Why I Re-Read Washington Square

There is nothing so defining as a woman’s relationship, or lack thereof, with her father. Regardless of the status of their relationship, a woman’s father will always play a role in her life.

Today I finished re-reading Washington Square, by Henry James. Catherine Sloper is the poor little rich girl. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper is a successful doctor who lost his wife soon after Catherine’s birth. Still in mourning for his wife decades after her death, Dr. Sloper constantly demeans his daughter and makes impossible comparisons to his late wife. When Catherine meets and falls in love with Morris Townsend, her father suspects that Morris is after his daughter’s fortune more than he is her heart. Catherine must choose between being obedient to her father or marrying Morris and losing her inheritance.

I re-read the book because the movie adaptation of the book, The Heiress (1949) was on TV a few weekends ago. What strikes me about both the book and the movie is three things: the first thing is that a father plays a greater role in a daughter’s life than is something noticed. Growing up with her emotionally abusive father, Catherine’s self-esteem is shot. She has only known appeasement with her father, she has never known true paternal love that fosters a child’s emotional growth and self-respect. It’s no wonder that at the end of the novel, Catherine makes the decision she makes.

The second thing is that while the movie is amazing (I will at some point, feature the film in a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post) it does not allow for the character’s inner dialogue. In the movie, Morris is portrayed as a young man so earnest in his love for Catherine that he is willing to wait for her and put up with the abuse that Dr. Sloper dishes out. In the book, Morris is a little more questionable in his motives.

The third thing is that this book sheds a light on why we need feminism. Granted, this book does take place in the 19th century, but I kept thinking that if Catherine had the opportunities that woman have today, her choices might have been very different. She might have not been jockeyed between her father and her lover and have to choose one or the other.

Today I re-read Washington Square.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, Movie Review, New York City, Why I Re-Read

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