Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Washington Square by Henry James

Washington Square by Henry James (1880, 178 pages)

Henry James at 16
Washington Square is the forth work by Henry James-(1843-to 1916) I have read since I began my blog in July of 2009.    Prior to today I have posted on one major novels. Portrait of a Lady.   I have also posted on two shorter works, his very widely blogged about work, The Turn of the Screw, and a shorter novel I am very fond of, The Aspern Papers.   Henry James is very high up in the literary canon.  He is universally seen as one of the, if not the greatest, American authors.

Washington Square completely took me by surprise by just how suspenseful it was.   It was originally published in serial fashion and if   I had  been reading this back in 1880 I would have been at the store waiting for each new chapter.    I know some readers will not associate this feeling with Henry James but I was so interested in finding out how the story would end that I was very tempted to skip to the last chapter!

There are four main characters in the novel.   Dr. Sloper, a very successful quite brilliant New York City physician,  his daughter Catherine who is about twenty when we first encounter her, Morris Townsend, her suitor, and her widowed aunt, the sister of the Doctor, who lives with the Doctor and his daughter.   The doctor is a widower and had another child that died at an early age.    His daughter has been left $10,000 a year by her mother (a lot of money in 1880) and her father has told her he will leave her another $20,000.  

The doctor dearly loves his daughter but as a man who prides himself on knowing the truth about people, he sees her as quite plain looking, dull in her personality and perhaps not as intelligent as he would have hoped.    When Morris Townsend begins to call on her and in time professes his love he at once assumes he is a fortune hunter and tells his daughter that no man as handsome as her suitor would be interested in her if it were not for her money.    The doctor investigates the suitor a bit when his daughter insists they will be married and he finds the man lives with and from his sister.     Her near conniving aunt is very taken with Morris and encourages the relationship and does what she can to keep the couple in communication even though her brother forbids this.   The relationship of the aunt (herself a widow) and Morris is just brilliantly depicted and is a masterpiece of character development.

The ending is really heartbreaking.  Washington Square is not a difficult book at all.   There are no 60 word sentences or anything like that.  I really enjoyed this book so much.    I read the very well done Barnes and Noble edition but you can easily download it or read it online.

Mel u


JoAnn said...

Washington Square is one of my favorite places in NYC, so I purchased this book at our recent Border's closing sale. It will be my next James novel. I knew nothing about the plot, but after reading your synopsis and thoughts, am even more excited to read it!

Shelley said...

I listened to this this year and absolutely loved it! It was rather suspenseful, and would have been great in serial form. Too bad we can't go back in time!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I really need to read this especially as I love a film adaptation of it called The Heiress starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift-highly recommended!

Mel u said...

JoAnn-I will be very eager to hear your thoughts on Washington Square

Shelly-I found it very much of a cliff hanger-thanks so much for your comment and visit

Bookworm1858-thanks so much for telling me of the movie-I will be watching the Turner Classic Movie channel for it-I am glad I read the book first

Mel said...

This sounds good. I have yet to read one of James's longer works, but I have Portrait of a Lady set aside to read over the holidays at the end of the year. I have ordered a copy of Henry James Life in Letters, and eagerly await that. Apparently he was a prodigious letter writer (I am going through a bit of a letter writing phase). You're right, I didn't imagine Washington Square would be suspenseful. Thanks for review.

@parridhlantern said...

I've read some James from a classic collection my grandparents had, but this was an awfully long time ago & I recall I wasn't majorly enamoured & In this case not sure if going back would change the situation, even if time allowed me to reread all the books I'd once read with my now adult eyes. Great post as per usual, but not my cup of tea(coffee)

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-always very glad to have your comments-thanks as always