I recently came across a copy of Henry James’ “Washington Square” while trying to reorganise my books. Actually, I was trying to ORGANIZE my books, which had never been organised. Because it’s a short story, “a slip of a thing,” it’s quick and easy to read. (James’s later novels, on the other hand, are far more complex, with subtexts, subtexts, and more subtexts.) They’re wonderful, but they demand a lot of effort.)
After a decade of not reading “Washington Square,” I was eager to get back in the story of “a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, unemotional father,” which Wikipedia describes as “a structurally simple tragicomedy.”
That summary is accurate, but it doesn’t do justice to the book. There are many twists and turns. Catherine is the daughter in question, and even though James compares her intellect to “a bundle of shawls,” she is an eloquent and compelling person. Catherine and her father have a disagreement over a man who is courting her for her money.
Even though Catherine’s father can see right through this gold digger, she falls prey to his masculine tricks and loses her inheritance. That Graham Greene blurb that says “Washington Square” is “perhaps the only novel in which a man has successfully invaded the feminine field” is offensive to everyone, but a great entry into the Backhanded Compliment Blurb Hall of Fame! .
To be on the safe side, I’ll share a curious fact about James with you now that you can decide whether or not it has any bearing on your reading. Edith Wharton was a close friend of his, and I had the pleasure of visiting her estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, many years ago. There’s a free walking tour!
Gardening is an art form here. In the mansion, Wharton created a suite just for James that included an en-suite bathroom. He had a bathroom with no toilet when I went to visit. Considering how common toilets are in bathrooms, I’m fairly certain the others had them as well. Is it possible that James requested that there be no toilet in the room? It is necessary to ponder.
If you’re interested, you can check out the following article: “Succession,” “bulldozing over hundreds of red flags in pursuit of a crush,” “Succession”
The Penguin Classics edition is available for purchase (or score a copy on eBay, like I did)
So, Why Don’t You Try This:
The New York Times Book Review is a great place to start.
Comment on the newsletter by contacting RLTW at nytimes.com
For those of you who don’t have time to read right now, these newsletters are great to keep on hand for future reference. ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ which starred Alec Baldwin, famously said: