Washington Square: Chapter 34,35
Summary – Chapters Thirty Four and Thirty Five
After the Doctor’s death, Mrs Penniman feels that ‘a vague oppression’ has left her life and she is now freer to obey her impulses. She and Catherine continue to live in Washington Square.
On a hot July evening they are sitting together when Mrs Penniman tells Catherine she has seen Morris. Catherine remains still and then says she hopes he is well. Mrs Penniman says he has changed a great deal and would like to see her. Catherine says quickly that she would rather not.
Mrs Penniman tells her she has seen him at Marian’s home and there is ‘“a touch of sadness”’ about him and he has not been very successful. She also says he talks of his ‘“evil star”’ and everything has failed but his ‘“proud high spirit”’. He married in Europe and his wife died soon after. He has not been in New York for 10 years and came back a few days ago. He has heard she has never married and said she had been ‘“the real romance of his life”’.
Catherine asks her to say no more and on being asked if she is interested she says ‘“it pains me”’. She goes to the window and feels as though the past has opened up ‘and a spectral figure had risen out of it’. She cries silently and Mrs Penniman does not see, but perhaps she suspected this as she does not mention him again that evening.
In the final chapter, Chapter Thirty Five, Mrs Penniman waits a week before mentioning Morris again. She tells Catherine he has sent a message and she promised to keep her word and tell her it. This makes Catherine think again about her aunt as being a ‘dangerous’ woman and says she does not care what she does with her promise.
Mrs Penniman tells her that Morris wishes to see her and he believes she would consent if she knew how much. He is going away again and, she says, he wants to speak to her first. He believes she has never understood him and never judged him ‘“rightly”’ and this has weighed on him ‘“terribly”’ and wants to meet her as a friend.
Catherine says to tell him she wants him to leave her alone. The doorbell rings just after this and she looks at her aunt and her aunt blushes. Catherine thinks of rushing to tell the servant to admit no one, but the fear of meeting her visitor stops her. She hears his name said by the servant and keeps her back to the door. She finally turns and sees him in the middle of the room (and her aunt has left).
He looks different now and is heavier, with a beard, and after a moment she recognizes the upper part of his face. He speaks and his voice is the same but without the ‘charm’. She looks at him and thinks how long ago it all was. She has no wish to ‘catch’ him and only wishes him to go.
He asks if they cannot be friends and she says she has only friendly feelings for him. He comes closer to her and says he has never stopped thinking of her. She asks him to never come back when he asks for leave to return. She tells him it is wrong of him and says there is no ‘“propriety”’ and no reason.
He tells her she does him an injustice and they have only waited, and now they are ‘“free”’. She says he treated her badly and he says she is not thinking of it ‘“rightly”’ and he could not have robbed her of her quiet life with her father. He asks if she will forgive and she says she did so years ago, but they cannot be friends. He says she is angry, and hopes to see some passion, but she denies it. She says ‘“impressions last when they have been strong”’. He asks why she did not marry and she says she did not wish to. He replies, ‘“yes, you are rich, you are free; you had nothing to gain.”’ She agrees she had nothing to gain.
As he leaves, he talks briefly to Mrs Penniman in the hall and both talk about Catherine not marrying and he says ‘“damnation”’ when she asks if he will come back. The novel finishes with Catherine in the parlor as she picks up her ‘fancy-work’ and seats herself with it again ‘for life, as it were’.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Four and Thirty Five
The novel closes with the return of Morris and the closure of Catherine rejecting him outright. It is left ambiguous if she regrets this choice, as she picks up her fancy-work and sits with it ‘for life, as it were’, but it is an understandable decision given that she is now portrayed as a free and independent woman.
Her wealth has been the means to her being able to live as a single woman, as Morris points out, and she is also (at last) given some strength of character that allows her to see her once betrothed as one who has previously hurt her.