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When in 1847 Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was published, with its plain heroine, many readers felt terribly cheated. Who wanted to read about an unattractive female?
Henry James took the idea of a plain heroine one step further. He created a heroine who is not only plain, but also far from bright. She is socially gauche and awkward. He took a big risk! He could have made Catherine Sloper as uninteresting to the reader as she clearly is to her father. But instead, he moves his readers to sympathise with Catherine’s plight, to admire her loyalty and devotion, her sincerity and innate honesty. He creates a powerful story about a woman trapped in a loveless relationship with her father and ‘lover’.
Washington Square is a moving novel. Its power comes from Henry James’s study of the human mind and its workings. One of Henry James’s easiest books to read, it is a fabulous depiction of wealthy life in New York in the middle of the 19th century. It has always been my favourite Henry James novel. I hope you enjoy it too.
Add more enjoyment to your copy of Henry James & Washington Square Literary Reader's Guide at its online companion page. Susannah has prepared these recommended resources to accompany Henry James & Washington Square.
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