Washington Square, Henry James 1880

One of Susan Hill’s Best Forty, I found this book to be surprisingly engrossing despite its lack of action and its specifically historical period elements.  The basic story is that Morris Townsend, a selfish and despicable fortune hunter, claims he is in love with Catherine Sloper, the plain and uninteresting daughter of Dr. Sloper who is due to leave her a fortune when he dies.  Morris is not the worst character in this story, however. That honor goes to Catherine’s aunt, Lavinia who sacrifices Catherine’s interests for her own romantic fantasies. What a terrible person she is.  The tension between Morris and Lavinia’s designs, Catherine’s vulnerability, and the Dr.’s steadfast resistance to the union makes for excellent reading.  An introduction in my edition by Cynthia Ozick refers to James’ work as “There is  no relief nor release; the protagonists are chained to what their innate characteristics of mind have wrought.  What begins as melodrama ends as tragedy.”  I have previously read Portrait of a Lady and loved it, so perhaps more James down the road.  He does write exceptional sentences and paragraphs filled with relevant details and impressions. A deserving classic!

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