Washington Square


Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Morris avoids setting a date for a private wedding. He doesn’t want to risk losing Catherine and her possible fortune from Dr. Sloper altogether, but he also doesn’t want to act too quickly and find that there’s no fortune to be had (he doesn’t think Catherine’s $10,000 fortune from her late mother, Mrs. Catherine Harrington Sloper, to be adequate to his station).
Regardless of the genuineness and depth of his feelings for Catherine, Morris clearly does have “mercenary” motives: even the substantial fortune Catherine is guaranteed from her mother isn’t enough for him. This poses the question of whether he is devious and grasping (as Dr. Sloper believes) or truly loves Catherine and sees her fortune as an added perk.
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Catherine, meanwhile, trusts Morris so completely “that she [is] incapable of suspecting that he [is] playing with her.” Catherine’s conscience is also stricken by the fact that she continues to live under Dr. Sloper’s roof while violating his wishes. Catherine’s attitude is mixed with “a merely instinctive penitence.”
Catherine remains painfully innocent of Morris’s mixed motives. She also feels guilty about contradicting her father, to the point that she feels undeserving of his shelter and care as long as she continues to go against him. Catherine has a much more tender conscience than anyone else in the story, which is why having such divided loyalties is so painful for her.
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After a period of tension in the Slopers’ home, Dr. Sloper tells Catherine to put off her marriage for six months; he would like to take her to Europe. Though his manner seems warmer, he is displeased when Catherine mentions taking leave of Morris. Catherine expresses her discomfort at living with Dr. Sloper while disobeying him. Dr. Sloper, while impressed with Catherine’s reasoning, is dismayed by its implication, telling her that such a claim is in bad taste. When Catherine asserts that the argument is her own, not Morris’s, Dr. Sloper tells her to keep it to herself.
Dr. Sloper seems insulted by Catherine’s reasoning that she should not benefit from Dr. Sloper’s care while violating his wishes at the same time. Perhaps it undercuts his sense of authority over his daughter’s life, though it probably also serves as an uncomfortable reminder that she’s still serious about marrying Morris. In any case, he harshly quashes this expression of moral independence on Catherine’s part.
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