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Published in 1881, ''Washington Square'' is one of Henry James'' most famous novels. It is the story of Catherine, a rather plain, shy and apparently malleable young woman who appears entirely under the will of her rich father. When a handsome young man, Morris Townsend, pays court to Catherine her father suspects that money rather than love is at the root of his interest, and he forbids his daughter to marry. Thanks to James'' unmatched ability to lead us deep into the minds of his characters, we watch Catherine discover her own intelligence and with it, the courage to defy her father. But, as in so many of James'' stories, a cruel fate intervenes and the lives of the novel''s participants are shaped in ways quite different to those they would have chosen for themselves.
Henry James was born into a wealthy Irish-American family who settled mainly in New York City's Greenwich Village and in Albany, New York, but lived and traveled extensively in Europe while Henry was growing up. Educated at a variety of schools in the U.S. and abroad, Henry spent a year at Harvard Law School, which he loathed, and used his time haunting the library and attending James Russell Lowell's lectures at Harvard College. Soon after, he began publishing short stories and reviews. When he was in his late teens, he spent much of his time on his own in Europe--chiefly England, France, and (his favorite) Italy--and, as he approached his 30s he became a virtual resident of Europe, returning to the U.S. only for brief periods. James became increasingly successful, wealthy, and respected as a writer of fiction and as a critic; his brilliantly insightful prefaces to his novels have influenced many writers. His attempts to write plays were all sad failures: To be a successful dramatist was a lifelong dream for James, but he seemed to lack the ability to dramatize action anywhere but on the printed page. In 1896 he settled at Lamb House, in Sussex, where he lived until his death in 1916. Reactions to James's work range from scorn and impatience (H. G. Wells called him "a hippopotamus resolved at any cost...upon picking up a pea") to reverence. Despite his increasing mannered and challenging style, James's work endures as great literature because of his humane sensibility, his insight into American and European culture, his moral clarity, his delicate wit, and the lucid subtlety of his language.
From the Publisher
In the Washington Square area of New York City in the late nineteenth century, devastating betrayals by both her father and her lover leave shy and fragile Catherine Sloper permanently scarred.