Washington Square

Washington Square Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-16

Chapter 11 Summary:

Later in the same night, Catherine approaches her father in his study and tells him that she is engaged to marry Morris Townsend. Dr. Sloper is not very pleased and he says that Catherine should have consulted him. When Catherine asks her father for his reasons against Morris, Dr. Sloper doesn't go as far as to say that Morris is mercenary. He simply says that Morris is more interested in Catherine's fortune than he should be. Moreover, Dr. Sloper is worried that Morris will spend Catherine's fortune just as he spent his own. Dr. Sloper plans to meet with Morris the next day.

Chapter 12 Summary:

Dr. Sloper tells Morris that he should have come sooner to request permission to marry Catherine. Morris apologizes and explains that Catherine appeared to be emancipated - Morris thought that Catherine had the freedom to choose her own spouse. Morris explains that he finds Catherine charming but Dr. Sloper says that disagrees. Morris and Dr. Sloper have a rather unpleasant conversation. Morris asserts that Dr. Sloper dislikes him because he is poor. Dr. Sloper simply argues that Morris neither has means nor has a profession. Hence, Dr. Sloper cannot accept Morris as a son-in-law. Dr. Sloper is upset when Morris suggests that Catherine will marry him even without Dr. Sloper's approval.

Chapter 13 Summary:

Dr. Sloper meets with his sister, Mrs. Almond, and she wonders whether he has been too harsh in judging Morris. Sloper decides that he will make contact with Mrs. Montgomery after all. Mrs. Almond suggests that Mrs. Montgomery may feel too obligated to her brother to say anything negative about him. Mrs. Almond feels sorry for Catherine, who is in a dilemma between choosing her lover or her father. It also seems that Lavinia will advocate for the lover over the father. Dr. Sloper warns that he will have no "treason" in his house on the part of his sister, Lavinia. Dr. Sloper realizes that both his daughter and his sister, Lavinia, are afraid of him - though he claims to be harmless. Harmless or not, Dr. Sloper intends to use this fear and "terror" to his advantage.

Chapter 14 Summary:

Dr. Sloper wrote a letter to Mrs. Montgomery who quickly replied. She lived in a very modest and tidy house on Second Avenue. When Dr. Sloper arrives, he has to wait for about ten minutes before Mrs. Montgomery meets him in the parlor; he finds this inexcusable, but once he sees Mrs. Montgomery, he immediately forgives her. She is a good, tidy, clean woman - flattered by the honor of Dr. Sloper's visit. She considers him to be "one of the fine gentlemen of New York."

After polite introductions, Sloper and Montgomery settle down to business. Dr. Sloper makes it clear that he has come for information on Morris; specifically, he would like to know more about Morris' character. Mrs. Montgomery admits that she is aware of the engagement and that Morris has already made it clear to her that Dr. Sloper does not like him. Sloper discusses the amount of money that Catherine will come into - considerably less if she does not marry a man that Dr. Sloper approves. Morris does not realize this yet.

Sloper pulls on Mrs. Montgomery's heartstrings and it isn't long before she is sobbing. Morris is a man with a good heart, but he is idle. She has given him money consistently, even though she is poor. He means to do well, but as a tutor, he only offers the children Spanish lessons. Mrs. Montgomery wonders how it is that Dr. Sloper can so easily understand her situation and how much she has suffered on behalf of her brother. She is a good woman and Dr. Sloper has some sympathy for her. At the same time, he takes great pleasure in his interrogation. Dr. Sloper has had his victory and he suggests that he might give Mrs. Montgomery some money towards her brother's support. She is somewhat offended, but Dr. Sloper consoles her. "Don't let her marry him!" is Mrs. Montgomery's sobbing exclamation: she is too good a woman to be rid of her brother by passing him to another woman. She knows that Morris will cause Catherine considerable pain.

