Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dr. Sloper remains at home the next day in anticipation of Morris’s visit. He tells Morris that he ought to have spoken to him before proposing to Catherine. Morris replies that he had thought Catherine to be “her own mistress.” Dr. Sloper replies that while this is literally the case, he is not indifferent to Catherine’s decisions and still believes her morally bound to consult him. Morris explains that he has long thought Catherine “a charming girl,” and Dr. Sloper scoffs at this turn of phrase.
Dr. Sloper explains that while Catherine might have the freedom to act as she pleases on paper, he still expects to have a say in her marriage. He continues to reject the idea that someone would pursue Catherine for love alone, showing how strong his preconceptions are and the degree to which they color his view of Morris and his relationship with Catherine.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Morris acknowledges that he knows Dr. Sloper doesn’t like him. Dr. Sloper agrees that, in view of Morris’s being a son-in-law, he “abominates” him—Morris lacks means, a profession, or prospects, and it would be completely imprudent for Dr. Sloper to let Catherine, “a weak woman with a large fortune,” marry him.
Dr. Sloper continues to maintain that it’s really up to him whom Catherine marries, especially in view of Morris’s unsatisfactory qualifications in terms of wealth and profession.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Dr. Sloper goes on to say that it would be “in bad taste” to call Morris “mercenary,” but that he does belong to “the wrong category.” Morris protests that Catherine isn’t marrying a category, but an individual. Dr. Sloper replies that he’s an “individual who offers so little in return.” Morris asks what more he can offer than lifelong devotion, and Dr. Sloper retorts that such devotion can only be measured after the fact, and that in the meantime, it would be best if Morris could offer some “material securities.”
Dr. Sloper finds it crass to openly accuse Morris of “mercenary” motives, even though that’s clearly the issue. When Morris makes the rather good point that Catherine wouldn’t be marrying an abstract category, but a person who’s devoted to her, Dr. Sloper replies that he wants more solid (presumably monetary) assurances than vague promises of devotion. Unlike his sentimental sister, Dr. Sloper rejects romance out of hand and believes that only an evidence-based read of the situation will do.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Morris and Dr. Sloper continue to go back and forth about Morris’s past dealings with money and their possible impact on Catherine. Morris admits that he was wild and foolish in his previous spending, but says that this reckless phase of his life is over. He thinks Dr. Sloper is being unjust in his stubborn assessment of him. Dr. Sloper is unconcerned; moreover, he’s sure that even if Catherine also finds him unjust, she’ll ultimately give Morris up—“I have a great fund of respect and affection in my daughter’s mind to draw upon.” He can’t forbid Catherine, because he is not “a father in an old-fashioned novel,” but he’s confident that his urging will be sufficient to change her mind. The two men part ways, at an impasse.
Dr. Sloper is confident that, based on a lifetime’s worth of affection and reverence for him, Catherine will come around to share his view of Morris. It’s a purely rational matter to him—a lifetime of respect outweighs a few weeks of passion. This suggests how little he understands the workings of his daughter’s mind, and, at that, of human nature. He also continues to want to see himself as fundamentally liberal-minded in his treatment of Catherine, even if he’s actually quite heavy-handed.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
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