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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A woman's life
An excellent, short novel that probes the traditionally most important events of a woman's life -- her marriage opportunities. James portrays a woman who is as much the victim in society of her lack of beauty as she is of the two men in her life: a father who is at best negligent and often overtly cruel and a fortune-hunter who is breathtaking to behold but morally...
Published on 3 Dec 1998

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Misplaced passions
In contrast to James's earlier novels, where European and American ideals are often embodied in the form of beautiful women of superficiality on one side and less attractive women of substance on the other (with the male figures torn between the respective attractions of each), in Washington Square (1880), James follows his more nuanced and intriguing characterisation of...
Published on 27 May 2010 by Keris Nine


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A woman's life, 3 Dec 1998
By A Customer
An excellent, short novel that probes the traditionally most important events of a woman's life -- her marriage opportunities. James portrays a woman who is as much the victim in society of her lack of beauty as she is of the two men in her life: a father who is at best negligent and often overtly cruel and a fortune-hunter who is breathtaking to behold but morally empty. James has the courage to demonstrate through Dr. Sloper's character (the father) the hardness and even abusiveness with which men treated women who lacked beauty or great wit. And he added a swain who pretended to treat the heroine in a finer manner, but who was merely after her money. Catherine Sloper learns her lessons slowly but seemingly well. Written beautifully, James has a small masterpiece of social commentary here, with a fair and objective presentation of one woman's life. Delightful to read, but sad that the heroine must cease to search for happiness merely because men have taught her not to trust their protestations of love.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Favourite, 25 Nov 2009
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
I must admit that this is one of my all time favourite novels, the first time I ever read it I had to go back and read it all over again. Indeed people who don't normally read James seem to love this little story. This is considered to be the story that ended James' apprenticeship, and even if he had only ever written this he would still be remembered today. James later considered this book with contempt, although no one seems to be sure why. This has always been compared to Jane Austen for its elegance and insight, and when reading it it soon becomes apparent why.

The actual plot is supposedly based on a true story that James was told. Dull Catherine is domineered by her brilliant and astute father, and when she meets a young man she wishes to marry. Catherine's father however denies her her choice and threatens to disinherit her if she marries. Taking her away from her beau they do the 'Grand Tour'. As the years progress we see how her life is lived, and then when her former beau returns on the scene we are held in anticipation of whether they will eventually get married.

James shows here how to spin a story of pure brilliance and elegance, much as he did with 'The Turn of the Screw'. It seems to me absolutely amazing that he didn't like this, but then he was a bit of a snob and perhaps being likened to Austen he felt he was being beliitled, after all he was very derogatory of another brilliant writer, Thomas Hardy. There is only one thing to really say about this book, it is a must read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Misplaced passions, 27 May 2010
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
In contrast to James's earlier novels, where European and American ideals are often embodied in the form of beautiful women of superficiality on one side and less attractive women of substance on the other (with the male figures torn between the respective attractions of each), in Washington Square (1880), James follows his more nuanced and intriguing characterisation of Daisy Miller (1878) with another fascinating female protagonist - a quite plain and ordinary heroine - and finds in her another means to look at social attitudes.

Catherine Sloper is the daughter of an eminent and respected widower doctor who lives at Washington Square in New York. She's not clever, not pretty and a bit of a glutton for cream cakes, but she is clearly good, obedient and docile. These aren't qualities that Dr Sloper believes will result in a distinguished marriage, and he reluctantly accepts the fact, leaving his daughter's upbringing and education in the hands of his sister Mrs Penniman, a widow. At the ripe old age of 22, Catherine, shy, sensitive and of a delicate disposition, remains unmarried and indeed uncourted.

When a young man shows interest in his daughter, Dr. Sloper is initially amused, but suspicious of the fact that Morris Townsend has no money, no position and appears to be living off his married sister, who herself is not at all wealthy, and seeing no attraction in his own daughter other than the dowry and inheritance that she will come into, he takes a great dislike to the young man and opposes any suggestion of a marriage. Mrs Penniman however has romantic ideas about a secret union and tries to encourage both parties to go against her brother's wishes. Poor Catherine seems to be caught in the middle with no will or volition of her own.

Washington Square is not the most impressive Henry James, but it's a slim little novel that is delightfully twisted in its own way, and neatly and satisfactorily wrapped up as ever with James, who never goes against the tone of his stories. It's very much a "talkie" book - everyone has meetings with everyone else and has a frank conversation, believing they are being honest and upfront, with the best interests of Catherine at heart, but in reality, they care for nothing more than themselves, their own sense of self-importance and self-interest and how they are regarded in society if Catherine has no concerns for it herself. It's in the absence of any volition on the part of the rather nondescript Catherine that both Mrs Penniman and Dr. Sloper (and to a large extent even Morris Townsend as well) go as far as enacting on her behalf the passions she appears to lack - passions that prove to be false and misplaced, while Catherine remains true.

