Washington Square by Henry James
I really like Henry James. In Washington Square we are introduced to Catherine Sloper, an average girl with average looks who is quite close to her father. Her mother had died when Catherine was small, leaving her to live with her father and her father's sister, the widow Mrs. Penniman. Catherine has inherited her mother's estate and will inherit her fathers upon his death or her marriage, whichever comes first.
Enter Morris Townsend; a young man who has spent all of his fortune on travel and frivolities and now lives with his widowed sister. Of course he is immediately drawn to Catherine when they meet at a party and, like Catherine's father, we are lead to believe he is only interested in Catherine's wealth .
The majority of the novel takes place in Manhattan's Washington Square, where Catherine and her father, Dr. Sloper, live. There is something to be said about this old New York; something romantic and exciting. "I know not whether it is owing to the tenderness of early associations, but this portion of New York appears to many persons the most delectable."
Of course Catherine's father despises Morris and forbids Catherine to marry him, threatening to disinherit her from his fortune. Thus Catherine is left with the timeless dilemma of choosing between her family and true love.
What I liked best about this novel was that James lets the reader decide the intentions of Morris Townsend. We are never given a true glipse into his underlying purpose and must decide for ourselves whether he is truely in love with Catherine or if he is just in it for the money. Dr. Sloper does not think very highly of his daughter and can't understand how she would attract such a handsome man, leading him to decide Townsend's intentions must be callous. The doctor tells Townsend, "My dear young man, you must be very susceptible. As Catherine's father I have, I trust, a just and tender appreciation of her many good qualities; but I don't mind telling you that I have never thought of her as a charming girl, and never expected any one else to do so."
As I mentioned earlier we aren't ever told whether or not Townsend truly loves Catherine or if he is a mercenary. But perhaps the readers confusion is a reflection of the character's confusion. Maybe Townsend himself isn't even sure of his intentions, leading to his ambivalent nature. I really loved this book and looking back, I'm not even sure why. I think Henry James is a genious, as he was able to make me somewhat ambivalent toward the story but all the same completely engrossed in it, much like Townsend himself. James is a terrific writer down to the very last word and I look forward to reading more of his works.
Publisher: Harper & Brothers, 1881