Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the party, Catherine’s cousin, Marian Almond, introduces her to a young man, the cousin of her own fiancé, Arthur Townsend. The young man, Morris Townsend, had expressed a desire to make Catherine’s acquaintance. He is talkative and, Catherine thinks, “so beautiful.” They dance together and then sit and talk together on a sofa—or, rather, Morris talks. Catherine finds him clever and unlike anyone she’s met before in New York.
Catherine is swept off her feet by Morris Townsend, who is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Morris dominates their entire interaction at the party, and shy Catherine is happy to let him; she barely says a word to him at this point. Morris seems to have been planning to meet Catherine and to make a favorable impression on her.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Catherine continues to find Morris’s conversation very amusing. She thinks he talks “the way a young man might talk in a novel,” or “in a play […] before the footlights.” Yet he seems very natural at the same time. When Marian later asks Catherine what she thinks of Morris, she says “nothing particular”—the first time she’s ever spoken dishonestly.
Morris has a way of presenting himself that’s at once very polished and apparently natural; it appeals to the unassuming Catherine. But when asked, Catherine keeps her thoughts about Morris all to herself—something she’s never felt the need to do before.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Later, when Dr. Sloper asks Catherine if she has enjoyed the party, Catherine “dissembles” for a second time, saying only that she’s very tired. When Aunt Penniman speaks approvingly of Morris on the ride home, Dr. Sloper suspects that the time has come when Lavinia will persuade Catherine that a young man is in love with her. When her aunt asks, though, Catherine pretends that she doesn’t know Morris’s name.
Catherine continues to want to keep her thoughts about Morris to herself. Her desire for privacy in this matter signals a big shift in her life. Dr. Sloper suspects the same, but he anticipates more of an amusing diversion than anything serious.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon