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Washington Square (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Henry James
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Chapter 1
 
During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practiced in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in America has constantly been held in honor, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of “liberal.” In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognized sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science—a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.
 
It was an element in Doctor Sloper’s reputation that his learning and his skill were very evenly balanced; he was what you might call a scholarly doctor, and yet there was nothing abstract in his remedies—he always ordered you to take something. Though he was felt to be extremely thorough, he was not uncomfortably theoretic; and if he sometimes explained matters rather more minutely than might seem of use to the patient, he never went so far (like some practitioners one had heard of) as to trust to the explanation alone, but always left behind him an inscrutable prescription. There were some doctors that left the prescription without any explanation at all; and he did not belong to that class either, which was after all the most vulgar. It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Doctor Sloper had become a local celebrity.
 
At the time at which we are chiefly concerned with him he was some fifty years of age, and his popularity was at its height. He was very witty, and he passed in the best society of New York for a man of the world—which, indeed, he was, in a very succinct degree. I hasten to add, to anticipate possible misconception, that he was not the least of a charlatan. He was a thoroughly honest man—honest in a degree of which he had perhaps lacked the opportunity to give the complete measure; and, putting aside the great good nature of the circle in which he practiced, which was rather fond of boasting that it possessed the “brightest” doctor in the country, he daily justified his claim to the talents attributed to him by the popular voice. He was an observer, even a philosopher, and to be bright was so natural to him, and (as the popular voice said) came so easily, that he never aimed at mere eVect, and had none of the little tricks and pretensions of ­second-­rate reputations. It must be confessed that fortune had favored him, and that he had found the path to prosperity very soft to his tread. He had married, at the age of ­twenty-­seven, for love, a very charming girl, Miss Catherine Harrington, of New York, who, in addition to her charms, had brought him a solid dowry. Mrs. Sloper was amiable, graceful, accomplished, elegant, and in 1820 she had been one of the pretty girls of the small but promising capital which clustered about the Battery and overlooked the Bay, and of which the uppermost boundary was indicated by the grassy waysides of Canal Street. Even at the age of ­twenty-­seven Austin Sloper had made his mark to mitigate the anomaly of his having been chosen among a dozen suitors by a young woman of high fashion, who had ten thousand dollars of income and the most charming eyes in the island of Manhattan. These eyes, and some of their accompaniments, were for about five years a source of extreme satisfaction to the young physician, who was both a devoted and a very happy husband.
 
The fact of his having married a rich woman made no diVerence in the line he had traced for himself, and he cultivated his profession with as definite a purpose as if he still had no other resources than his fraction of the modest patrimony which, on his father’s death, he had shared with his brothers and sisters. This purpose had not been preponderantly to make money—it had been rather to learn something and to do something. To learn something interesting, and to do something useful—this was, roughly speaking, the program he had sketched, and of which the accident of his wife having an income appeared to him in no degree to modify the validity. He was fond of his practice, and of exercising a skill of which he was agreeably conscious, and it was so patent a truth that if he were not a doctor there was nothing else he could be, that a doctor he persisted in being, in the best possible conditions. Of course his easy domestic situation saved him a good deal of drudgery, and his wife’s aYliation to the “best people” brought him a good many of those patients whose symptoms are, if not more interesting in themselves than those of the lower orders, at least more consistently displayed. He desired experience, and in the course of twenty years he got a great deal. It must be added that it came to him in some forms which, whatever might have been their intrinsic value, made it the reverse of welcome. His first child, a little boy of extraordinary promise, as the doctor, who was not addicted to easy enthusiasm, firmly believed, died at three years of age, in spite of everything that the mother’s tenderness and the father’s science could invent to save him. Two years later Mrs. Sloper gave birth to a second infant—an infant of a sex which rendered the poor child, to the doctor’s sense, an inadequate substitute for his lamented firstborn, of which he had promised himself to make an admirable man. The little girl was a disappointment; but this was not the worst. A week after her birth the young mother, who, as the phrase is, had been doing well, suddenly betrayed alarming symptoms, and before another week had elapsed Austin Sloper was a widower.
 
