Washington Square Chapters 27 and 28 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 27 and 28 Summary and Analysis

On his return to New York, Dr. Sloper confronts Mrs. Penniman with what he assumes she has been doing in his absence. He knows that she has continued her relationship with Morris Townsend and that most likely Morris has f requented his home in his absence, which Dr. Sloper finds in deplorable taste. Mrs. Penniman, on her part, is equally sarcastic, but Dr. Sloper is unimpressed. She, however, is frightened. Dr. Sloper consults his other sister, Mrs. Almond, who is more sympathetic but is still unconvinced of the effectiveness of her brother’s actions. She points out that Mrs. Penniman has championed Morris for a year, so Morris sees Catherine’s absence as so much gained. She also informs Dr. Sloper that Morris has now found a position of gainful employment. Mrs. Almond expresses concern for Catherine, stating that her niece has touched her very deeply. Dr. Sloper says that she would touch him likewise if he were not so irritated with her. He is becoming irritated, too, with Mrs. Almond, who is as sure of everyone else’s position as Dr. Sloper is.

Mrs. Penniman contacts Morris to let him know that Dr. Sloper has returned without having changed his mind. Over the span of the year, during Catherine’s absence, Mrs. Penniman has grown even more attached to Morris, yet not in any kind of questionably romantic way. She feels for him as a mother or sister would. She is becoming more disappointed in Catherine, however, and the opportunities that she has missed. Mrs. Penniman wants to come to Morris’s place of business, disguised as a woman who has come on business. Morris has told her that his business is difficult to find in order to discourage such a visit, so he refuses and agrees to meet her on the street. He is fed up with hearing how Dr. Sloper has not relented. At last he speaks of giving Catherine up. Mrs. Penniman is concerned, but not surprised. She has thought this might happen, as she played out her fantasy in her head. She is understanding and does not try to talk him out of it. Morris asks if there might be some way that she can talk to Catherine and get her to think less of him. Mrs. Penniman points out that Catherine’s love for him is immense, to which he states that he has avoided thinking about it. Mrs. Penniman offers to break the news to Catherine, but he is reluctant. He tells Mrs. Penniman that he simply cannot come between Catherine and her father. Mrs. Penniman accepts this excuse, believing it fits with the picture she has created of Morris. Mrs. Penniman asks him what his next step is, whether he plans to marry someone else. Morris is disgusted with her suggestion, and simply states that he will seek a “wider career.” Mrs. Penniman is thrilled with the plan, but is concerned that he plans never to come to see her again. Morris says that he is not in favor of dragging it out, but Mrs. Penniman urges that he have one final parting.

As the plot settles into the dénouement, Morris Townsend makes his final choice to break with Catherine. His reasoning (so easily accepted by the overly romantic Mrs. Penniman) is that he cannot come between Catherine and her father. In truth, he will not accept so “dull” a woman at the reduced price of ten thousand dollars a year. He has seen that Catherine has been unaffected by the glories of ancient Europe, something that he has spent much time in his past enjoying. Perhaps if she had paid attention on her trip to the beautiful surroundings, she might have been more appealing to Morris on her return. Yet Catherine has remained the same, except for the fact that she has claimed her independence from her father by cutting the financial chains that bound her.


(The entire section is 1,002 words.)