Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Mrs. Penniman, Dr. Sloper’s sister, was left a childless widow at 33 and moved in with Dr. Sloper and Catherine Sloper. Dr. Sloper doesn’t think highly of his sister’s intelligence but is generally polite to her. Aunt Penniman is romantic and sentimental and loves secrets and mysteries. When Morris begins courting Catherine, Aunt Penniman enjoys meeting with him in secret and relaying pointless messages to (as she thinks) help their romance along. She tries to persuade them to elope in defiance of Dr. Sloper. Eventually, Catherine becomes angry at the way her aunt repeatedly oversteps her bounds. While the Slopers are traveling in Europe, Aunt Penniman often hosts Morris at Washington Square and treats him as a son, spoiling him and increasingly taking his side over Catherine’s. Long after Morris and Catherine have broken things off, Aunt Penniman engineers a meeting between the two, which proves fruitless.

Aunt Lavinia Penniman Quotes in Washington Square

The Washington Square quotes below are all either spoken by Aunt Lavinia Penniman or refer to Aunt Lavinia Penniman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Washington Square published in 2010.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Save when he fell in love with Catherine Harrington, he had never been dazzled, indeed, by any feminine characteristics whatever; and though he was to a certain extent what is called a ladies’ doctor, his private opinion of the more complicated sex was not exalted. He regarded its complications as more curious than edifying, and he had an idea of the beauty of reason, which was on the whole meagrely gratified by what he observed in his female patients. His wife had been a reasonable woman, but she was a bright exception; among several things that he was sure of, this was perhaps the principal. Such a conviction, of course, did little either to mitigate or to abbreviate his widowhood; and it set a limit to his recognition, at the best, of Catherine’s possibilities and of Mrs. Penniman’s ministrations.

Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

Mrs. Penniman’s real hope was that the girl would make a secret marriage, at which she should officiate as brideswoman or duenna. She had a vision of this ceremony being performed in some subterranean chapel—subterranean chapels in New York were not frequent, but Mrs. Penniman’s imagination was not chilled by trifles—and of the guilty couple—she liked to think of poor Catherine and her suitor as the guilty couple—being shuffled away in a fastwhirling vehicle to some obscure lodging in the suburbs, where she would pay them (in a thick veil) clandestine visits, where they would endure a period of romantic privation, and where ultimately, after she should have been their earthly providence, their intercessor, their advocate, and their medium of communication with the world, they should be reconciled to her brother in an artistic tableau, in which she herself should be somehow the central figure. She hesitated as yet to recommend this course to Catherine, but she attempted to draw an attractive picture of it to Morris Townsend.

Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Catherine sat alone by the parlour fire—sat there for more than an hour, lost in her meditations. Her aunt seemed to her aggressive and foolish, and to see it so clearly—to judge Mrs. Penniman so positively—made her feel old and grave. She did not resent the imputation of weakness; it made no impression on her, for she had not the sense of weakness, and she was not hurt at not being appreciated. She had an immense respect for her father, and she felt that to displease him would be a misdemeanour analogous to an act of profanity in a great temple: but her purpose had slowly ripened, and she believed that her prayers had purified it of its violence. The evening advanced, and the lamp burned dim without her noticing it; her eyes were fixed upon her terrible plan.

Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

“You were angry last year that I wouldn’t marry immediately, and now you talk about my winning my father over. You told me it would serve him right if he should take me to Europe for nothing. Well, he has taken me for nothing, and you ought to be satisfied. Nothing is changed—nothing but my feeling about father. I don’t mind nearly so much now. I have been as good as I could, but he doesn’t care. Now I don’t care either. I don’t know whether I have grown bad; perhaps I have. But I don’t care for that. I have come home to be married—that’s all I know. That ought to please you, unless you have taken up some new idea; you are so strange. You may do as you please; but you must never speak to me again about pleading with father. I shall never plead with him for anything; that is all over. He has put me off. I am come home to be married.”

Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

[…] [S]he had accustomed herself to the thought that, if Morris should decidedly not be able to get her brother’s money, it would not do for him to marry Catherine without it. […] She had grown first to regard [this idea] with an emotion which she flattered herself was philosophic, and then to have a secret tenderness for it. The fact that she kept her tenderness secret proves, of course, that she was ashamed of it […] In the first place, Morris must get the money, and she would help him to it. In the second, it was plain it would never come to him, and it would be a grievous pity he should marry without it—a young man who might so easily find something better. After her brother had delivered himself, on his return from Europe, of that incisive little address that has been quoted, Morris’s cause seemed so hopeless that Mrs. Penniman fixed her attention exclusively upon the latter branch of her argument. If Morris had been her son, she would certainly have sacrificed Catherine to a superior conception of his future; and to be ready to do so as the case stood was therefore even a finer degree of devotion. Nevertheless, it checked her breath a little to have the sacrificial knife, as it were, suddenly thrust into her hand.

Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

“Is it you then that have changed him and made him so unnatural?” Catherine cried. “Is it you that have worked on him and taken him from me! He doesn’t belong to you, and I don’t see how you have anything to do with what is between us! Is it you that have made this plot and told him to leave me? How could you be so wicked, so cruel? What have I ever done to you; why can’t you leave me alone? I was afraid you would spoil everything; for you do spoil everything you touch! I was afraid of you all the time we were abroad; I had no rest when I thought that you were always talking to him.” Catherine went on with growing vehemence, pouring out in her bitterness and in the clairvoyance of her passion (which suddenly, jumping all processes, made her judge her aunt finally and without appeal), the uneasiness which had lain for so many months upon her heart.

Related Characters: Catherine Sloper (speaker), Morris Townsend, Aunt Lavinia Penniman
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
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Aunt Lavinia Penniman Character Timeline in Washington Square

The timeline below shows where the character Aunt Lavinia Penniman appears in Washington Square. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
When Catherine is about 10, Dr. Sloper invites his sister, Lavinia Penniman , who has been left a childless widow, to stay with him temporarily. She ends... (full context)
Chapter 4
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
After the young men leave, Aunt Penniman tells Catherine that she believes Morris is “coming a-courting.” Given that Morris has “barely heard... (full context)
Chapter 6
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
When Morris Townsend calls at Washington Square again a few days later, Aunt Penniman thinks, “That’s the sort of husband I should have had!” This time, though, Catherine sees... (full context)
Chapter 7
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
...is curious whether a young man might love Catherine for her “moral worth.” He tells Mrs. Penniman to invite Morris to dinner the next time he calls. (full context)
Chapter 8
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
...Sloper wishes to give Catherine her liberty, but is nevertheless annoyed by her secrecy and Aunt Penniman ’s complicity in it. He presses Aunt Penniman for details, with limited success. (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman finally reveals something of the “misfortunes” Morris has told her about, claiming he’s alone in... (full context)
Chapter 9
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...who sees them and that she will meet him in the house. He consents. When Aunt Penniman hears of this, she is shocked by her niece’s unromantic preference for “a chintz-covered parlor”... (full context)
Chapter 13
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
...newfound love for Morris. Aunt Almond is not so sure, and anyway, she points out, Aunt Penniman will be pulling on Morris’s side. Dr. Sloper replies that he will have “no treason”... (full context)
Chapter 15
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman , meanwhile, is not much help. She can only daydream about a fantasy scenario in... (full context)
Chapter 16
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
During her secret meeting with Morris at the oyster saloon, Aunt Penniman tries to convince him that Dr. Sloper will never be reconciled to his romance with... (full context)
Chapter 17
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
That evening, when Aunt Penniman tells Catherine about her meeting with Morris, Catherine feels angry for almost the first time... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman thinks that she has never seen such a “dark fixedness in [Catherine’s] gaze.” Catherine says... (full context)
Chapter 18
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
...evening Catherine sits in front of the fire for more than an hour, thinking. Recognizing Aunt Penniman ’s foolishness makes her feel “old and grave.” She still respects her father, and feels... (full context)
Chapter 19
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
The next day Dr. Sloper speaks with Aunt Penniman , saying that anything she does by way of “giving [Catherine] aid and comfort” in... (full context)
Chapter 21
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman meets with Morris again in secret with the advice that, in light of Dr. Sloper’s... (full context)
Chapter 23
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
The Slopers end up spending an entire year in Europe. In their absence, Aunt Penniman frequently hosts Morris at Washington Square. He enjoys a favorite chair by the fireside and... (full context)
Chapter 25
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
The night they arrive back in New York, Aunt Penniman chatters away to Catherine about how well she has gotten to know Morris in the... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman asks whether Catherine succeeded in her efforts to sway Dr. Sloper while they were abroad,... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Catherine abruptly asks why Aunt Penniman seems to change her mind so much, at one time telling Catherine to defy her... (full context)
Chapter 27
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...is touched by the fact and takes care to show “motherly kindness” to her niece. Aunt Penniman , meanwhile, writes to Morris to warn him that Dr. Sloper hasn’t budged. She has... (full context)
Chapter 28
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
When Aunt Penniman meets with Morris again, Morris says that, in light of Dr. Sloper’s immovable attitude, he... (full context)
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Morris, however, is ashamed. He asks Aunt Penniman to let Catherine down easily, explaining that he’s acting this way because he can’t bear... (full context)
Chapter 29
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
As it turns out, Aunt Penniman shrinks from the task of telling Catherine of Morris’s plan, which means that Morris finds... (full context)
Chapter 30
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...face. Nevertheless, she maintains her composure in front of the household, and she coldly refuses Aunt Penniman ’s offers of explanation and help. Eventually Aunt Penniman bursts in on Catherine at an... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
When Aunt Penniman mentions something about a “separation,” Catherine suddenly realizes the full extent of her aunt’s “meddlesome... (full context)
Chapter 34
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
One summer evening some years later, Aunt Penniman surprises Catherine with the news that she’s lately seen Morris at Marian’s house. She says... (full context)
Chapter 35
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
A week later, Aunt Penniman again asks if Catherine is willing to see Morris. Though Catherine has long since forgiven... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
...forget the past and still have a future together. Finally he leaves, speaking snidely of Aunt Penniman ’s “precious plan.” Meanwhile, Catherine picks up her sewing again and “seat[s] herself with it... (full context)