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Henry James' Washington Square is more than a simple novel with simple characters connected by a simple plot. There are more complex issues brought forth within the text besides a daughter heartbroken over her father's control and the departure of her money grubbing suitor. Yet only the simplistic issues and characterizations are brought forth in the critical article written by Elizabeth Hardwick.
Within the pages of "On Washington Square," published in English 3230, Hardwick offers her readers the entire plot, including the ending of James' novel, without shedding new light on the text. She offers little interpretation of the material and only provides readers with the obvious.
Hardwick explains the novel in such detail; one could almost use it as a Cliff Notes edition to the book. She uses what is said about Townsend to demonstrate that he wants nothing more than Catherine's money, yet she does not look close enough to realize that he is more complex than the information that the narrator provides ("On Washington Square" 26).
The biggest fault in "On Washington Square" is that Hardwick does not recognize that the narrator of Washington Square provides the reader with only the information he wants to, leaving out details that could slant the story. There are several times in the novel when the narrator waffles on his accuracy using phrases like, "It might very well be…" in regards to describing Catherine's emotions (James 36). The narrator also leaves out information, which the reader assumes is unimportant, but cannot be sure, for the narrator has already shone that he does not guarantee to know the emotions of the characters, let alone the importance of their actions. For example, during a conversation between Morris and Catherine the narrator cuts off the conversation and states, "This is all that need be recorded of their conversation" (66). These statements and several like them show the narrator to be unreliable, yet Hardwick explains the novel through the narrator's eyes, portraying the information as accurate.
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Hardwick offers no real analysis of Washington Square, providing her reader with an elementary interpretation, one that could easily come from anyone with a minor literature background. Her unfortunate lack of synthesis regarding James and his novel leaves any reader who has read Washington Square disappointed at her inability to critically examine James' work.
Hardwick, Elizabeth. "On Washington Square." English 3230 5:3 (1999): 25-28.
James, Henry. Washington Square. New York: Penguin Books, 1979.