Washington Square Questions and Answers
by Henry James

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How does Catherine Sloper in Washington Square contradict and coincide with a perception of a literary heroine?

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The stereotypical literary heroine, at least of the older English novels, was beautiful, resourceful, graceful, socially intelligent, and often much sought after by men, although she might come from a poor family. This stereotypical literary heroine of the past had the almost magical capability of making men fall in love with her at first sight. She combined the powers of Cinderella and those of the heroine of "Beauty and the Beast."

With Catherine Sloper, Henry James seems to be deliberately trying to go against most of the traditional characteristics of a young literary heroine. He describes his heroine in polite but unflattering terms.

She was not ugly; she had simply a plain, dull, gentle countenance. The most that had ever been said for her was that she had a "nice" face, and, though she was an heiress, no one had ever thought of regarding her as a belle.

In Henry James' time it was not permissible to present much explicit description of a lady's body, but James gives many indications...

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