For a man whose trade was to keep people alive he had certainly done poorly in his own family; and a bright doctor who within three years loses his wife and his little boy should perhaps be prepared to see either his skill or his aVection impugned. Our friend, however, escaped criticism; that is, he escaped all criticism but his own, which was much the most competent and most formidable. He walked under the weight of this very private censure for the rest of his days, and bore forever the scars of a castigation to which the strongest hand he knew had treated him on the night that followed his wife’s death. The world, which, as I have said, appreciated him, pitied him too much to be ironical; his misfortune made him more interesting, and even helped him to be the fashion. It was observed that even medical families cannot escape the more insidious forms of disease, and that, after all, Doctor Sloper had lost other patients besides the two I have mentioned; which constituted an honorable precedent. His little girl remained to him; and though she was not what he had desired, he proposed to himself to make the best of her. He had on hand a stock of unexpended authority, by which the child, in its early years, profited largely. She had been named, as a matter of course, after her poor mother, and even in her most diminutive babyhood the doctor never called her anything but Catherine. She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need have no fear of losing her. I say “such as she was,” because, to tell the truth— But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.
 
 
 
Chapter 2
 
When the child was about ten years old, he invited his sister, Mrs. Penniman, to come and stay with him. The Miss Slopers had been but two in number, and both of them had married early in life. The younger, Mrs. Almond by name, was the wife of a prosperous merchant and the mother of a blooming family. She bloomed herself, indeed, and was a comely, comfortable, reasonable woman, and a favorite with her clever brother, who, in the matter of women, even when they were nearly related to him, was a man of distinct preferences. He preferred Mrs. Almond to his sister Lavinia, who had married a poor clergyman, of a sickly constitution and a flowery style of eloquence, and then, at the age of ­thirty-­three, had been left a widow—without children, without fortune—with nothing but the memory of Mr. Penniman’s flowers of speech, a certain vague aroma of which hovered about her own conversation. Nevertheless, he had oVered her a home under his own roof, which Lavinia accepted with the alacrity of a woman who had spent the ten years of her married life in the town of Poughkeepsie. The doctor had not proposed to Mrs. Penniman to come and live with him indefinitely; he had suggested that she should make an asylum of his house while she looked about for unfurnished lodgings. It is uncertain whether Mrs. Penniman ever instituted a search for unfurnished lodgings, but it is beyond dispute that she never found them. She settled herself with her brother and never went away, and, when Catherine was twenty years old, her Aunt Lavinia was still one of the most striking features of her immediate entourage. Mrs. Penniman’s own account of the matter was that she had remained to take charge of her niece’s education. She had given this account, at least, to everyone but the doctor, who never asked for explanations which he could entertain himself any day with inventing. Mrs. Penniman, moreover, though she had a good deal of a certain sort of artificial assurance, shrunk, for indefinable reasons, from presenting herself to her brother as a fountain of instruction. She had not a high sense of humor, but she had enough to prevent her from making this mistake...

Revue de presse

“Henry James is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare is in the history of poetry.” —Graham Greene

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 161 pages
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  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B004UJI9U0
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Un James mineur mais épatant tout de même 1 juin 2013
Par jlya2
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Ce n'est pas le plus grand chef-d'œuvre de Henry James – pas un roman de la profondeur de What Maisie Knew ou Portrait of a Lady, mais une histoire charmante (quoique pas très gaie, comme d'habitude avec cet grand explorateur un peu cynique). Et dans ce récit bref, d'une histoire assez simple (une riche héritière assez laide que courtise un coureur de dot et qui se heurte à son père), James donne libre cours à son ironie. «Don't undervalue irony, it is often of great use», dit le père : l'auteur, bien sûr, s'est appliqué à lui-même cette maxime. Un grand plaisir de lecture, soutenu par une édition correcte, bien relue (quasi aucune coquille, c'est remarquable dans cette série d'e-livres gratuits).
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  65 commentaires
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 What was I afraid of? 12 juin 2012
Par book concierge - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
The focus of this entire novel is money. But James manages to craft a tale that explores not only wealth, how it is used and what it means, but social class, family structure, filial obedience, parental responsibility, and strength of character. Catherine may be described by everyone as "sweet, but simple," but she has a will of steel, and will show her father that he has grossly underestimated her.

