Washington Square is a short novel by Henry James. Originally published in 1880 as a serial in Cornhill Magazine and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, it is a structurally simple tragicomedy that recounts the conflict between a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, domineering father. The plot of the novel is based upon a true story told to James by his close friend, British actress Fanny Kemble.  The book is often compared to Jane Austen’s work for the clarity and grace of its prose and its intense focus on family relationships.
James was hardly a great admirer of Jane Austen, so he might not have regarded the comparison as flattering. In fact, James was not a great fan of Washington Square itself. He tried to read it over for inclusion in the New York Edition of his fiction (1907–1909) but found that he couldn’t, and the novel was not included. Other readers, though, have sufficiently enjoyed the book to make it one of the more popular works of the Jamesian canon. ————————————————- Structure The novel is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, although we don’t know anything about the narrator.
The narrator often offers his comments directly to the reader. The novella begins at a distance from the characters, describing the background of the Sloper family. It then recounts in detail the story of Catherine’s romance with Morris Townsend. When Morris jilts her, the focus shifts back to a long view. As James puts it: “Our story has hitherto moved with very short steps, but as it approaches its termination it must take a long stride. ” The final few chapters are taken once more in short steps, ending with the striking vignette of Catherine’s refusal of Morris. ———————————————— Major themes The bitterest irony in the story is that Dr Sloper, a brilliant and successful physician, is exactly right about Morris Townsend, and yet he shows cruelty to his defenseless and loving daughter. If the doctor had been incorrect in his appraisal of the worthless Townsend, he would only be a stock villain. As it is, the doctor’s head works perfectly but his heart has grown cold after the death of his beautiful and gifted wife. Catherine gradually grows throughout the story into right judgment of her situation.
As James puts it: “From her point of view the great facts of her career were that Morris Townsend had trifled with her affection, and that her father had broken its spring. Nothing could ever alter these facts; they were always there, like her name, her age, her plain face. Nothing could ever undo the wrong or cure the pain that Morris had inflicted on her, and nothing could ever make her feel towards her father as she felt in her younger years. ” Catherine will never be brilliant, but she learns to be clear-sighted. ————————————————-
Literary significance ; criticism “Everybody likes Washington Square, even the denigrators of Henry James”, wrote critic Donald Hall, and most other commentators have echoed the sentiment. Although James himself regarded the novel with near contempt, readers have enjoyed its linear narrative technique, its straightforward prose (far removed from the convoluted language of James’s later career), and the sharply etched portraits of the four main characters. Even the rusty plot revolving around “the will” has charmed many critics with its old-fashioned simplicity.
Catherine’s slow but unmistakable development into independence and wisdom is a notable success for James and has been much appreciated by critics and readers in general. Henry James, OM (15 April 1843 – 28 February 1916) was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. James alternated between America and Europe for the first 20 years of his life, after which he settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death.
He is primarily known for the series of novels in which he portrays the encounter of Americans with Europe and Europeans. His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allows him to explore issues related to consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting. James contributed significantly to literary criticism, particularly in his insistence that writers be allowed the greatest possible freedom in presenting their view of the world.
James was born in New York City into a wealthy family. His father, Henry James Sr. , was one of the best-known intellectuals in mid-19th-century America. In his youth James travelled back and forth between Europe and America. He studied with tutors in Geneva, London, Paris, Bologna, and Bonn. At the age of 19 he briefly attended Harvard Law School, but preferred reading literature to studying law. James published his first short story, A Tragedy of Error, at age 21, and devoted himself to literature.
James is one of the major figures of trans-Atlantic literature. His works frequently juxtapose characters from the Old World (Europe), embodying a feudal civilization that is beautiful, often corrupt, and alluring, and from the New World (United States), where people are often brash, open, and assertive and embody the virtues—freedom and a more highly evolved moral character—of the new American society. James explores this clash of personalities and cultures, in stories of personal relationships in which power is exercised well or badly.
His protagonists were often young American women facing oppression or abuse. Novels * Watch and Ward (1871) * Roderick Hudson (1875) * The American (1877) * The Europeans (1878) * Confidence (1879) * Washington Square (1880) * The Portrait of a Lady(1881) * The Bostonians (1886)| * The Princess Casamassima(1886) * The Reverberator (1888) * The Tragic Muse (1890) * The Other House (1896) * The Spoils of Poynton (1897) * What Maisie Knew (1897) * The Awkward Age (1899) * The Sacred Fount (1901)|
Short stories and novellas * A Tragedy of Error (1864) My Friend Bingham * Poor Richard A Day of Days * The Story of a Masterpiece The Story of a Year * A Most Extraordinary Case A Landscape Painter