Chapter 15 Summary:

Dr. Sloper is puzzled by Catherine's sustained silence. She is neither sulky nor visibly contemplative. She is simply quiet and patient. Dr. Sloper is convinced that his daughter will obey him and after a few days of silence he says to her "I am glad I have such a good daughter." He also tells her that she should come to him if she has anything to say. Catherine and Morris exchange letters, and Morris gives his account of the Doctor's cruelty. Catherine believes that somehow, if she is only patient, everything will work to her advantage. She expects that somehow she will see a reconciliation between her father and her lover.

For her part, Lavinia Penniman is looking for the plot to thicken - not resolve itself. And Aunt Lavinia is no mere bystander; she is willing to play her part. She tells Catherine "You must act, my dear; in your situation the great thing is to act." Aunt Lavinia is disappointed by Catherine - who seems too passive and submissive to her father. Lavinia imagines a scene wherein the two lovers would escape and elope. And after the elopement, Dr. Sloper would gradually come around. Lavinia meets with Morris, at her insistence, at a far-off establishment in the Battery (the southern tip of Manhattan). Morris finds the old lady unbearable but he is patient and does his best to maintain his politeness.

Chapter 16 Summary:

The conversation between Morris and Mrs. Penniman is discussed in this chapter: Morris wonders whether Catherine will cave in to her father's wishes; he also wonders whether Dr. Sloper will remain implacable. It seems that Catherine will hold fast to Morris and Mrs. Penniman suggests that Dr. Sloper may be won over, over time. She says that Dr. Sloper goes by the facts and that if the marriage is an accomplished fact and if Morris proves to be a decent man, Dr. Sloper will issue his blessing in subsequence. Mrs. Penniman suggests that Morris and Catherine elope, recounting a story in which her deceased husband, a minister, married two young lovers who had eloped. The father was afterward reconciled and came to be very fond of his young son-in-law.

Mrs. Penniman is full of romance and melodrama. She asks Morris if he has a gift for Catherine, and Morris replies that he does not. She asks Morris if he has a "word" for Catherine, and Morris advises Mrs. Penniman to tell Catherine to hold fast. Mrs. Penniman tells Morris that he is a good man and that if he marries Catherine, that will give Dr. Sloper proof that Morris is not what the Doctor claims that Morris is. If Morris marries Catherine even though she will not have her father's inheritance (though her inheritance from her mother is both larger and sufficient), it will prove that Morris is not only or even chiefly after Catherine's money. Morris suggests that this will do nothing and Dr. Sloper will just as well give his money away to a hospital. Lavinia, on the other hand, believes that Dr. Sloper would seek to amend his previous injustice. Morris takes no assurance in Lavinia's promise to assist him and look after his interests.

Analysis of Chapters 11-16:

At the beginning of Chapter 11, we find a moment of crisis. Catherine's bravery has flared. Her engagement catches the Doctor by surprise, though he does not admit this. The scene takes place in Sloper's "study" which serves as the physical epicenter of his power. It testifies to his knowledge, intellect, and success. This is the first of several "study" scenes in which Sloper's system is undone. The doctor is less concerned about Morris and more concerned about the "liberty" which Catherine has abused. The doctor's logic suggests that Catherine has been given the liberty of choosing a husband for herself but only so that she could use her liberty to choose a husband to the doctor's liking (the young contemporary reader should remember that in most societies and for most of history, most marriages were arranged - New York of the mid-1800s was still such a society).

When liberty performs the unexpected, it becomes something else. The doctor feels that Catherine has "taken advantage of [his] indulgence." Dr. Sloper relies upon his scientific credentials to support the claims that he makes in non-scientific regions of knowledge. Being a good doctor does not automatically make one a socially intelligent person. Sloper is partially correct about Morris being bad news but he's wrong about Catherine. Still, Sloper can boast (in Chapter 13) that in his profession (a life of "estimating people") he is right in "nineteen cases out of twenty." His sister, Mrs. Almond suggests "Perhaps Mr. Townsend is the twentieth case," but Sloper replies that Townsend "doesn't look to me at all like a twentieth case." Sloper is so presumptuous that he presumes to know his own mistakes. This is the sort of irony through understatement that one finds in Henry James' writing.

