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Washington Square is one of Henry James’s most appealing and popular novels, with the most straightforward plot and style of any of his works.
Set in the genteel New York of James’s early childhood, it is a tale of cruelty laced with comedy. Dr. Austin Sloper is a wealthy and domineering father who is disappointed in the unremarkable daughter he has produced; he dismisses her as both plain and simpleminded. The gentle and dutiful Catherine Sloper has always been in awe of her father, but when she falls in love with Morris Townsend, a penniless charmer whom Dr. Sloper accuses of being a fortune hunter, she dares to defy him and a battle of wills ensues that will leave her forever changed. Readers have long admired the way that the innocent Catherine, misled by her meddling aunt and mistreated by both her father and her lover, grows in strength and wisdom over the course of her ordeal.
“Henry James is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare is in the history of poetry.” —Graham Greene