closer to the antebellum south than what it has so magnificently and tragically come to represent.
5.0 out of 5 stars A quick and satisfying read,
Washington Square is an amazingly easy read. The overall storyline is simple enough to follow: A young woman with a large fortune, Catherine Sloper, is being pursued by an almost penniless, yet handsome and charming, young man, Morris Townsend. The heroine's father, Dr. Sloper, is against the match, saying he will disinherit Catherine if she decides to marry Morris. So the overrall question is will she choose love or duty? Simple, isn't it? This is what makes this book so wonderful and clever. James uses such a simple storyline to draw out complex and complicated characters that make you question what their real motives are.
James' immediate portrayals of his characters seem almost one-dimensional. Beginning with the book's heroine, Catherine is seen as a plain, dull, and almost stupid girl with an unyielding devotion to her father. Dr. Sloper is an intelligent and prosperous man, who unfortunately cares little for his daughter because she is 'decidedly not clever.' Dr. Sloper's sister, Mrs. Penniman, is shown as a meddlesome aunt. And finally, one can already guess, that Morris Townsend, the penniless young charmer, is none other than a fortune hunter. When once you see him, can you doubt that he is only after Catherine for her money? Yet, throughout the novel, new sides of each character are being shown, creating multi-faceted characters out of the simple and easy to understand characters we first see. Catherine isn't as simple-minded as originally made out to be. Her devotion to her father is understandable because you know that she is a merely being a good and pure and loyal daughter. But we also see that her loyalty and devotion can be given to someone other than her father. We see Catherine does have some backbone because she is so steadfast in her loyalty concerning both her father and Morris. Dr. Sloper's motives are very unclear. He is rough and tough towards his daughter, but he cannot continue being indifferent to her. Is it because he finally has found some feeling for her or because his pride has taken a blow? Aunt Penniman: what is her real motive concerning Catherine and Morris' relationship? And throughout the book, you are never really sure if Morris is just after Catherine's money or if he really does love her in some fashion.
It is a quick and satisfying read, but beware that this is not a romance. There are topics found in the novel that anybody can relate to, be it from sympathizing with Catherine's character, or understanding something of the others. Even though there are many things to think about and question after reading this book, it is definitely worth your while to read this book.
4.0 out of 5 stars Musical prose!,
I picked this out of a box of my university books while cleaning out the basement, thinking I would try a page or two before tossing it. An hour later, I climbed the stairs, admitting I was going to read the whole thing and enjoy it. I think the other reviewers have done a marvelous job of plot detail as well as literary merits in terms of character stude, period piece, etc, so I will add just the one thing I haven't read in the few reviews I have read:
Henry James is a wordsmith. He enjoys words, relishes them, and composes with them in such a way as to share his love of language with the reader.
THIS is what made this book a joy to me. Many times I found myself rereading sentences and then reading them aloud, just pleased with the way they were worded. "She had given this account, at least, to everyone but the Doctor, who never asked for explanations which he could entertain himself any day with inventing," writes James in Chapter II of Mrs. Penniman, and I had to read that one three or four times before I stopped smiling.
Read it while awake, read it while alert, read it when you have time and quiet to enjoy the pure music of James' prose, for at least to me, that is the beauty of Washington Square.
3.0 out of 5 stars A smart character portrayal, not a love story: 3.5 stars,
Henry James' work, Washington Square, is simply a love story with psychological undertones. In it, the main character Catherine Sloper falls deeply in love with a handsome suitor, Morris Townsend. The irony here is that Catherine is a plain girl who possesses a "poor dumb eloquence." As well, besides possessing great wealth of her own, Catherine has an enormous inheritance from her deceased mother. Conversely, Morris is a handsome, debonair suitor whose financial situation may only be described as relative poverty. His charm is enjoyed by almost everyone but Catherine's father, Dr. Austin Sloper. Suspicious of Morris' motives, Dr. Sloper accuses him of marrying Catherine for her fortune and vows to remove all inheritances in her name should the union occur. These circumstances create a bitter relationship between father and daughter, as Catherine must eventually choose between her family and fortune and her lover. In her struggle, however, Catherine gains an admirable strength of character, which is central to the message of the story.
