Europe's Influence on Morris Townsend
Morris Townsend is not only handsome and intelligent, but he is charming, refined, and sophisticated. Without ever saying so directly, Henry James implies that this young man has acquired his polish from his exposure to the older civilization of Europe. Townsend has invested his entire inheritance in "broadening himself," perfecting his tastes and his manners. As a result he is markedly superior to the average young American man in every respect--except enterprise. He is well aware of his attractiveness to young women, not only because of his good looks and intelligence, but because of his acquired air of gentility and breeding.
At the same time that Europe has had such a positive influence on Morris, however, it has had a compensatory negative influence as well. He has acquired a taste for luxury and leisure so characteristic of the upper class young men he met over there, along with a positive disdain for labor. The two things seem to go together--refinement and indolence. He wants all the best things life has to offer, but he doesn't want to have to work for them. This has traditionally been less of a problem for eligible but indigent young men in Europe than in America. It was perfectly acceptable for the European male to marry for money and spend the rest of his life doing nothing.
Morris may have returned to America expecting to do pretty much the same thing over here. In fact, while he was squandering all his capital in foreign cities he may have been planning to maintain his pleasant lifestyle simply by finding a rich American girl to captivate with his charms and sweep off her feet, as he does so adroitly with Catherine Sloper. But Catherine's father might be said to represent Puritanical America in contrast to shrewd, practical, corrupt old Europe. Dr. Sloper has no tolerance for a lazy fortune hunter, however refined. Morris may have been expecting to run into a rich father who would welcome such a "trophy" bridegroom into the family, a young man who could take his unmarriageable daughter off his hands and present him with bright and bonny grandchildren--but poor Morris ran into a brick wall instead.
Henry James's Washington Square is said to be unique because it is set in America rather than in Europe; but there is plenty of Europe to be seen in Washington Square. In fact, it might be said that Morris Townsend has brought back a large chunk of Europe along with him. In the end it might be said that Europe has not only polished him, but polished him off at the same time.