Elena's Reviews > Washington Square

Washington Square by Henry James
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's review
Oct 09, 2007

really liked it
Recommended for: People who have sat through the 6-hour BBC version of Pride and Predudice more than once
Read in October, 2007

Engrossed in this book after the first few chapters, I read further with slight irritation because I couldn't pin down why I was so into it. Even the Austinian precision with which James paints his characters should have been overshadowed by a heroine who was "plain, dull" and lacking in intelligence. But it wasn't. I read the introduction after fininshing the book, and I think this is why:

"James commends Balzac for the way he so obviously loves his characters, not for any virues they may possess, but jut as they are. His ability to empathize with all his characters enables him to present them as almost completely 'free' creatures. James's inability to do this in his earlier fiction is one of the faults he was most aware of, and it is one he begins to correct in Washington Square; so that the character of Dr Sloper, say, is far more difficult to judge...one might say that he learned from Balzac how to give his characters a little more moral and imaginative rein."

So there you go, characters with ambiguous morals and intermitent virtues who are left unjudged by the author. This is why the novel became the great literary enterprise, even though this novel might not be considered a masterwork. Time to go read Portrait of a Lady.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Wayne You are so right Elena.James was almost a surgeon in his dissection of his characters...and this novel is a real achievement. So is your review.

message 2: by Trevor (new)

Trevor When I was a child I loved the film version of this with Olivia de Haviland and Montgomery Clift but I think it was called something else like The Heiress and the ending was more melodramatic.

Wayne Spot on...yet again!!!!You'd better watch out, there is a distinct danger you may become boring if you are going to be this consistent!!!
"The Heiress" (1949) with the great director William Wyler and the great English actor Sir Ralph Richardson as the cruel father.Haven't seen it for years so can't recall the ending but I have a feeling and I think it was a heightened one. James'ending looks low-key but it is very much a tightening of the screws by the supposed victim who has survived all that these wretched bullies have thrown at her.
I love James' short stories too.

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