Washington Square Chapters 31 and 32 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 31 and 32 Summary and Analysis

Catherine continues to hide her feelings, pretending that nothing has occurred. That Sunday evening, Mrs. Almond discusses the situation with Mrs. Penniman. Mrs. Almond is glad that Catherine is not marrying Morris, but she still thinks he should be horsewhipped. Mrs. Penniman, of course, is shocked at the suggestion. She informs her sister that Morris acted out of his concern that Catherine would be impoverished should they be married. When Mrs. Almond asks what Catherine has said to Mrs. Penniman, the latter states (untruthfully) that she says Mrs. Penniman has a “genius for consolation.”

When Catherine expresses concern that her father might ask her about Morris, her aunt tells her to tell Dr. Sloper that she is to be married. Catherine simply replies, “So I am.” However, two days later she receives a five-page letter from Morris, ending it finally and irrevocably. Morris asks her to banish from her mind the very thought of him. He will never again stand between her and her duties as a daughter. Catherine thinks it is beautifully written and, despite her pain, keeps it for several years.

Dr. Sloper approaches her a week later, stating that she has gone back on her promise to inform him of her departure three days prior to the event. He feels that, because of her demeanor, she is clearly getting ready to leave and marry Morris. She avoids telling him the full story. He asks again when she will leave; when she goes, her aunt will also be asked to leave. Catherine then tells him that she is not going away, that she has asked Morris to leave New York. Dr. Sloper is surprised and disappointed that he will not have the victory. He accuses her of being callous toward Morris, leading him on for as long as she did.

As time passes, Catherine settles into the role of spinster with perfect ease. She has set aside her pain, but she has also set aside any plans to marry. She receives several worthy suitors, ones who value her for what she is, one even madly in love with her. Yet she rejects them all. She devotes herself to good works. Dr. Sloper, seeing her turn away suitor after suitor, is convinced that she has not given up Morris after all, that she is simply being extremely patient, waiting for her father to die. Years pass, and at forty Catherine is considered an old-fashioned person, an expert on things long gone by. Mrs. Penniman, however, seems to have grown younger, though she does not excite the confidence that she did in Morris. She never mentions Morris to her niece, for which Catherine is grateful, though suspicious that in fact Mrs. Penniman has had contact with Morris and knows more about him that she reveals.

Catherine must at last accept the fact that Morris Townsend has indeed deserted her. His letter to her dashes all hope that his absence in New Orleans is only temporary. She refuses to speak of it to anyone, and when her father finally approaches her about it, she tells an outright lie and announces that it was she who broke up with Morris, asking him to leave New York. Dr. Sloper never quite believes her. Instead he thinks that she is just biding her time until he has died, so that Morris might return and the two can be married with all of Dr. Sloper’s money.

Catherine never tells her father the truth about her breakup, nor does she elaborate on any details. In this way she is punishing him for his contempt of her. She also refuses to tell anything to Mrs. Penniman, in punishment for her interference. Catherine has achieved a...

(The entire section is 944 words.)