Washington Square describes the adult life of Catherine Sloper, daughter of a wealthy, intense, intelligent and sarcastic father and a brilliantly beautiful mother who died soon after childbirth. She is raised by her father and his sister, a meddling and overly romantic widow. Unfortunately for Catherine, she is neither clever nor beautiful and her father notes this, but little else about her.
The setting, 19th Century New York, finds Catherine unmarried by the age of 22 - approaching old maid-hood for that era. Her life is brightened by a young interloper named Moriss Townsend, who endears himself to her because he is charmed by her future prospescts of immense wealth.
Dr. Sloper takes an almost immediate dislike to Mr. Townsend and forbids his daughter to marry, informing her she will be disinherited of her money should she go against his wishes. This idea diminishes her charm for Mr. Townsend. When he breaks off their engagement in a cruel way, Dr. Sloper finds out and he gloats.
The last portion of the book follows Catherine's independent life as a spinster. Her Aunt, in a cruel twist, introduces Mr. Townsend back into Catherine's life during their middle age.
This report prepared by Suze
In Washington Square, Henry James put his awesome powers of psychological examination into service to portray the effect of a wise, but hard-hearted father on his sensitive and naive daughter. She is wooed by a man whom the father is certain wants only her money and he makes clear that he will withhold said money at his death should she marry him. She desires the marriage anyway and is very hurt when her lover pulls back (regardless of his excuses - he validates her father's judgment of him). In the end, after the father is dead, he tries again and her rebuke of him is powerful and priceless - as well as sorrowful - since it locks her into a life of loneliness.
This report prepared by Kelly Whiting