Friday, 21 December 2018

Washington Square by Henry James

The Classcic Club spin #19 gave me this book to read. Since spin # 19 are aimed at chunksters and I did not adapt my list, I will also read Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. I failed to finish it last time, and have just read a few pages.

Henry James is always a pleasure to read. This is a very short novel so I have already finished it. I think we could say that this is one of the highlights of James' novels. It is his usual slow, easy going story telling. What always amaze me in James, is that nothing much happens and still you don't get bored. Or maybe this is the wrong way to put it. It seems nothing much is happening, but it does. Not so much in action as by his sharp glimpse of family relationships, society and its peculiarities. What makes it so readable, as with all of James' work is his wonderful prose. Here is the opening line:

"During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised 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." 

Dr Sloper is a widower and a man with strict views. He has a well educated, but rather dull daughter, Catherine, who is also very obedient to her father. He has hopes that with her dowry, she will attract a suitable man to marry. However, during a family gathering she meets the young, versatile and beautiful Morris Townsend. He has toured Europe, spent his money and is now on the lookout for a woman of means to marry. She falls high over heels in love and they start courting.
"My allusions are as kind as yours, Elizabeth," said the Doctor frankly. "How many suitors has Catherine had, with all her expectations -- how much attention has she ever received? Catherine is not unmarriageable, but she is absolutely unattractive."
Dr Sloper does not like the young man, and thinks he is only after Catherine's money, and does not care for her. He considers that Townsend will make his daughter unhappy. Both Catherine and Townsend are trying their best to convince him that this is not the case. Catherine's aunt Elizabeth, the sister of Dr Sloper is a widow, living in the house. Her favourite occupation is to read romance novels. All of a sudden she sees a romance develop just in front of her eyes, and she just can't help interfere.

From here on the intrigues are thickening while we follow the actions of the four protagonists. I will not reveal the outcome of the story, however, one can not help to think that however the choices are made, some of the protagonists will be happy and some not. Or, is it that no one can be happy.

It seems that Henry James based his story of a true event told to him by his friend Fanny Kemble. This is often the case with James' stories. They are based on true events, or partly on true events, and maybe that is why he is such a joy to read.


  1. It's years since I read anything by Henry James, I went on a James and Wharton binge some years ago. I haven't read this one though so I'll add it to my list as you enjoyed it so much.

    1. Me too Katrina!
      I'd love to reread my Wharton's & James' - it was such a wonderful reading time the first time round.

  2. I've only read Daisy Miller and I enjoyed the way he got you to look at people and places through the lens of his characters. Washington Square is on my shelf and I'm eager to know what happens after your review. I guess I will pull it down to read soon.