Washington Square Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis

Henry James

Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis

Catherine grows up to be “healthy” yet plain. She develops an interest in “lively” dress, about which Dr. Sloper has much misgivings. He thinks it is bad enough that she is plain and dull, but now she is also overdressed. Catherine buys a dress that she has long wanted, a red silk gown with gold fringe. Although she is only twenty years old, the dress makes her look a more matronly thirty. It is this dress that she wears to the party given by her aunt, Mrs. Almond, in celebration of her daughter’s engagement to Arthur Townsend.

Dr. Sloper had been living downtown, but with the increase in his income and social level, he moves up to the more fashionable district on Washington Square. Mrs. Almond lives even further up town with her nine children. Catherine grows up extremely close to her cousins, especially the male ones. She enjoys boys’ games, but eventually the boys grow up and move away or go into business. One of her girl cousins is married, and the younger one, Marian, is engaged to a young stockbroker.

At the party, Catherine stands out because of her dress, but she remains on the sidelines. Her cousin Marian brings over Arthur’s cousin, Morris, who has asked to be introduced to her. Catherine is dumbfounded by his attractiveness, and she cannot remember his name, a habit she has when introduced to new people. Morris, however, is more than able to carry the conversation. He admires all aspects of the party and its inhabitants, while Catherine can murmur only short responses. She cannot keep her eyes off him, however. He is tall and slim but also appears to be strong. He has only recently returned to New York after spending several years travelling abroad. He is endeavoring to get back into the society of his birthplace.

Eventually Marian comes to take Morris to be introduced to her mother. Marian then asks Catherine what she thinks of Morris and she replies, “Nothing particular,” which is a deliberate lie. Later Catherine notices Morris talking to her aunt, Mrs. Penniman. The latter seems to be genuinely impressed with the young man, a fact which gratifies Catherine. When Dr. Sloper arrives, he expresses surprise that his daughter appears in the form of “this magnificent person.” He comments, however, that she looks as if she had “eighty thousand a year,” meaning that she appears more wealthy than she actually is. Dr. Sloper asks Catherine if she has enjoyed the party, and she merely replies that she is tired—another lie from someone who is usually honest. Dr. Sloper asks Mrs. Penniman about the young man, and Mrs. Penniman...

(The entire section is 1070 words.)