Dr Sloper is disappointed in his dull daughter, Catherine, a mediocre replacement for his beautiful and intelligent wife who died soon after childbirth. Yet, as Sloper threatens, beguiles and dictates to his daughter, he discovers in Catherine a pale reflection of his own obdurate character.
Introduction and Notes by Ian F.A. Bell, Professor of English Literature, University of Keele.
Washington Square marks the culmination of James’s apprentice period as a novelist. With sharply focused attention upon just four principal characters, James provides an acute analysis of middle-class manners and behaviour in the New York of the 1870’s, a period of great change in the life of the city. This change is explored through the device of setting the novel’s action during the 1840s, similarly a period of considerable turbulence as the United States experienced the onset of rapid commercial and industrial expansion.
Through the relationships between Austin Sloper, a celebrated physician, and his sister Lavinia Penniman, his daughter Catherine, and Catherine’s suitor, Morris Townsend, James observes the contemporary scene as a site of competing styles and performances where authentic expression cannot be articulated or is subject to suppression.