Thursday, July 3, 2008

Henry James - Washington Square

I thought I should read something by Henry James, since I never have. His name often comes up in a short list of great novelists, or masters of the English language.

It's a very quiet novel. The main character being a young woman, Catherine, of apparently little character, who is suddenly courted by a charming handsome young man.

Set in the late 19th century, in 'Washington Square', an upper class elegant collection of homes, the book focuses on the relationships of Catherine with her father, and between Morris and Catherine.

I enjoyed, if that's the right word, the subtle intensity of these relationships. So much goes unsaid between father and daughter, and yet all her life she suspects he doesn't love her, and all his life he tries to hide that that he doesn't.

In steering her away from Morris, who turns out to have squandered a fortune already, he is protecting her from possiblly being taken for a ride and left penniless, but at the same time he is taking from her perhaps the one hope of happiness she ever had. Brought up to expect nothing, to sit in her parlour with her Aunt and listen to the gossip, I can't help thinking a marriage to Morris, however brief and eventually disastrous, would be at least some kind of life.

Catherine's father, who has suffered the death of his beautiful wife, has everything on the surface; wealth, success, a life in the fashionable upper class circles of New York. Yet he comes across as a bitter tragic and vindictive figure.

This novel, which he himself was apparently not fond of, is an enjoyable enough if somewhat depressing story. The characters and the sheer quality of the writing make it worthwhile.

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