Washington Square is a popular James novel for its romantic novelistic touches, even if it was never a favourite of the author himself. It's far from the strongest Henry James novel, not even of his earlier work, but the characterisation is well observed, never giving in to standard expectations, and carried through realistically - and almost cruelly - to the end. Catherine (along with the aforementioned Daisy Miller) is at least one of James's most interesting female characters of this period - one that seems to operate outside the normal binary distinctions one finds in early James works.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where To Start Reading Henry., 22 Feb 2004
Forget the old Warner Brothers movie THE HEIRESS. The screenwriters ultimately didn't understand Catherine Sloper, the heroine of WASHINGTON SQUARE, the Henry James novel they adapted.
Henry James himself excluded this early work from the so-called NEW YORK EDITION of his works. I suspect Catherine was so much like himself he felt embarrassed for having created her.
Nevertheless, this is a straightforward novel. The experimentation of James's later work certainly is not here, but there is an astonishing determination. It was only his second or third novel.
It's about Catherine and her father. Too much has been made of the fact that Catherine's in a world which strives to crush her. James wishes to show us how one person can menace another; even his own daughter. This is what THE HEIRESS misses. It tries to make Catherine's suitor and her aunt villainous. They're fools, not villains.
What drives the plot is the question of whether or not Catherine will survive her father's bloodless cruelty.
Readers interested in the history of New York City will be intrigued by the description of Catherine's meddling aunt walking past construction sites where now-famous buildings stand. Henry James grew up on Washington Square. He's looking back at his own foundations, as it were.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Washington Square, 22 Oct 2007
By 
Damian Kelleher (Brisbane, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Washington Square is a compact, tightly constructed story that focuses with almost unwavering gaze upon the Sloper family, or more particularly, on Catherine Sloper, a sweet, ordinary, rather dull young lady who falls in love with a man her father is convinced loves her purely for the inheritance she stands to gain upon his death. This early novel of Henry James' alternates between biting, witty exchanges amongst the characters and introspective, sensitive exploration of the feelings and thoughts of Catherine and her father. The narrator - never named, though at times he is quite chatty towards the reader - chooses not to take sides, instead displaying the different facets of each character as they are, leaving questions of personality and intent up to the reader.

It is usual in a novel involving a young lady and a potentially disastrous suitor that the female in question be beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, kind - even if she doesn't know it. These stories tend to follow her development from innocent to experienced, which is one of the many reasons why Washington Square plays out so differently. Catherine is, we are told, 'not ugly; she had simply a plain, dull, gentle countenance. The most that had ever been said for her was that she had a "nice" face'. Later, her father compares Catherine's intelligence to that of a bundle of shawls. He often laments Catherine's lack of qualities, and so does Catherine, and so does everyone else. She is a submissive, almost subservient in her attitudes, willing to submerge her ideas - if she has any - and bend with the will of her father. Enter love, however, and slowly a change begins to take place.

Morris Townsend is the man Catherine falls for. She had never experienced the interest of a male before, indeed, her life seems to have been somewhat sheltered. When Morris enters her life Catherine's father, Dr Sloper, who never had much hope for his daughter, becomes determined to prevent them from marrying. Sloper is the type of father who wishes a specific future for his child, so they will 'be happy', and yet when their happiness chooses a different direction, they become stubborn, obstinate, and, in this case, quite hurtful and damaging.

Neither Morris nor Dr Sloper are particularly admirable characters. Granted, both are intelligent and even charming, with the novel's most enjoyable moments coming from the interaction between the two. They snipe at one another during their very clever exchanges where epigrams fly and bon mots are thrown about with abandon. However, Morris is shown - rather bluntly - to be interested in Catherine's money and not herself, which he finds tiresome, and Dr Sloper is concerned with breaking the tiny backbone that has emerged from he knows not where within Catherine's heart.

Do we love Catherine? Is that the intent of this novel? The answer is - no. Catherine truly is plain, in the sense that there isn't much to her. She is confused by the larger forces in her life which seem to determine the direction of her future without any real input from herself. She believes that both Morris and her father have her best interests at heart, even when it is clear to the reader they do not. Whenever poor Catherine dares to speak her mind, Morris or her father are ready and willing to stamp it down. Her father can be quite manipulative. After asking Catherine to give Morris away, he says, 'Have you no faith in my wisdom, in my tenderness, in my solicitude for your future?', and later, when she stands by her man, he asks, 'You make nothing of my judgment, then?' Poor Catherine is left to wonder what to think, when all she knows is she loves her father and wants to marry Morris.

During the course of the novel, Catherine develops attitudes which distinctly reject her father's plans, but she also, to the surprise of Morris, refuses to go along with everything he says, either. There is a clear impression throughout the work that, should she choose Morris, she will be exchanging one master for another - the names may change, but the overall life of Catherine will not.

