This story of a young woman’s courtship is very funny, until suddenly it is not. The 1949 film, The Heiress, is a wonderful and true adaptation, with the biggest difference being that it gives the characters orbiting the young woman, Catherine, some humanity. Washington Square, on the other hand, is almost grotesque in its sick comedy, and the characters orbiting Catherine began to feel to me like mutants. Doctor Sloper with his sarcasm, Mrs. Penniman with her meddling. Morris Townsend with his vanity-- all seem bent on destroying Catherine’s dignity with their careless idiocy, and in some ways they succeed. I laughed out loud at the schemes, speeches, and antics of these three characters, but the final chapters silenced me. This is a heartbreaking read, with a unique and quietly marvelous heroine at its center.— Morgan
One of the most instantly appealing of James's early masterpieces, Washington Square is a tale of a trapped daughter and domineering father, a quiet tragedy of money and love and innocence betrayed. Catherine Sloper, heiress to a fortune, attracts the attention of a good-looking but penniless young man, Morris Townsend, but her father is convinced that his motives are merely mercenary. He will not consent to the marriage, regardless of the cost to his daughter. Out of this classic confrontation Henry James fashioned one of his most deftly searching shorter fictions, a tale of great depth of meaning and understanding. First published in 1880 but set some forty years earlier in a pre-Civil War New York, the novel reflects ironically on the restricted world in which its heroine is marooned. In his excellent introduction Adrian Poole reflects on the book's gestation and influences, the significance of place, and the insight with which the four principal players are drawn. The book also includes an up-to-date bibliography, illuminating notes, and a discussion of stage and film adaptations of the story. About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
About the Author
Adrian Poole is Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge.