Washington Square Chapters 33 and 34 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 33 and 34 Summary and Analysis

Dr. Sloper eventually retires from his medical practice. He goes to Europe for two years, taking both Catherine and Mrs. Penniman with him. Mrs. Penniman feels that she is familiar with all of it, so it holds no surprises for her. On their return, Dr. Sloper speaks to Catherine about his death. She rejects the possibility as he is only sixty-eight years old, but he insists. He once again asks for her promise that she will not marry Morris Townsend after his death. Morris has returned to New York and frequents her cousin Marian’s home (Marian’s husband is Morris’s cousin), though this has been kept secret from Catherine. Dr. Sloper states that Morris has grown fat and old, that he has been married temporarily, and has not achieved any success in life. Catherine says that she seldom thinks of Morris, but she cannot make the promise not to marry him. Dr. Sloper warns her that he is altering his will. But Catherine cannot make the promise, because her father has injured her by bringing up this topic. Dr. Sloper proclaims her obstinate position. In this Catherine has a certain joy.

A year later, Dr. Sloper becomes ill after getting caught in the rain on a patient visit. He lingers for three weeks and then dies. On his death, his will is opened and read. The will consists of two parts. In the first part he has left the bulk of his estate to his daughter, with large bequests to his sisters. In the second part, a codicil, he reduces Catherine’s inheritance to one-fifth of the original amount, leaving the rest to different institutions. His reasoning, as he states in the will, is that Catherine has never spent more than a fraction of her income from her mother’s bequest, so that she has more than enough money to make her interesting to “those unscrupulous adventurers whom she had given me reason to believe that she persists in regarding as an interesting class.” Mrs. Penniman objects to the terms of the will. Catherine, however, is pleased with the arrangements, though she wishes that it had been worded differently.

Catherine and Mrs. Penniman remain in the house in Washington Square. One day, a year or so after Dr. Sloper’s death, Mrs. Penniman tells Catherine that she has seen Morris Townsend. He has indeed “changed,” but he is back in New York after ten years’ absence. He was married in Europe, but his wife died briefly after their marriage. He would like to see Catherine, but she refuses. She begins to weep softly, and Mrs. Penniman does not bring up the subject again.

The passage of twenty years reveals that nothing has much changed between Catherine and Dr. Sloper. They have apparently been living together for two decades under armed truce. Dr. Sloper’s request for a promise from Catherine that she will not marry Morris Townsend after his death reveals that he still believes that she will do just that, and is merely waiting out her father until he dies so that she can do what she wants. Her refusal to get married has reinforced this idea in his mind. She has rejected the few suitors who have come to her doorstep, suitors who were eminently suitable. He believes that she is pining for Morris, who has revealed himself to be eminently unsuitable. The passage of twenty years has not been enough for him to regain his trust in her judgment. Her independent spirit has been interpreted by him as...

(The entire section is 924 words.)