Honestly, I don't know why I waited so long to read a Henry James novel. For some reason I thought he would be "difficult," with long, complicated sentence structure and archaic language. If you have the same notion, get over it. This is a very approachable story. I was engaged and interested from the beginning. Of course, now I've added more Henry James to my tbr mountain ... but I think that's a good thing.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Lovely prose, but tediously plotted 16 mars 2014
Par Victoria G. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
"Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty."

Oh look at that, Oscar Wilde has already written my review of this book. Splendid. I mean, that's it in a nutshell. Whatever criticisms I have of Washington Square seem to dance around that general sentiment.

Sometimes I feel like I read literature with half a mind toward the book's content and the other half toward the goal of discovering an author's particular ills--as if finding weakness in a great author is the true motive for reading great literature. There is no such thing as perfection, no? But that wasn't my motive. "Motive" implies premeditation, and if anything, I'd started this book with the plan to love it. Because I loved The Portrait of a Lady, and yes, James' incredibly accomplished, "dutiful" prose. But for reasons that would require too much of my own duty to get into, James' characteristic style weighed heavy on the feeble shoulders of this plain story.

I thought the characters were, not surprisingly, well imagined and acutely described. They were not the disappointment; for me, the plot was--a thin thing that perhaps even James got tired of harping on. So many conversations in the novel were about the same thing. And then of course, when one of the characters prides himself on being right 100% of the time, you know there can't be much change in the views expressed. Any mental and/or emotional movements in the story occur minimally and at a glacial pace. I listened to this in audio, and how tiring it became hearing these people talk in circles, never to agree or influence the opinion of another, only to float along with obedient patience. For readers who would primarily describe their own relationship to a parent or guardian as "impossible" or "like hitting your head against a brick walk," - you will especially tire of this book, as you get enough of it in real life. Count this as one period novel that can't be called "escapist."

And now another moment of honesty, though I may be sacrificed at the altar of Lit-Tra-Ture: I greatly preferred the movie adaptation. Not an exaggeration. At all. For one thing, Montgomery Clift. For another, Olivia de Havilland. And kudos to whoever freestyled with the screenplay, and then aptly renamed it "The Heiress." It's not like the movie has any great themes the novel didn't, but it actually makes use of them to create drama, excitement, and sweet, sweet retribution. The movie was so enjoyable, it makes me question whether James wrote the book to actually be of any amusement. Maybe simply demonstrating social tedium in Victorian society was the point. But then, people didn't have TVs in 1880; books were the entertainment. So what the hell was this stolid little parlor room "romance" supposed to be?

...but I give this 3 stars because I still can't be trusted to judge James with total impartiality. Really I'm inescapably enamored with the way he uses words. He's a wordsmith. A weaver of words...

"Doesn't she make a noise? Hasn't she made a scene?"
"She is not scenic."

Who the hell uses the word "scenic" to describe people and not landscapes? HENRY JAMES. Clearly some marvelous writing comes from painful duty.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Plain Jane Gets a Suitor 29 avril 2012
Par James W. Fonseca - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Here we are in New York City in the mid-1880's, a bit before Edith Wharton's time, but in the same social milieu. This is a kind of novel of manners, a mid-19th Century soap opera. Our author is Henry James, so be prepared for the long, convoluted, comma- and semicomma-laden sentences akin to those of Jane Austen.

