Relationship of Washington Square to Henry James's Other Novels

Relationship of Washington Square to Henry James's Other Novels

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Relationship of Washington Square to Henry James's Other Novels


According to Bette Howland in "Washington Square, the Family Plot," the idea that Henry James should leave Washington Square out of his New York Edition, is "a fitting irony" in that "like Dr. Sloper in the novel, James disinherited his heroine; [and] cut her out of his will" (1). Although James might have wished us to treat Washington Square as an orphan, an outcast, a black sheep as compared with its "better" relatives, Howland's essay quite clearly establishes a familial link between this and James's other, more famous works. As Howland says, "Not only is Washington Square, though disowned, a member of the family--it is the original, the mother lode" (1).

Howland begins her analysis by looking at how James took an anecdote given to him one night at a dinner party and made the "tale purely American." To Howland, the very location of Washington Square stands for James' perception of "the stifling provincial life of America" in that it is "the object of Morris' aspirations; the prison of Catherine's confinement; the seat of the Doctor's power (sic)" (16). By confining the characters to the small world of Washington Square, says Howland, James created a "closed system" in which he could work his irony most effectively (5). She also notes how James changed the simple anecdote into an ironic contest of wills. He made the father the "heavy" rather than the fortune-hunter, and he made the father a scientist, a "scholarly doctor" so that he fit in with the American values of earning an income (or seeming to), and appreciating science (Howland 3).

Howland also does an apt comparison of Washington Square in relationship to James's other novels by pointing out how he frequently talked about love in terms of the financial. As Howland says, "[With James], there's never enough [love] to go around; one person's gain is always another's loss" (7), and money is quite commonly involved in the equation. In addition, James has another system of economy that is always at work in his novels. As Howland says, "at the beginning, the good heroines are all in the dark," but "by the end, they are the only ones who see" (15).

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Although I cannot disagree with any of Howland's assertions regarding the orphaned Washington Square and its obvious relationship to James's other novels, I did find Bette Howland's piece to be somewhat disjointed and lacking in focus. It is because of this, I feel, that my own paper comes off the same way. It is in the spirit of Henry James then, that I have decided to disown this essay.

Work Cited

Howland, Bette. "Washington Square, the Family Plot."

Raritan. 15 (1996): 88-110. 28 September 1999.
<http://firstearch.oclc.org/FETCH:...ml/fs/fulltext.htm%22:/fstxt20.htm>
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