Friday, June 10, 2011

Washington Square by Henry James

Author: Henry James
Narrator: John McDonough
Originally published: 1880
Length: 8 hours
Source: Library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4.5/5

"Do you think it is
better to be clever than to be good?”

“Good for what?” asked the Doctor. “You are good for nothing unless you are clever."

Catherine Sloper is lacking in beauty and brains, but she does come with a sizable fortune.  Her father, a doctor whose wife died giving birth to Catherine, is convinced that her persistent young suitor Morris Townsend can only be after her money.  He is animated, interesting and handsome, while Catherine is dull and passive, but "good."  Does he see something in her that her cruel father clearly doesn't, or does he have his eyes on her inheritance? James keeps the reader questioning throughout.

He also manages to keep the reader chuckling throughout, thanks to the meddling of dear Aunt Lavinia. She for one is bent on bringing the two young lovers together.  Her efforts are sometimes counterproductive, but her desire to live some sort of romantic melodrama through them is downright hilarious.  Her character provides a much needed comic relief to the harsh sarcasm of Dr. Sloper.

I enjoyed this much more than The Turn of the Screw by James.  The reader of the audiobook was very good, but he read very slowly.  I even turned my player to fast speed, and it was still slow!  But it did help me get through much jam-making which was a fundraiser for our city's Relay for Life:


  1. When I first saw it was audio, I was curious how that would work with wordy Henry James. Maybe it's easier to follow his paragraph long sentences when it's read to you?

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I've been wanting to try another Henry James. I read The Turn of the Screw and thought it was just okay. Sounds like you felt similarly about that one.

  2. I'm sort of afraid of Henry James, maybe I should try this audio production.

  3. Kristi,
    From what I understand, this is much more straightforward than some of this other works. I've heard his writing described as convoluted, and that wasn't the case here.

    Have no fear of this one, in print or audio. I thought it was a quite entertaining!

  4. I was just in NY, in Washington Square eating ice-cream and when I saw this book in a bookshop I just had to get it. Glad to see you liked it!

  5. This is on my list for the Victorian Challenge. Glad to see you liked it. I will be my next classic. Thanks.

  6. Alexandra,
    How fun! I love it when travel and reading mix.

    I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  7. I listened to The Turn of the Screw on audiobook last month. I'm convinced that is the only way to 'do' James. I've only (barely) ever gotten though The Wings of the Dove in print.

  8. A reader who is too slow even at fast speed? That sounds unbearable!!!! I've never read anything by this author, I'm ashamed to admit!

  9. I read this one via audio too, and I found it SO heartbreaking. More than the other James I've read. And definitely more straightforward/less flowery!

  10. Your jam looks lovely. And thanks for the reminder about Henry James. I want to give The Ambassadors a go this year and had forgotten about it until just now!

  11. i have this book and I'm glad to hear it's straight-forward. I am intimidated by James! I'm reading one for my book club in a few months, though...