As examined through a brief plot summary, Washington Square contains no clear-cut revelations in its message. Upon careful investigation of the characters, however, it seems that James wants the reader to decide whether Morris' love is true or not. In other words, in terms of the main character's conflict, should Catherine have chosen her father or her lover? In the end, James has Catherine choose neither, thus carefully creating a plot that can be scrutinized from different perspectives. With each of Morris' actions, it is unclear whether he does it out of love for Catherine or out of greed for her money. The author achieves this effect by judicious word use and careful insertions of flaws in the characters of Morris Townsend and Dr. Sloper.
Washington Square was a novel I read for school after having visited Washington Square itself many times. Having said that, although it's an excellent read for literary analysis, it's also a rather dry novel. For a student wanting to complete a literary analysis and enjoy a good book at the same time, this is not good news, thus the 3.5 stars. However, its strong points are the psychological power and the keen insight James has on human nature. Read it for those things, if anything.
4.0 out of 5 stars when personal desire conflicts with parental love...,
Washington Square has the "best of both worlds" amongst the works of Henry James. It doesn't have the brilliant yet boring narrative of his longer novels but it does have sufficient characterization often lacking in his novellas. Washington Square captures the mood of 1830s New York and the lonely live of a bland young rich woman (a daughter of a widowed doctor). She is wooed unexpectedly by an attractive young man, much to the regret of her father who thinks he is nothing more than a gold-digger. Ultimately our leading lady must choose between her lover and her father. Not an easy choice. And it is this choice which changes her outlook on life. Yes, it is a moving story. But fortunately it does not degrade into a tear-jerker.
Washington Square is the basis of a rather popular 1949 film titled 'The Heiress' starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. The first half of the film follows the novel to a 'T', but then the film deviates into a more melodramatic (yet enjoyable) track. Overall the film and novel are mutually exclusive in that if you've experienced one you probably won't enjoy the other.
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly Good,
I rated this James work a 4 based upon recent completion of "The Portrait of a Lady" which I hold as a 5. Disturbingly good was the impression I have of the novel. I was intensely disturbed by the characterization of a lovely women as less than smart, and less than fair in appearance. The description of Catherine, none the lacking due to Jame's gift of portraiture, made an impression on me. She became depicted in my mind's eye not as a homely dolt as her father chose to describe her, but instead a woman worthy of many, and owner of a beauty that many would consider cozy and warm. Her growth from a child to a woman of stature, and stolid grace only enhanced her beauty to me as the book progressed to it's end. She became the embodiment of an independent, not unlike Isabelle Archer in "The Portrait of a Lady." Isabelle Archer, in seeking the recapture of her independence could only have done better by knowing and reproducing the manner in which Catherine Sloper gained her's. Independence in both characters was ultimately pure, and gained through they're own hands, but Catherine's if possible, was enhanced simply because she lacked the millstone of a husband during her quest for true unadultrated independent freedom of character.
1.0 out of 5 stars The Boring, The Bad and The Ugly.,
By A Customer
This book, at first glance, has the makings of a satisfactory piece of literature. However, by the end of the first chapter, one comes to realize that this is far from the case.
My biggest problem with the book is the fact that James doesn't give a hoot about any of the characters, or at least that's how his writing comes across. Subsequently, the reader could put the book down at anytime and feel no urge to return. All the characters fit the stereotype molded for them, and do not waver for an instant, giving them a terribly unrealistic quality.
Another big problem is the fact that Catherine can not get it through her thick skull that her father never has loved her, and never will love her. She bends over backwards, pushing away all happiness in a futile attempt to please this man who would probably welcome her untimely demise. Contrary to James' clear indifference to his heroine, reffering to her as talentless, beautyless failure, she really has a lot of things working for her. She is kind, respectful, intuitive and very deep feeling. This is a perfect example of how none of the characters come into their own. Catherine could have easily left her home and become her own person at anytime, but because she started out as a submissive, terrified unloved little girl, she can never be anything else.