Yet a fascinating book. Catherine, more or less our heroine, is plain, stolid, timid, obedient and, quite frankly, a bit on the dull side. She lives in her father's house. With her mother deceased, a widowed aunt is her caretaker and companion. Catherine is in her late 20's when a suitor finally appears (a late age for that era). Her suitor would be quite a catch for a gal like Catherine, so her father, a wealthy physician, immediately recognizes (and so do we) that he's after her inheritance. Her father forbids the marriage and in that process we learn that he is vindictive, petty, tyrannical, bullying - and wait --- there's something even worse: he doesn't really even LIKE his daughter.

The novel fast-forwards in the final chapters so we get to see how it all works out decades in the future. It's great writing --- it's Henry James after all. A good book for those who have a taste for the oblique references and flowery style of writing from that era.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting social commentary 17 octobre 2012
Par Book Nympho - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I was already quite familiar with this story because I'd seen the film adaptation, The Heiress, some time ago. Still, I wanted to read it because it's a classic and I've never read anything by Henry James.

Catherine Sloper is the main character, a young woman who is described as being plain and quite simple. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, doesn't seem to care that much about her and holds a grudge because her mother, a great beauty who he loved deeply, died shortly after Catherine was born. He allows his widowed sister Lavinia to live with them so she can teach Catherine and help her become clever. However as Catherine grows up he is continually disappointed in her despite her utter devotion to him.

The story really starts when Catherine meets a young man named Morris Townsend who is described as being incredibly handsome and charming. Catherine is immediately smitten with him and her aunt Lavinia also takes a liking to him and helps to facilitate their relationship. However, Dr. Sloper is suspicious of Morris because he has squandered his fortune, traveled around living a life of luxury, and now seems to be living off his poor widowed sister who has five children. Dr. Sloper suspects Morris only wants to marry Catherine because she is wealthy and also weak-minded and easy to control. He forbids the marriage, causing the main point of tension throughout the novel.

Catherine is torn between her desire to be with Morris and her need to please her father and earn his approval. The book goes back and forth for some time with Catherine distraught over which decision to make, Morris butting heads with Dr. Sloper, and Dr. Sloper trying to convince Catherine that Morris is no good.

The interesting thing about this book is the ambiguity around the characters. Although Dr. Sloper visits Morris' sister and seems to confirm that he's a loser, it's never really clear if Morris cares about Catherine. The reader can only infer through conversations and actions what is going on. And the more you read, the more you are presented with various perspectives and things to consider. For example:

Is Morris really after Catherine's money?
Should Dr. Sloper have the right to wield control over who his daughter marries?
Because Catherine is simple, is her money an even trade for Morris' good looks?
Why is it okay to want to marry a man who is well off but considered shallow for a man to do the same?

So I think this is mostly a book about society and the customs of the time. Because I had an idea of how it would end I wasn't that caught up in the story or the fates of the characters. Still, I enjoyed reading the book and am glad to have read another classic.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Vivid Account of 19th Century New York City's Mores and Manners 1 avril 2012
Par Stacy Helton - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Throughout my years as an English major I never read Henry James, but a few months back I found this 1996 hardcover edition of WASHINGTON SQUARE, with 8 pages of vintage photographs of the environs around that most interesting piece of real estate nestled in Greenwich Village. I have hope of seeing THE HEIRESS this fall in New York when Jessica Chastain plays Catherine Sloper, the romantic, homely daughter of Dr. Sloper. WASHINGTON SQUARE, written in 1881, is the familiar story of a daughter, the titular heiress, who falls for a rogue whom the reader is led to believe is more interested in her inheritance than her. While reading the story I was surprised at how this not-all-too-surprising story was made fresh (or was this the original fresh version?) by the incredible prose of James and the vividness of New York City in the 19th century, when the cities' gentry continued to move north from the battery. The story truly begins when the doctor moves his daughter and widowed sister Lavania to the now-fashionable Washington Square, where, at her other aunt's party, she meets the dashing Morris Townsend, who, with the complicity of the widowed aunt, pays a call on Catherine in their opulent parlor. The story expounds from there, with twists and turns of thought, manners and character. WASHINGTON SQUARE is a rewarding addition the canon of 19th century New York City literature.
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