It seems that Catherine has grown up quickly in the interim between Chapters 10 and 11. The narrator is forced here to construct an argument, a conflict between Catherine and the doctor. Admittedly, the story would be rather pathetic if it ended here with the doctor easily trampling Catherine and her rights. Hence, Catherine becomes a debater. Catherine speaks well of Morris, and the narrator tells that Catherine "had not suspected hitherto the resources of her eloquence." From thoughts of resources, Catherine continues immediately to speak of the small "fortune" that Morris has "spent." Catherine has come into herself, come into a fortune, having found her hidden "resources." There are surprises, then, for everyone in Chapter 11. Catherine finds her situation "hopeless and oppressive" even though she admires the "neatness and nobleness" of her father's language. Dr. Sloper alternates from cold to warm - he is first angry and then forgiving - If Catherine accepts forgiveness, she implicitly admits that she has done something wrong. Catherine alternates, however, from warm to cold - she is daughterly and respectful in her pleading, but she becomes silent and unresponsive when Dr. Sloper tries to wring her into submission.

Later, Catherine remains silent and the doctor suspects that Catherine is doing this as a form of protest. She is simply being patient, however, and her actions betray no evidence of ill will or negative feeling. Dr. Sloper interprets this patience as submission.

The doctor threatens Morris with the fact that he will do whatever it takes to prevent the marriage. Sloper has no qualms about Catherine thinking him a "tyrant" for a year or for a lifetime. His phrase, "tyrant for a twelvemonth" foreshadows the doctor's desperate plan after all else has failed. He takes Catherine for a European vacation that stretches from the pre-arranged six months, to twelve. Dr. Sloper shows his ugly side at the end of Chapter 13, and in Chapter 14 as well. He makes the power of language explicit when he says that Catherine and Lavinia are afraid of him even though he is harmless. He intends to build upon this, "the salutary terror [he] inspire[s]." Taken within the context of his earlier statement, that Lavinia's meddling was a form of "treason," Dr. Sloper's self-portrait as a tyrant is complete. In Chapter 14, he goes into Mrs. Montgomery's little house as a very big man in Society. He launches an investigation, as if he were the Spanish Inquisition. He makes a "rapid mental résumé" of Mrs. Montgomery, and because he succeeds in forcing Mrs. Montgomery into the role that he has carved out for her to play, he believes that he really knows her well. He coerces Mrs. Montgomery into speaking ill of her brother, Morris, and then makes her feel good about her own morality. Dr. Sloper is exhilarated by Mrs. Montgomery's exclamation: "Don't let her marry him," and the "value" of these words was "greater [because] they had evidently cost a pang to poor little Mrs. Montgomery's family pride." Sloper's language becomes a weapon that outmaneuvers him, the language eventually out-masters the master. We will find that Sloper's words will eventually cost him dearly. And he will be forced to sacrifice his own family pride. The motifs of domesticity and family that are trampled in the scene, clue us in to the fact that Sloper operates in his own house (with his own siblings and daughter) unaware of the damage that he inflicts. He confides in his sister, Mrs. Almond, that he will build upon the "terror" he inspires - but by the end of the novel, Almond has condemned the doctor as "too consistently indifferent."

In Chapters 15 and 16, we get a sense of the "treason" in which Lavinia is involved. She wishes for "the plot to thicken" and she has a secret meeting with Morris encouraging him to press forward with the engagement. She is guided by her imagination and her advice is "incoherent counsel" that contradicted itself. She alternates between urges to act quickly and bide time. Aspects of Morris' character are revealed both in the fact that he is patient and polite towards Lavinia and also in the fact that he thinks of her with contempt and disgust. He finds her loathsome but he pretends to get along with her because she can help him. Finally, the scene of Chapter 16 makes an interesting contrast to Chapter 14. Morris has been betrayed by his sister. Now, Dr. Sloper is betrayed by his sister. Mrs. Montgomery gave advice "Don't let her marry him;" Lavinia now urges Morris to "marry Catherine at all risks."