Besides needing permission to marry, how are women oppressed in Washington Square by Henry James?For example, Catherine, a woman, has to get her father's approval to marry someone, ie. Morris...

Besides needing permission to marry, how are women oppressed in Washington Square by Henry James?

For example, Catherine, a woman, has to get her father's approval to marry someone, ie. Morris Townsend, which he refuses to give.  What are other examples of oppression?

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Besides needing permission to marry, two other instances of the way in which women are oppressed in Henry James' novel Washington Square involve who controls the money in a family. The first example is between Morris and his sister Mrs. Montgomery. Even though he is only her brother, he can impose himself upon her and compel her to support him, as he has done, thus depleting her own monetary provisions and her ability to provide for herself and her own direct family.
The second is regarding the tone Dr. Sloper takes with Mrs. Penniman. James makes it quite clear in the novel that if Mrs. Penniman displeases Dr. Sloper, if she is guilty of a "treasonous" offence against him, he can and will cut her off financially, send her out of his house and force her to fend for herself, which would usually mean poverty and destitution. Dr. Sloper can and would take the same action with his daughter Catherine if she goes against his wishes. These two examples illustrate that women were financially oppressed from both sides: they could be denied family resources by men and they could have their own resources taken out of their control by men.

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I do not believe that women needed permission to marry if they were of age. In Washington Square, Dr. Sloper definitely refuses to give Catherine his approval of her engagement to Morris Townsend. Nevertheless, Morris and Catherine agree to elope and get married without her father's approval. The only reason they do not get married is that Morris jilts the poor girl. She has an independent income of $10,000 a year, but when her father dies she would have an income of $30,000. Morris is, in effect, selling himself for $30,000. But when he realizes that Catherine's father will not relent in his threat to disinherit his daughter if she marries without his consent, Morris calculates that he is worth more in the marriage market than $10,000 a year. He is a cold, calculating, mercenary young man. He knows he can have his choice of dozens of marriageable girls because of his good looks and charm, but Catherine is the only girl who could bring him a fortune of $30,000 a year if he could only find some way to get around her father. Catherine and Morris would have been married without her father's permission or approval. That seems to prove that women of the time did not need a male guardian's consent to be married. As a matter of fact, it might have been possible for a girl much younger than twenty-one to get married without her father's or some other male guardian's consent. Once a girl was legally married, there was nothing her father or male guardian could do about it. In one of Jane Austen's novels a girl surprises her whole family by getting married when she is apparently only around fifteen or sixteen. (Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was legally married without her father's consent, or even his knowledge, when she was still only thirteen.)

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