Henry James is known for his dense - some call it impenetrable - prose, and for his fondness for deeply exploring the inner workings of his characters. Washington Square is slightly different to his others works in this regard, perhaps because it is an earlier novel. The prose can be quite circumlocutory, with multiple clauses embedded within a single sentence, long rambling comma filled descriptions and niceties of expression that seem to exist purely to avoid stating the blunt truth of the matter. But it is these techniques which serve also to highlight the confusing world around Catherine, and the difficulty she finds in untangling the intention of the two very strong men who wish to control her life. James, at his best, is a phenomenal writer, and happily for the reader of Washington Square he is completely in charge of the material. The narrator is confident in expressing the feelings and thoughts of the major and minor characters, using tact, grace, eloquence and insight to create his little portraits.

Whether or not Catherine will marry Morris and defy her novel, though an important part of the novel, is not the primary thrust of James' work. It seems clear from the outset the direction the story will take, and this initial belief becomes true. Where the strengths of the story lie is in the growing independence of Catherine, her understanding of herself as a person capable of expressing intent and determining the direction of her life by herself. Catherine is an innocent in a world which is, invariably, destructive towards such people. She learns this the hard way, but there is something undeniably 'Catherine' that remains, even to the bitter end. Washington Square, while not a masterpiece on the level of The Portrait of a Lady, nevertheless explores its theme well, and does so with an assured hand. Catherine's life, though somber and small by today's standards, does evoke sympathy within the reader. The final line is very sad, because it was inevitable, and because, deep down, the reader knows that it is the best life Catherine could have had.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Henry James, 21 May 2013
By 
Dr. P. W. Barlow "Peter Barlow" (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
It's not for nothing that Henry James has been called "The Master" - limpid style (at least in his early-middle novels and stories) and always having a particular twist to the plot just before the conclusion. The commissioned Introduction, written by Ian Bell, is a pretty academic piece, as though prepared for an Eng Lit tutorial. But it gives a useful account of the contemporary background to the actual place, Washington Square, New York, as it was in the 1840s, the years in which some of the novel is set, and James's view of it in the 1870s, when the novel was written.
What came to mind when reading this edition from Wordsworth Classics is how sloppy publishing has become if the first three words of Chapter 5 can be omitted without anyone at the Wordsworth noticing. The sentence starts " He learned what ..."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the novel was fantastic, 16 July 2013
By 
S. Rooke (london) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
the novel itself was fantastic, i love henry james style and british inspiration for an american based novel however the whole book did not look like that in the picture. It also had some notes in it. However that was my seller.

I suggest to anyone reading this not to give up and get bored because there is little drama or action in it for a fair amount of chapters, stick with it and you will be drawn into this chaotic and realistic representation of life for a young woman in the 1800s. the action may not be out right but the slyness and subtlties of it draw you in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely pre-freudian..., 21 July 2013
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This review is from: Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
This was my first real encounter with
Henry James and I really liked this short
novel, first published in 1880.Every modern
sociologist or psychologis of the beginning
of the 21-st century , posssessing all our modern
scientific knowledge would be
proud if he (or she...) could produce such
a clear-cut, accurate analytic
(albeit strictly non-freudian...) description
of a rapidly changing city (New York), it's
new neighbourhoods, streets, avenues and it's social structure,the morale and the manners of it's inhabitants.

I was impressed by three characters: the father, Doctor
Austin Sloper, with his repressed love, his cold
intelligence and his contemptous irony toward his
daughter, an attitude that belittles her, diminishes
her self-esteem and amounts to what we'd call,
today, "character-assassination".The typical Victorian
"old-maid", Catherine, victim of her yearly income, in
a society where women of her social status could not
earn their living and independence. And Aunt Penniman,
living vicariously her niece's love-affair, spoiling it
with her heavy-handed meddling... The opportunistic,
idle lover, Morris Townsend, who's only after Catherine's
money is, in my opinion, only the screen on which the
other characters' feelings are projected...

Of course, five stars.

Elisheva Guggenheim-Mohosh, Geneva, Switzerland
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disapointed listen, 26 Aug 2011
By 
Guenevere Burke (PRIVATE BAG RONDEBOSCH, CAPE South Africa) - See all my reviews
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This is such a subtle narrative it's easy to sympathize with the wrong character - the father - as he is so reasonable. And that's what goes wrong with the narrator in this version of the audiobook. He does not know the story - in fact, I don't think he had even read it once through before the recording took place! The reader to look for is Connie Booth - but then you will have to purchase the cassett tapes - if you can get them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wordsworth's always do a classic, 7 May 2014
By 
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This review is from: Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
Love the price, the print is well done. The cover is in tact after 1 year. So happy with it.
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Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics)
Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics) by Henry James (Paperback - 5 Aug 2001)
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