Washington Square; Henry James

"Washington Square " is a novel which has as one of the main subjects, the relationships between a father and
his daughter, defined by the admiration of the girl to her father and the scorn from him to his daughter. The
reason why he does not appreciate her is because he does not see in her any of the brilliant qualities that he
thinks he has.
The paragraph I am commenting upon, which is in the beginning of the novel, draws, defines the personality
of the father, which is going to be really important to understand the relationship that he is going to have with
his daughter.
The most obvious characteristic of the doctor in the description of Henry James is his self−confidence: he
think he is a "self−made man" and claims for the whole merit of his social success. Of course, James makes us
see it with the sufficient irony and ambiguity so as not to seem that he criticises the character. So, he makes
obvious that of course having married a richer woman has benefited him, and, at the same time, he always
adds expressions similar to "but that was not really important..." . Some examples are:
*"The fact of his having married a rich woman made no difference in the line he had traced for himself."
*"...and he cultivated his profession with as definite a purpose as if he still had no other resources than his
fraction of the modest patrimony which, on his father's death, he had shared with his brothers and sisters"
*"... the accident of his wife having an income appeared to him in no degree to modify the validity."
*"He was found of his practice, and of exercising a skill of which he was agreeably conscious, and it was
so patent that if he were not a doctor there was nothing else he could be, that a doctor he persisted in
*"Of course his easy domestic situation saved him a good deal of drudgery, and his wife's affiliation to
the "best people" brought him a good many of those patients whose symptoms are, if not more
interesting in themselves than those of the lower others, at least more consistently displayed."
*"He desired experience, and in the course of twenty years he got a great deal."
A: the point of view of the doctor B: the author showing us the reality, to mark the unreal position of
the doctor
From all these examples we can see how the doctor does not show any kind of gratitude to his wife, and
neither does he feel inferior to his wife due to the different economic situations from which they arrive at
marriage : according to him, he has got the whole merit of his social triumph , everything that has been given
by his wife is just an "accident", and he is sure that without her help and in any circumstance he would have
reached the same good social position. A completely self−conscious man, with no doubts, narcissist, owner of
"a skill of which he was completely conscious", and who , although it is not mentioned, thinks that practising
medicine has a lot to do with paternalism, the attitude of an omnipotent god that accept the favours and the
eternal thanks of the recovered patient. This is suggest in lines 8, 9 and 10: " a skill of which he was agreeably
conscious, and it was so patent a truth that if he were not a doctor there was nothing else he could be, that a
doctor he persisted in being, in the best possible conditions." He enjoyed recovering people, because he was
"agreeably conscious " of his "skill", but he would not use his skill to sane the poorest people, the one that has
no money, the one that will not give him prestige , he had to do it "in the best possible conditions", because
the other option would not had let him feel so satisfied with himself . Here is where we start to discover some
contradictions that probably ask for a second, and carefully reading. For example, from line 4 until 7( :" This
purpose had not been preponderantly to make money−it had been rather to learn something and to do
something useful− this way, roughly speaking, the programme he had sketched, and of which the accident of
his wife having an income appeared to him in no degree to modify the validity.") at the beginning we could
think, presume that this is true (why not?) but after we start to break our identification with the character:, and,
from the distance, we can see the mental schema that he has of his life: he became a doctor , not to ear money,
but to "learn something and to do something useful", but, What a coincidence!, he, not only had married a rich
woman, but also had use this situation to have only patients who were part of "the best people". It is also clear
in the text that Henry James knows what he is talking about, making obvious the distance between the doctor's
point of view and his, because if he agreed with the doctor, he would had never showed the blindness of the
doctor saying that he is not interested in earning money, but in learning something.
The doctor lies himself; he thinks he is moved by an altruist ideal. In the sentence that begins in line 10 and
finish in line 13 ("of course his easy domestic situation...") it is showed how he had made a reflection about
treating rich and poor people, and he had get to the conclusion that the "lower
Other" were no so interesting as patients as the rich ones, so he is being more "useful" helping the rich people,
and, if their symptoms were "more interesting in themselves", even more. Furthermore, as the symptoms of
the high class people are more "consistently displaced" they produce more economic satisfaction and more
brilliant results, what would give him more fame; on the other side, the poor ones, due to their social
circumstances, get more serious illnesses, can not pay the treatment and, as a consequence, they sane less .
As an end I want to talk about the last sentence (his son's death). Firstly I have to say that, as a doctor, he is
completely wrong, because he thinks that the boy is has "extraordinary promise", and he dies (but this do not
affects to his father's self−esteem as a doctor). The child's death is another clue to show us the disassociation
of the author with the character's opinion: the doctor thinks he is an excellent professional, but the truth (that
is not said, but implicated) is that he only knows how to treat non important rich problems, he is unable to
save the life of his own son. In the context of the whole book the episode of the child's death is very
important, because the "enthusiasm" of the doctor with his son is contrasted with the disinterest and the scorn
that he feels about the daughter that he after will have, who is the main character of "Washington Square". Is
his scorn a proof of chauvinism ? does it show a father disappointed because the expectations that he had in a
boy can not be reached by a girl? Or is it just the rage of a narcissist and egocentric man who cares just about
himself? These are questions that I have not answer yet.