Lastly, the so called 'love story' was a complete bore. If her father really did hate Catherine, what right did he have to care about whom she married? Again, this element of the novella was told with no feeling at all, and I couldn't have cared less whether Catherine and Morris married or fell off a cliff. All in all, this book was a complete waste of valuable time, a definite do-not-read.
4.0 out of 5 stars
Life's an illusion, love is a dream...,
This review is from: Washington Square (Mass Market Paperback)
This novella by Henry James finds the prolific author uncharacteristically tight-lipped. It's a good primer to his later, much more challenging Wings of the Dove, which is also about the way money, or the lure of money, ironically cheapens and devalues human relationships. But Wings of the Dove is an experimental novel, where the story is decidedly secondary to James's psychological probings. Washington Square -- more unassuming, more unpretentious, more straightforward -- is also much more disturbing. The central character, Catherine Sloper, is martyred by James right off the bat as "plain," without compensatory wit or intelligence. She has a good heart, but it's implied that this is just a side effect of her rather bovine complacence. Her martinet father can't help but blame her for his beloved wife's death, and her only companion is an insipid, scheming aunt, the kind of woman whose modern day equivalent scours Cosmopolitan for advice on how to land a husband. With no outlet for her untapped stores of affection, and more than one void to fill, the ingenuous Catherine is easy prey -- carrion -- for a handsome and unscrupulous fortune hunter named Morris Townsend.
Accustomed as we are to Jane Austen's tart-tongued heroines, not to mention modern day losers who have a knack for bucking the odds -- Forrest Gump, The Waterboy, almost any other piece of bogus Hollywood populism you care to name -- James's acceptance of Catherine's fundamental unredeemability leaves the reader in the lurch. It gets under your skin. The chilly effectiveness of Washington Square derives partly from the fact that seemingly everyone, author included, is conspiring against poor Catherine. Her aloneness is almost unbearable. We can't help but reflect how happiness is genetic, and that if she had been born with a more expansive personality ( or bust size ) the world of men would be at her disposal. Instead, the reader waits in vain for a reversal of fortune; either Catherine will blossom, her father will learn to love her unconditionally, or she'll come to her senses and shoot down her transparently insincere suitor. Nothing like that happens. In fact, there's the uncomfortable suggestion that Catherine knows she's being strung along, and lets it happen anyway. It's either that or stay home and knit.
By the end of the novel, it's clear that James is attempting something like an American version of Flaubert's Sentimental Education. Both stories track a confused character through a long period of time, zeroing in on their obsession with an unattainable love object. In each novel, the reader's hopes are raised for change, epiphany, victory, only to be rewarded with disappointment, anticlimax, and the ruthless thwarting of expectations. However, where the resigned Flaubert is simply sighing "C'est la vie," James is pointing a few stubby fingers: at capitalism, at stubborn pride, at the simple unfairness of fate. James may seem mostly apathetic to Catherine but he, more than anyone, could relate to the agony of spinsterhood. This book seethes under its mask of propriety.
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Complex for a Novella,
This book by Henry James is as different as can be from his longer works, but it has its own charm. The charactization is quite complex for a novella. It's just unfortunate that Catherine is so unredeemably staid. I realize that quite a few women chose to live a life alone in those days, but she seemed quite plodding to me. She does develop into a spinster that seems to enjoy that state. And Morris is quite the cad, but we the readers are never in any doubt as to that. The doctor father is another story, He's so right-minded that it's difficult to imagine anyone could be that stubborn. And the widowed aunt is a treasure - silly, manipulative and oh so romantic. This novella is written like a play since there are only four main characters, and most of the action takes place in the house on Washington Square. I really think this book looks deceptively simple, but it is not as simple as it appears. I enjoyed the story.
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Penguin Classics Washington Square by Henry James (Paperback - June 28 1984)
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