Washington Square: Chapter 31,32,33

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Summary – Chapters Thirty One, Thirty Two and Thirty Three

The Doctor and Mrs Penniman visit Mrs Almond and the two women discuss Catherine’s ‘unhappy situation’. Mrs Almond says she is ‘“delighted”’ but thinks Morris ought to be ‘“horsewhipped”’.


Two days later, on Tuesday, Catherine receives a letter from Morris in Philadelphia and it is described as an ‘explanatory document’ and he promises he will never again come between her and her father. He hopes in the future they will meet as friends and wishes her life to be ‘peaceful and happy’.


She keeps the letter for many years and comes to admire its ‘grace of expression’. At the time, and for a long time after, all she has to help her is the determination ‘to make no appeal to the compassion of her father’.


A week on, he watches his time and catches her alone just before he goes out. He says he thinks she is not treating him with the consideration he deserves and she keeps her eyes on her work and says she does not know what she has done. He says she gave him to understand that she would notify him before she left the house. She says she will try to be cheerful and he says she strikes him as lucky as she has the pleasure of marrying her young man. She gets up and feels as though she is suffocating. He asks again that she lets him know when she is leaving and she replies that she is not going. He asks if ‘he’ has backed out and she says she has broken it off and asked him to leave New York. He is ‘puzzled and disappointed’ (as he cannot be triumphalist). He thinks she has misrepresented the facts but does not say so. He has his revenge by calling her ‘“rather cruel”’ when she says she does not know how he takes it.


In Chapter Thirty Two, it is related how Catherine goes on to bury her feelings and the Doctor does not know how ‘deeply and incurably wounded’ she is. It is his ‘punishment’ – for his sarcasm – that he never knows what happened and Mrs Montgomery and Mrs Penniman do not tell him either.


Mrs Almond tells him he has no sympathy and this has never been his strong point. He says his business is ‘“to see she gets no more knocks”’. Mrs Almond says she (Catherine) is enjoying her time now the people do when they have a crushed leg amputated.  The Doctor suspects this separation could be a ‘blind’ and wonders if when he is dead Townsend will return and Catherine will marry him then.


Over the following years she has some opportunities to marry but she refuses these suitors. She has still not married when she is past 30 and her father says he would like to see her marry. Instead, she becomes ‘an admirable old maid’ and interests herself in charitable institutions. She is also greatly liked and young girls confide in her about their love affairs.


For 17 years Mrs Penniman never mentions the name Morris Townsend to Catherine and Catherine is grateful for this. She is also given ‘a certain alarm’ as this is not in accord with her usual characters and wonders if she sometimes has news of him.


Chapter Thirty Three explains that the Doctor retires gradually and returns to Europe for a two-year visit with Catherine and Mrs Penniman.


One day, after their return, he asks Catherine to promise him something before he dies. He asks her to promise not to marry Mr Townsend after he dies. She asks why he speaks of him and he says it is because he is still looking for a wife, after having one and ‘“got rid of her”’, and has lately been in New York. He says he is fat and bald and this presents a strange image to her.


She says he (her father) does not understand and that she rarely thinks of Morris. He says it will be easy to give her promise; she is silent and then says she cannot do that.


He tells her he is asking for a particular reason as he is altering his will. This reason fails to ‘strike’ her and she scarcely understands it. All her feelings center on how she thinks he is treating her as he treated her years ago. He has also injured her dignity and she says she cannot explain or promise. He exclaims that he did not know how obstinate she is.


A year later the Doctor takes ill and he warns Catherine that he will not recover, but also says he wants her to nurse him as though he will. He dies three weeks later. After a decent interval his will is opened. It is in two parts. The first part leaves most of his legacy to his daughter and ‘becoming’ amounts to his sisters. The second part is a codicil ‘of recent origin’. It maintains his sisters’ legacies, but reduces Catherine’s share to a fifth of what he originally left her and says she is amply provided for by her mother’s side. The will also says ‘her fortune is already more than sufficient to attract those unscrupulous adventurers whom she has given me reason to believe that she persists in regarding as an interesting class.’ The remainder of his estate is divided between hospitals and schools of medicine in various cities of the Union.


Mrs Penniman thinks it is monstrous to play such tricks with other people’s money and presumes Catherine will break it. Catherine says no, and she likes it ‘“very much”’ but wishes it was expressed differently.


Analysis – Chapters Thirty One, Thirty Two and Thirty Three

The gap between father and daughter reaches its climax once Catherine’s engagement is broken off with Morris. Her father’s ability to be cruel is made apparent when he insists on asking her about her forthcoming marriage, although he knows it is all but over by this point, and her refusal to explain is his punishment for the sarcasm she has endured. The gulf is then maintained by his will, and this also echoes the obstinacy that both he and Catherine have been dominated by.

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