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Washington Square (Penguin Classics)

4.2 out of 5 stars 156 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0141441368
ISBN-10: 0141441364
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In the late-19th-century world of James (The Aspern Papers, Audio Reviews, LJ 1/93), upper-class New Yorkers move in an atmosphere of gentle melancholy, with just a touch of decadence. Catherine Sloper is neither brilliant nor charming, merely good. She is also the heiress Mr. Townsend wants to marry. Her father wants to protect her, or is it that he is more concerned with thwarting a defiant bounder? Her aunt uses Catherine's romance as an opportunity to add drama to her own life. Who will win? What is winning in this situation? Most of the book is devoted to a delicate exploration of the thoughts, activities, and motivations of a small group of people. William Hope delivers a clear and competent performance of the text. The question becomes, as Henry James is not a highly popular author, is there a significant audience for an abridged audio of his work? His focus on human interplay rather than plot would seem to appeal to "full text" readers. For this reason, although a very good value, this audiobook is recommended only for larger public and academic libraries.AI. Pour-El, Iowa State Univ., Ames
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Lorna Raver doesn't just read this book; she inhabits it." ---AudioFile --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (December 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441368
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916), the son of the religious philosopher Henry James Sr. and brother of the psychologist and philosopher William James, published many important novels including Daisy Miller, The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, and The Ambassadors.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Washington Square", published in 1880, is not, and will not be, regarded as Henry James's best novel -- the honor would go to "The Portrait of a Lady" or much later works like "The Wings of the Dove" -- but this short but richly woven book deserve our attention. The book is always readable and intriguing while it does not fail to deliver the amazingly realistic characters living in New York City of the 19th century. Certainly, this is the best place for any beginners of James to start.
The book starts with an introduction of a New York physician Dr. Sloper and his only daughter Catherine. While the doctor gained respectable position among the patients, he loses his wife suddenly after the birth of Catherine, who grows up to be a not particularly clever nor beautiful girl. Catherine, painfully shy, becomes a dutiful, but perhaps dull, daughter, the kind of a girl whose awkward behaviors her father approves always with a little detached attitude.
Then, comes a good-looking man Morris Townsend, who has no money but gives a word of "gentleman." But what does that mean when Doctor suspects this is just another fortune hunter, who is seeking for the money Catherine is to inherit after his death? Still, Doctor is half amused, even entertained, by this unexpected visitor who now seems to have gained the love of his daughter. But he didn't expect that Catherine would show surprising obstinate attitude in spite of his threat of disinheriting her.
The book is written, as a whole, with a very tragic note, but as you read on, you will find that, just like Jane Austen's narrator, "Washington Square" has an amusing aspect of comedy at first. The meddling widow Mrs. Penniman, whose wild imagination is one of her weakness, is a good example.
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Format: Paperback
Washington Square is a searing portrait of selfishness, cruelty and manipulation that brings a radically new psychological depth to the traditional 19th century novel of manners. In Dr. Sloper James created one of his most insidious characters; a clever, genial man of the world who would rather sees his principles confirmed than his daughter happy. Catherine, the plain victim of a suave fortune-seeking fiancé, has to rank with Melville's Bartleby as a model of passive resistance. As she awakens to her father's flaws, Catherine shows the plodding strength of innocence in the face of his high-handed manipulation. The self-absorbed spinster aunt Lavinia completes the picture, using her niece's courtship as a way to work out her own thwarted romantic desires. Everyone is using everyone for something else, in typical Jamesian fashion, but doing it with style--even in this early work, James had an uncanny feeling for the crude drives that veiled themselves behind good manners and the conventions of respectable society. A great read that has to rank as one of James's darkest and most insightful novels.
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Format: Paperback
One of the shorter novels by Henry James and relatively simple, comparing to his other works, "Washington Square" is a story of hidden emotions, fear of breaking conventions, and hypocrisy resulting from those conventions.

Dr. Austin Sloper is a prosperous, respected Manhattan physician, a widower with one daughter, Catherine. He boasts a sharp mind and considers himself a good judge of character. Although Catherine is rather a plain and uninteresting girl, admittedly even by her family, she has prospect of coming into considerable wealth. Therefore, when she meets Morris Townsend, a handsome, but idle man, and falls in love, her father is on guard and after some research fiercely opposes the marriage, on the graounds that Townsend is a fortune hunter. Lavinia, Catherine's aunt, however, tries to "help" the couple... Catherine, in the center of attention and subjected to manipulations from people claiming to love her, would seem to be a miserable creature, but she has perhaps the most puzzling and complex personality of all the characters!

These four people are the core of the novel and their psychological portraits are subtle yet acute (nobody is a flat, archetypal figure), the hidden faults and qualities of the main and background characters make them very real and complex, the irony towards the society is very clear. There are many things the reader has to fathom from hints and allusions, not everything is explicitly said so to some extent the motives of the protagonists are open to interpretation.

Henry James is a master of psychological novel of his time, great observer and talented writer (comparable maybe to Jane Austen, he also wrote about subjects he well knew).
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Format: Paperback
Though James rejected this tale for inclusion in the New York Edition of his works, presumably because it was too simple and straightforward, many readers have not shared his judgment, insisting instead the work has great merit.
Its theme is an intriguing one that raises the following question: Is it better to be clever or good? Even here, for James, the answer is not all that simple, his conclusion being it's probably best to be some subtle combination of both.
Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend, the central male figures, are clever men, but each is deficient in his own way. The caustically witty Doctor wants to be just, but his pride in being right about Morris as a fortune hunter ultimately overrides his fatherly concerns. For this reason, he becomes a sort of Hawthorne-like villain, a scientific, detached, almost gleeful observer of his own daughter's plight, rather than a suitably caring parent. He suffers, finally, not from an excess of cleverness, but from a defect of generous felt emotion. Morris, too, is a definitely clever character, but at the same time he's the spoiled creation of enabling women, a boy-man who's more a self-interested player at life than a vital participant in it, an early version of the fatherless "It's all about me" youth of later modern fiction.
The heroine Catherine is a sorely beset young woman, pulled this way and that, now by her right-at-all-costs father, then by her fortune hunting suitor. She is a good, dutiful daughter throughout, though the novel details her growth in intelligent personhood. She finally gains the independence needed to tell her manipulative father where his parental rights end and her own moral self begins.
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