Washington Square: Chapter 3,4,5

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Summary – Chapters Three, Four and Five

We are told that Catherine has a taste for fine clothes and her father dreads the thought of her being over-dressed and showing off their opulence. At the age of 20, she buys a red satin gown with a gold fringe. She looks 30 in it and wears it to a party of her other aunt, Mrs Almond: ‘The girl was at this time in her twenty-first year, and Mrs Almond’s party was the beginning of something very important.’


Three or four years before this, Dr Sloper moved to Washington Square in 1835 and ‘built himself a handsome, modern, wide-fronted house’. The area is described as having ‘the look of having had something of a social history’. This chapter ends with a description of Catherine’s friendship with her cousins (who are the offspring of Mrs Almond) as she grew up and the party is for one of the girls, Marian, who has just got engaged.


Chapter Four begins at the party and Catherine is introduced to Mr Morris Townsend who had told Marian that he wanted to meet her. He is a distant cousin of Marian’s intended, and Catherine thinks he is beautiful. When he asks her to dance, she lets him guide her.


After dancing, they sit down and although he says ‘we will talk’, he does all the talking. He tells her he has been away and has only been back for a month or two and is lonely. As he talks, she thinks he speaks like someone in a novel or a play. However, she also thinks he is sincere.


Marian comes to them and tells him to find her mother as she wants to introduce him to Mr Almond. Marian takes Catherine by the arm and says she does not need to ask what she thinks of Morris. She goes on to ask her this and for the first time in her life Catherine lies and says ‘oh, nothing particular’. Marian says he is conceited and has told him so a dozen times. Catherine looks at her in amazement at this sign of her audacity. Half an hour later Catherine sees Morris with her aunt, Mrs Penniman, and is pleased by this. She is also taken by how her aunt appears to like him.


After dancing with a cousin, she sees her father and the narrator explains how he almost always addresses her with at least a degree of irony. Here, he calls her ‘magnificent’. In the carriage on the way home, the Doctor asks Mrs Penniman about the young man she had been talking to. She explains he was interested in Catherine and he admired her dress. Dr Sloper thinks to himself that Lavinia (Mrs Penniman) ‘is going to set up a romance for Catherine’ and it is a shame to play such a trick on her. He asks the man’s name and Mrs Penniman says she does not know. She asks Catherine and she says she does not know. For all her father’s irony, he believes her.


In Chapter Five, it is three or four days later and the Doctor learns the man’s name after he visits Washington Square with his cousin, Arthur Townsend. On the visit, Morris sits with Mrs Penniman and Arthur is with Catherine, and Catherine wonders why Morris is being so devoted to her aunt. She is not jealous, but is a little envious.


As she talks to Arthur, he reveals aspects of Morris, in that he is looking for something ‘to do’ but is particular and has no father, only a sister. When Morris gets up to leave, Mrs Penniman says she will tell Catherine what he has said once he has left, and Catherine blushes. He says to Catherine that he came to talk to her and it will be a ‘little pretext’ for him to come again.


The men leave and Catherine asks her aunt what she meant to tell her and Mrs Penniman says that Morris came ‘a-courting’ and he let her guess this as he did not say so exactly. Catherine says she does not understand as he does not know her. Her aunt replies that he does as she told him all about her.


Analysis – Chapters Three, Four and Five

Catherine’s meeting with Morris is the auspicious event foreshadowed in Chapter Three. In Chapter Four, she talks to Morris, or rather he talks to her and she compares him to character in a novel or a play. She stops short of seeing him as performing, however, and thinks instead that he is sincere. It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the novel that she is given the ability to perceive his role playing, but is unable to spot the fake from the genuine.


This inability is elemental to her already constructed gentle nature. It is also in keeping with her growing attraction to him and this is emphasized when she goes on to lie, about not knowing his name, and feels envious that he sits with her aunt rather than her.


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