Washington Square Chapters 5 and 6 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 5 and 6 Summary and Analysis

Arthur and Morris Townsend come to visit shortly after the party. Morris sits with Mrs. Penniman, while Catherine has Arthur for a partner, though she would very much like the situations to be reversed. She cannot help noticing how much Mrs. Penniman enjoys Morris’s company. Catherine herself has trouble focusing on Arthur until he begins to give her some information about Morris. His cousin is orphaned, Arthur says, with only a widowed sister for family. He has no business prospects at the moment. Arthur then informs Morris that he and Catherine have been talking about him. Morris says that he and Mrs. Penniman have not been talking about Arthur, but they have indeed been discussing Catherine. Catherine is not sure if he is serious or not. After the men leave, Mrs. Penniman informs Catherine that she believes that Morris is courting Catherine. Catherine is reluctant to believe this. Mrs. Penniman, however, is excited about the prospect of a project concerning her niece and a potential lover.

When Dr. Sloper returns home, Mrs. Penniman informs him of their callers. Dr. Sloper sarcastically asks if Morris proposed to Catherine. He halfheartedly remarks that, if Morris should come for another visit, he should like to meet him. When Morris returns a few days later, however, Dr. Sloper is again out of the house on business. This time, Mrs. Penniman insists that Catherine visit with Morris alone. Morris interrogates Catherine, asking about her habits and opinions. He states that, like Catherine, he is not fond of literature. He says that he likes to search things out for himself. He also likes things to be “natural.” He compliments Catherine on being natural and remarks that he himself is as well. The two discuss music, especially the singers that Morris has heard in Europe. He suggests that he may sing for her at some other time. Catherine clings to that veiled promise of another visit.

Dr. Sloper, on returning home, again heartlessly asks if Morris has proposed to Catherine yet. Catherine does not appreciate his flippancy, but can think of no adequate riposte at the moment. Later she determines that the next time he asks, she will reply, “Yes he did, but I refused him.” Dr. Sloper decides that since these visits threaten to become a regular courtship, he had better learn as much as he can about Morris. He visits his elder sister, Mrs. Almond. She knows very little about him, other than his past was a little wild after his father’s death and his coming into his inheritance, but he is resolved to start his life anew. She chides her brother for not doing Catherine justice in regard to marriage. She has, after all, the prospect of thirty thousand dollars a year as an income. Dr. Sloper sarcastically remarks that Mrs. Almond has not done justice by Catherine either if she thinks (as he does) that money can be the only attraction that men see in Catherine. He resolves to visit Morris’s sister, Mrs. Montgomery, to learn more about his daughter’s suitor.

The courtship of Morris for Catherine’s hand in marriage quickly picks up speed with his very first visit. Mrs. Penniman can tell that he has intentions of courtship for her niece, something that she herself looks forward to. Yet it is not out of consideration for Catherine that Mrs. Penniman rejoices in a gentleman caller: she is selfishly pleased to be able to act out the part of matchmaker. Whether or not Morris’s intentions are sincere or even honorable is not important to her. She enjoys playing the game, even to the point of using her niece’s heart as a pawn.

Dr. Sloper equally has little respect or concern for Catherine’s feelings. He jokes with her about a possible proposal, even after Morris’s first visit. His obvious intention is to squash any thought she might have that Morris is serious. To him, the idea that someone so attractive could have any interest in his plain,...

(The entire section is 1,031 words.)