Washington Square is a great example of Henry James's prodigious storytelling talent. It's in the vein of a comedy of manners and indeed is often funny, mostly by dint of the ninny Aunt Penniman. It's a tragedy as well, or at least contains unpleasant characters who do not necessarily receive their just desserts, which I suppose is not the same thing. It's arguable that the father, Dr. Austin Sloper, is possessed of a fatal flaw that dooms him, but for the most part he is serenely unaware of it, which is hardly satisfying. The story of love lost and found is irresistible for me—it often put me in mind of Jane Austen the way it plays out—and Catherine Sloper, the main character and our heroine, comes with layers of fascinating complexity, a James specialty. I've seen a Hollywood version of this with Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift (called The Heiress) and it comes with a big wallop of an ending. The movie, which I saw first, is so generally faithful that I wondered as I was reading how James would handle such drama but I needn't have worried. The rebuke of Catherine by her father (and the lessons each takes from it), and then the resolution with her lover, were not nearly so highly contrasted by James, the better decision I think if one is comparing them. The satisfactions of the movie's broad gestures are replaced by a rueful complexity that is more ambiguous and open to conjecture as it stays in one's head and turns itself about. I tend to come down on the side of Catherine Sloper as a strong and self-possessed person who has come to know herself, and to appreciate herself and her lot for what they are. I have no doubt it's not difficult to make another case, closer to her father's view, that she is sad and pathetic, a lost soul. But no one can deny she is a great character of literature. I also really liked the early/mid-19th-century New York setting. Nice to see Europe mostly out of the picture for once with James, though of course the cultural relations between Europe and America remain one of the primary calling cards. But as James was born and mostly raised a New Yorker he brings a good deal of convincing sense of place here that feels more intimate than his European settings. Some of them are a little studied, occasionally even smacking of a guidebook. This is definitely one of my favorites by James.