Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:22PM
Mark Scarbrough in Henry James, Washington Square

Early on, I said we'd often pay special attention to the beginnings and endings of novels. This one by James is no exception.

Consider this: the novel opens with a scene of involuntary loss. It opens with death--which is an odd place for a novel to open. Specifically, with the death of two members of Dr. Sloper's family--two events over which he has no control but which both deal him great loss.

The novel then concludes with a scene of voluntary loss: Catherine's dismissing Morris and settling into her quiet life of "mild, firm sadness."

No matter what else you think about her fate, it is something she can control. James did not end with Mrs. Penniman's or Mrs. Almond's deaths--two events that could have been quite "natural" for the plot's conclusion. Instead, he has opted for a loss of a different kind: the loss that Catherine herself chooses.

In this, she has moved well beyond her father.

Article originally appeared on The Norfolk Library Book Group (
See website for complete article licensing information.