Washington Square: Chapter 16,17,18

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Summary – Chapters Sixteen, Seventeen and Eighteen

Morris asks if she has a message from Catherine and Mrs Penniman is embarrassed to admit she has not told Catherine about this meeting.


They talk about the Doctor and she says he cares for nothing but facts. She goes on to say that Morris should marry Catherine first and meet him afterwards. She says she can help them and Morris thinks of her as ‘an idiot’, but refrains from telling her.


He asks if this is why she arranged this meeting and she replies she thought he would like to see someone who is ‘so near’ to Catherine and he might want to send her something. He says he has nothing and she asks if he has a word for her. He says ‘rather curtly’ to tell her to hold fast.


Mrs Penniman mentions again about him marrying Catherine, and she says he will show the Doctor that he is prepared to do without the money. He asks what he shall gain by this and she says he will show the Doctor he has been wrong in thinking he wished to marry only for money.


He walks her back to Washington Square and she points out her room and tells him where Catherine’s is. He thinks of how it is ‘a devilish comfortable house’.


Mrs Penniman tells Catherine of her meeting with Morris in Chapter Seventeen and for almost the first time Catherine feels momentarily angry. She tells her she should not have done this and only she should have met him. She adds that she could not have done so as her father has forbidden it. Her aunt says she supposes if her father forbade her to sleep she would stay awake. Catherine says she does not understand her.


After a lengthy silence on both sides, Catherine finally asks her what Morris said. Mrs Penniman says he is ready to marry her ‘“any day”’. Catherine does not respond and Mrs Penniman nearly loses her patience with her. She says Morris looked ‘“very handsome, but terribly haggard”’. She also tells her that Morris is afraid of her father and asks Catherine if she means to give him up.


Catherine asks why she is pushing her so and her aunt replies she is worried she does not feel the importance ‘“of not disappointing that gallant young heart”’. Catherine says she thinks she does not know or understand her and Mrs Penniman says it is small wonder as she trusts her so little. Catherine asks her to not meet with Morris again and Mrs Penniman asks if she is jealous. Catherine blushes and says it is not right to deceive her father. Mrs Penniman reminds her that she has not promised him anything. Catherine repeats that she does not want her to do this again and her aunt says she is thankless and will never take a step on her behalf again.


In Chapter Eighteen, Catherine has been sitting alone and then goes to the library to talk to her father. She says she has not seen Mr Townsend but would like to do so. The Doctor asks if she wants to do this to ‘“bid him goodbye”’ and she says ‘“he is not going away”’. He enquires if she has written to him and she says she has four times and has asked him to wait. He kisses her, which fills her with joy, and asks if she wants to make him happy. She says she would like to but is afraid she cannot, as she knows he wants her to give Morris up.


He says it is better to be unhappy for months rather than years. He refers to Morris as ‘“selfish idler”’ and she asks him not to abuse him. He says he does not mean to and tells her she may do as she chooses. She asks if he will forgive her if she sees him and he says ‘“by no means”’. She informs him she wants to meet Morris to tell him to wait until her father consents and the Doctor says this (consent) will never happen. She says she is able to wait a long time and he says of course they can wait until he dies.


She is horrified at this statement and says if she does not marry before his death she will not do so after it. He asks if she means to be impertinent and she denies this.


He tells her to tell Morris that if they marry he will not leave her a farthing: ‘“That will interest him more than anything else you can tell him.”’ She agrees this would be the right thing to do and he tells her if she says the same thing to Morris he will show his irritation with her. She claims he (Morris) would never be rude to her. She says she will see him, the once for now, and he tells her if she does so she will be ‘“an ungrateful, cruel child”’ and will give him the greatest pain of his life. At this she cries and moves to him, but he evades her appeal and leads her out of the room. He is sorry for her, but is also sure he is right.


Analysis – Chapters Sixteen, Seventeen and Eighteen

Mrs Penniman’s insistence on interfering in this relationship is shaped by her view of romance and by her romanticized opinion of Morris. Whereas he sees her as idiotic, she is caught up in a youthful if not childish understanding of love and marriage.


This is highlighted in her impatience with Catherine, as Catherine fails to be as romantic as she hopes her to be. When Mrs Penniman lies and says how haggard Morris is and how he is ready to marry Catherine any day, she is annoyed that Catherine fails to be as swept away by the story as she is.

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