Washington Square Chapters 19 and 20 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 19 and 20 Summary and Analysis

Dr. Sloper confronts Mrs. Penniman concerning her interference. He warns her to stay out of the relationship and especially not to encourage Catherine’s open defiance, telling Mrs. Penniman that continued attentions to Morris on her part would be “treasonous,” which (as he states) is a “capital offense.” Mrs. Penniman replies by calling him an “autocrat” (dictator), but he insists that he is simply his daughter’s father. Mrs. Penniman points out that Catherine has just had a “dreadful night,” but he says that she will not die of one dreadful night, nor even a dozen. He emphasizes that he knows this because he is a “distinguished physician.” Mrs. Penniman then takes a big risk by saying that his being a distinguished physician did not keep him from losing two members of his family (his wife and son). Dr. Sloper warns her that, for that remark, he just might lose another.

Mrs. Penniman visits Catherine in her room. Catherine indeed had a bad night, but now she is composed and ready to go to breakfast. Mrs. Penniman is horrified that Catherine should appear to be normal in front of her father and states that she should stay in bed for three days in order to pressure him to change his mind. Catherine has no intention of using emotional manipulation on her father. She wants to please her father, yet she also wants to have Morris. She cannot, and will not, choose between the two. She writes to Morris, asking him to come so that she might see him.

Morris arrives the next day, eager for what Catherine has to tell him. He reprimands her for making him wait so long, telling her that she should have decided sooner. Catherine is confused as to what decision he is referencing. He is referring, of course, to the decision of whether or not she will keep him. Catherine is surprised that he thought she would ever give him up. She has been waiting, hoping that her father would change his mind, which (she hates to tell Morris) he has not. She just wants to see Morris. Morris then asks her to marry him the next day. Catherine asks him if it is not better to wait, in order to think about it more. Morris has believed that the “thinking about it” part of their relationship has long past. He therefore delivers her an ultimatum: either take him or leave him now. If she has chosen him, as she says she has, she must marry him soon. He accuses her of being afraid of her father, which she does not deny.

Catherine tells Morris that her father will disinherit her, leaving her not a penny, if she and Morris marry without his consent. She says that her father believes it will make a difference in Morris’s eyes. Morris agrees that it does, since it will mean the loss of several thousand dollars. Catherine, however, points out that she still has her mother’s money, which is more than enough to live on. Catherine then laments that she seems to disappoint everyone. Morris replies that it does not matter, so long as she has him. Catherine is not concerned about the money so much as losing her father’s love and respect. The word “disinheritance” shatters her, leaving her feeling alone and desperate. She sees Morris as the only refuge. She then announces that she will marry him whenever he wishes. He expresses excitement, but then pauses in a vague manner.

Dr. Sloper is emerging as a dangerous individual, especially toward Mrs. Penniman. Whether or not his threat of physical violence or “capital punishment” is to be taken seriously, he is, as the head of the family and the breadwinner, fully capable of turning both his sister and his daughter out of his home. He is above outward manipulation, yet this underlying current of control of the purse strings is in itself a form of manipulation.

Yet there is something appealing in his consistency. Dr. Sloper never wavers in his views. He does not yield to the influence of others. He states exactly what he feels. One never needs to second guess his words and insinuations:...

(The entire section is 1,153 words.)