A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square

A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square

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A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square


I will admit it; I did not like Washington Square. That said, when I read the first line to Donald Hall's afterword, I felt like throwing the book away! "Everyone likes Washington Square" (220), HA! Well not me, Mr. Hall. I am not exactly sure why I kept on reading; maybe I was feeling a little masochistic that day! So, behold my surprise when I began to come across some of the author's words that expressed many of the thoughts that I had about the novel and its characters. Luckily, I did not have to read much before some of these ideas came into play.

Throughout the "critique," the author addresses not only the work itself, but also how the story came to be. I found it interesting to learn that Henry James had, in reality, only invented the character of Dr. Sloper. The other characters, as well as the novels main plot, had come from a story that James had been told. Considering the absolute realism of the novel, the fact that James had adapted it from reality makes perfect sense.

The aspect of this afterword that I found the most intriguing was Hall's critique of Mrs. Penniman. "Morris Townsend is revealed as her fantasy of an oedipal lover" (230). That line really struck me for it seemed to be the first comment that I had read that was unusual and new. Anyone reading the novel could, rather quickly, deduce the general personalities of the characters. The author's observations about Catherine, Dr. Sloper and Morris do not reveal any new character dynamics. But, his ideas about Mrs. Penniman elaborate beyond the usual "annoying and selfish" remarks.

Throughout the Afterword, Hall remarks about the moral conflict of the novel. The author states that "The moral force of this novel lies in the paradox of Dr. Slopers' wrong-rightnes" (224). He goes on to explain that the reader has a love-hate relationship with Dr. Sloper. You know that he is right about Morris from the beginning, but it is very difficult to overlook what a horrible and cold man he is. In part, I agree with the author's idea; it is difficult to fully despise a man who is right. But, Dr. Slopers' concerns about Catherine marrying the fortune hunting Morris seem more to be concerns over his money, rather than his daughters well being and happiness.

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Because of that I found that Dr. Sloper was always "wrong." He never became a character that I could like or even respect.

In general, I found that I agreed with the author. There were a few instances when I disagreed with Hall, but overall reading his "critique" left me almost enjoying the novel…. Almost.

Work Cited

Hall, Donald. Afterword. Washington Square. By Henry James. New York: New American Library, 1964. 220-32.
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