Washington Square Chapters 23 and 24 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 23 and 24 Summary and Analysis

Mrs. Penniman learns that she is not to be included in the European trip. She is philosophic about it, although she admits she would have loved to see the art and the ancient ruins of Rome. She tells Catherine of her father’s real reason for the trip—taking Catherine away from Morris Townsend so that she might forget him. Catherine declares that this is of course not possible, so she contemplates telling her father so that he will not pay for a trip whose purpose is to no avail. Mrs. Penniman, however, suggests that she wait until afterward for the purpose of causing her father the expense. This, to Mrs. Penniman, is just revenge.

Catherine writes to Morris, asking him to meet her one last time so that they can walk about the town. Morris asks her if she is looking forward to seeing all the sights in Europe, to which Catherine replies that she is not. Silently, Morris proclaims her a dull woman. When Catherine tells Morris that her father is hoping this trip will make her forget about Morris, the later suggests that perhaps it will. Morris is convinced that, whatever happens, at least Catherine will get to see Europe. Catherine feels guilty for deceiving her father in taking the trip, but Morris tells her to enjoy it and buy her wedding clothes in Paris; this would show Dr. Sloper that they are willing to wait, thus putting them on the moral high ground. Perhaps some moment might come along in which Catherine might cleverly convince her father to change his mind, inspired by the glorious and romantic sights around them. Catherine is a bit taken aback at being expected to be “clever.”

Catherine informs her father that she is ready to leave and she makes her good-byes to her aunt and to Morris, the latter promising to remain true. After Dr. Sloper and Catherine depart, Mrs. Penniman visits with her sister, Mrs. Almond. Mrs. Almond chides her for pushing Catherine into marriage with such a “deplorable” man. Mrs. Penniman thinks he will make a lovely husband. Mrs. Almond says she has no use for “lovely” husbands, only good ones. She warns her sister that once the two are married, Morris will hate Catherine for not having the money he had hoped for. He may even be cruel. She suggests that Mrs. Penniman talk to Morris’s sister.

During their tour of Europe, Dr. Sloper and Catherine do not talk about Morris. Their planned six-month tour is extended to an entire year. One day, six months into their trip, while climbing in the Alps, Dr. Sloper leaves Catherine for a bit as he climbs further up the mountain. At his return, he abruptly asks her if she has given up Morris. Catherine replies that she has not. Dr. Sloper becomes so quietly angry that Catherine begins to think that he brought her up to the mountains to kill her. When he mentions that she might be left to starve, she thinks that he intends to abandon her in the mountains, but he is talking about Morris’s leaving her to starve. The subject does not come up again until the night before their departure for home, when Dr. Sloper asks Catherine her plans. She says that she assumes she will be married soon after she arrives in New York. Dr. Sloper learns that Morris has been writing her twice a month. He extracts a promise from his daughter that she will inform him three days before she “abandons” him for Morris.

In a sense, the climax of the story has occurred on the mountain summit in the Alps, when Dr. Sloper confronts Catherine and she fears for her life. It is seen that Dr. Sloper is perhaps really capable of the physical violence that has simmered beneath the surface. Prior to this, Catherine has admitted that she fears her father, but it is more on the level of fearing to disappoint him or being separated from his love and approval. It is on the mountaintop that she contemplates that he might actually kill her. She is puzzled and worried over his admission that he is not a “good man.” She is unsure what he means by this, but eventually it...

(The entire section is 1,105 words.)