Washington Square Chapters 11 and 12 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 11 and 12 Summary and Analysis

Catherine fearfully goes to her father to break the news concerning her engagement to Morris Townsend. Dr. Sloper calmly allows Catherine to speak, having a good idea of the subject of her announcement. She tells him that she is engaged. Her father is startled, not expecting this to happen so soon, but he keeps a straight face and calmly asks who the lucky man is (as if he did not know that there is only one possibility). When Catherine tells him that she is engaged to Morris, he asks when this engagement took place. When he discovers that it was just two hours previously, he knows that contrary to his own request and Morris’s own vow, Morris has come to the house again.

Knowing how much he disliked the young man, Catherine thanks her father for the liberty that he has given her in her relationship with Morris. Dr. Sloper states that she should have told him that it had reached this point before she agreed to marry Morris, and that Morris himself should have come to him to request permission to court her. Catherine tells him that Morris is coming to ask him tomorrow. Dr. Sloper tells her bluntly that he does not like this engagement, but he also acknowledges that she is of age. Catherine thinks that the fact that Morris is poor has made him inadequate in her father’s eyes. Dr. Sloper agrees, but that Morris's poverty does not matter.

When Morris comes the next afternoon, Dr. Sloper wastes no time in telling Morris that he does not approve of their engagement. He remonstrates with Morris that he should have come to him, as her father, to ask permission. Morris remarks that because Dr. Sloper gave Catherine so much liberty, he did not think such permission was crucial. Dr. Sloper points out that the two have not known each other very long, something that he had also pointed out to Catherine. Morris states that he believes Dr. Sloper does not like him because he is poor. Dr. Sloper agrees that he does not like him, at least in terms of a son-in-law. He says that he would be unwise to choose a poor man as an appropriate provider for his daughter’s future. Morris becomes agitated, stating that he will find a position immediately. Dr. Sloper urges him to do so, but only for his own sake, not Dr. Sloper's. When Morris asks him if he is gratified by making his daughter miserable, Dr. Sloper replies that it is better for her to be miserable for that cause rather than another (i.e., an unhappy marriage to Morris). Despite Morris’s temper, Dr. Sloper refuses to be roused. He admits that he is not sure that Catherine will give Morris up should he request it, but he intends to request it just the same, trusting to Catherine’s sense of duty. The session ends at an impasse.

The two encounters between Dr. Sloper and his daughter and Morris puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of suspecting that, despite his despotic manner, Dr. Sloper is probably right in his estimation of the situation. Dr. Sloper manages to be a man of good judgment and insight on one hand, and a placid, dictatorial tyrant on the other

Dr. Sloper calmly lets both Catherine and Morris spin enough rope to hang themselves. Catherine shows that she is acting on a whim and a fantasy. She has known Morris for only a few weeks, yet she claims that this is long enough to know someone well enough to decide to marry him. She is too trusting of his account of his past. He vaguely states that he has been “wild,” but does not elaborate as to what the consequences of that “wildness” might portend for the future. It is true that he has lost his fortune (which Catherine insists was only a very small...

(The entire section is 1,003 words.)