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Washington Square -Henry James-
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Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York. Coming from a rather well-off family, he enjoyed good education and travelled extensively to England, Switzerland, France and Germany. He graduated from Harvard Law School. He started his literary career with a volume of short-stories, “A Passionate Pilgrim” (1871). In 1876 he settled in London. In 1915 he became a British subject to protest against America’s aloofness from World War I. Some of the most important novels are: “The American” (1877), “The Portrait of a Lady ”(1881), “The Princess Casamassima”(1886). After 1890 begins his major period of creation: “The Tragic Muse”(1890), “The Spoils of Poynton”(1897), “The Ambassadors”(1903), “The Golden Bowl”(1904). He is also the author of a series of critical writings and dramas.
“Washington Square”(1881) is one of James’s early novels which focuses on the theme of unfulfilled love. Love instead of becoming a reason for joy is seen as a source of enormous frustration, especially due to the social code of behaviour imposed by the Puritanism of the New World.
The story of the novel takes place in the Puritan America of the 19th century. Two of the main characters, dr. Sloper and his daughter, belong to the upper middle class, while the third protagonist of the novel, Morris Townsend, comes from a lower social class. He is the typical upstart created by this kind of mercantile society in which “the good match” is only possibility he has to climb the social hierarchy. Therefore, in a way, Morris Townsend is not only the representative of this society, but also its victim.
Dr. Sloper is a well-off bourgeois and his daughter, Catherine Sloper, his rich heiress. Morris Townsend is Catherine suitor. Although Catherine Sloper is favoured neither by beauty nor by intelligence, she has a kind heart and her love for Morris Townsend is true. Her tyrannical father keeps her under close scrutiny, being apparently more interested in the future rather than in his daughter’s happiness.

But this is only at a surface level because, in fact, dr. Sloper is genuinely interested in his daughter’s happiness. For the Puritan American society of the 19th century, a young woman’s happiness meant material security, which meant that the two had to belong to the same social class.
Morris Townsend has neither of these qualities. Although an intelligent man, he is poor and he does not have social background equivalent to Catherine’s. Being fully aware of these “drawbacks”, Morris becomes bitter. The whole ambiguity of the novel relies on whether indeed Morris Townsend is exclusively interested in Catherine’s money or not. However, dr. Sloper’s intuition that the young man is only after Catherine’s money seems to be true.
Chapter 9 of the book presents a conversation between dr. Sloper and Morris, when dr. Sloper want to check his intuition about Morris and try his character once more. The scene is remarkable for H. James ability to present his character’s hidden thoughts. The writer’s psychological introspection is at its best.

Dr. Sloper is amazed at Morris’s insolence, but he also becomes aware that he deals with a very intelligent man and therefore, in his direct and honest way, he explicitly says it: ”you have a subtle brain… I see by your physiognomy that you are extremely intelligent”.
In chapter 9 H. James manages to characterise his personages through their own words. The dialogue follows a gradation until the final revelation of the doctor, which is the climax.
The play with ambiguity and plainness of style, as illustrated above, is another stylistic device.
The dialogue is also remarkable for H. James dramatic skills. This style is obvious in the use of the dramatic discourse in opposition to the traditional pictorial discourse, hence the scenically episodes like the one in chapter 9.
From a contemporary perspective we could even say that H. James uses cinematic technique as when using a camera that shifts from close-up into the distance. This results in the visualisation of the discourse.


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