Washington Square Chapters 17 and 18 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 17 and 18 Summary and Analysis

Mrs. Penniman tells Catherine about her visit with Morris Townsend. Catherine is less than pleased; in fact, she feels genuinely angry, something that she has never felt before. She fears that her aunt is meddling to the point that, somehow, her aunt will “spoil” the relationship. Mrs. Penniman, on her part, is contemptuous of her niece’s loyalty to her father by refusing to see Morris. She makes Catherine drag information out of her concerning the visit, telling her that Morris has stated that he would marry Catherine any day. She also lies about where the two met. Catherine resents her aunt’s pushiness, and Mrs. Penniman resents Catherine’s lack of trust and unwillingness to let Mrs. Penniman be more fully involved. Catherine calmly insists that she will continue to be dutiful to her father and will not meet with Morris, despite her aunt’s contempt. Mrs. Penniman sees in Catherine’s words an implication that if Mrs. Penniman sees Morris again, Catherine will inform her father.

Catherine makes the decision to discuss the matter with her father but without informing on her aunt. She tells Dr. Sloper that she wants to talk with Morris one more time. Dr. Sloper asks if this is to tell him good-bye once and for all, but Catherine tells him that Morris is not going away. He asks her if she has written him, and she replies that she has done so four times. Dr. Sloper can tell that this is an indication that his daughter has maintained her relationship with Morris though she has kept her promise not to see him. Dr. Sloper is impressed with her fidelity and calls her a “dear, faithful child.” He asks her if she wishes to make him happy, to which she replies that she would like to, but fears that she cannot, because she cannot give up Morris Townsend. Dr. Sloper asks Catherine if she doubts his judgment concerning men, and Catherine says simply that he is wrong about Morris. When she asks him again if she may see Morris, Dr. Sloper replies that she may do as she chooses, but he will not forgive her if she does. Catherine explains that she wants to tell Morris to wait, hoping that her father will change his mind once he gets to know Morris better. Dr. Sloper informs her that he knows Morris well enough now and despises him. He then says that she can wait until he dies and then marry. Catherine finds this very cruel, and Dr. Sloper continues with this argument: not only will Catherine wait patiently till he dies, but Morris will do so even more. Catherine promises that if she does not marry Morris when her father is alive, she will not marry him when he is dead. Dr. Sloper suggests that she tell Morris that if they should marry, they will not receive a penny of his money. Catherine decides to see Morris again, and Dr. Sloper firmly shows her to the door. He smiles to himself, however, certain that Catherine will “stick” and not marry Morris.

Catherine gives the appearance of being firm and unchanging, yet a subtle difference in her character is occurring. Although she continues to be dutiful and obedient to her father, she is beginning to stand on her own by not completely cutting off her relationship with Morris Townsend. She is revealing a patience that falls within the realm of her duty to her father, and yet in a way also goes against his true wishes. She is also showing signs of standing up to her aunt and her aunt’s interference. Rather than yield to the manipulations of the elder members of her family, Catherine manages to balance her independence as an adult with her duty as a daughter and niece.

It is in her loyalty that one sees Catherine’s greatest strengths and her greatest flaws. She stays loyal to Morris while at the same time remaining loyal to...

(The entire section is 1,006 words.)