Washington Square: Top Ten Quotations

“In her younger years she was a good deal of a romp, and, though it is an awkward confession to make about one’s heroine, I must add that she was something of a glutton.”  p. 11 The narrator’s insertion concerning Catherine’s gluttony is an indicator of the way Catherine is depicted in mainly negative, although also occasionally humorous, terms.

“The girl was at this time in her twenty-first year, and Mrs Almond’s party was the beginning of something very important.” p. 15 This quotation is a useful example of a foreshadowing of events. This ‘something very important’ is a reference to Catherine’s first meeting with Morris Townsend.

 “And yet Mr Townsend was not like an actor; he seemed so sincere, so natural.” p. 20 Catherine is deceived by her attraction for her soon to be lover as she notices he talks as though he is in a novel or a play but unfortunately she also thinks he is being sincere. If one steps back from the narrative, this view of Morris resembling a character in a work of fiction is an adept use of irony on the part of the author.

 “Young men of his class never do anything for themselves that they can get other people to do for them, and it is the infatuation, the devotion, the superstition of others that keeps them going.” p. 70 This quotation exemplifies the Doctor’s view of Morris and also demonstrates his manner of dividing people into categories and types. This desire to quantify and measure is elemental to his profession as well as his personality which thrives on maintaining power.

 “She was really too modest for consistent pathos.” p. 95 In this instance, Catherine once more fails to respond to the romantic preferences of Mrs Penniman as she is unable to be melodramatic in the face of adversity. Catherine’s inability to be as romantic as her aunt wants her to be may also be read as coded criticism of those romantic tales that use a stereotypically attractive but forlorn heroine.

“She doesn’t take many impressions; but when she takes one, she keeps it. She is like a copper kettle that receives a dent; you may polish up the kettle, but you can’t efface the mark.” p. 102 Mrs Almond explains to Dr Sloper how steadfast Catherine is, and the image of the copper kettle is a reminder of her strength and durability.  The Doctor extends the metaphor by saying he will take Catherine to Europe to ‘polish her up’.

“The natural way to work it out was by marrying Catherine; but in mathematics there are no short cuts, and Morris was not without a hope that he should yet discover one.” p. 106 This reference alludes to Morris as he tries to wriggle out of his engagement to Catherine. His reluctance to marry her and his attempt to avoid any further emotional entanglement are captured in the references to mathematics and, therefore, to suggestions of rationality.

“It became for him a club with a single member.” p. 113 This point highlights how Morris enjoys the pleasures of the house at Washington Square while the Doctor and Catherine travel around Europe. This also typifies the view of Morris as a man who is willing to take advantage of a generosity.

“If Morris had been her son, she would certainly have sacrificed Catherine to a superior conception of his future; and to be ready to do so, as the case stood, was therefore even a finer degree of devotion.” p. 135 Mrs Penniman’s potential treachery to Catherine is illuminated here as it is explained that she has grown to prefer Morris to her niece. This demonstrates the extent of Mrs Penniman’s attachment to the illusion of romance.

“There was something dead in her life, and her duty was to try and fill the void. Catherine recognized this duty to the utmost; she had a great disapproval of brooding and moping.” p. 160 As the novel draws to a close, Catherine is eventually depicted with sympathy and some praise. The narrative voice has moved beyond the irony her father deploys to look at Catherine with more fairness. It is also of interest that Catherine draws on a premise associated with Puritanism as she chooses to take up her duty rather than the romantic dream that Mrs Penniman has urged on her.