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2015 Abstracts

The Treacherous Narrator of Henry James’ Washington Square

Conor Hilton, Brigham Young University


The narrator of Washington Square strongly colors the account of events that we receive. However, this information is tainted by the narrator’s treacherous behavior, seeming to be very polite, but hiding a heavy dose of irony and distaste behind the polite exterior. It is difficult to fully understand and interpret the events of the novel given the narrator’s heavy involvement in relaying the events of Catherine and Dr. Sloper’s interactions. The text must be interrogated, questioning the motives of the narrator and the reliability of the narrative that he presents. If the narrator is a friend to Catherine, then he likely is undermining Dr. Sloper. Yet, if the narrator is a friend of Dr. Sloper’s, as his intimate knowledge of the Doctor’s past and perspective suggests, then it seems unlikely that he is also a friend of Catherine’s. Perhaps the narrator is unsympathetic towards all of the characters, seeking to undermine their actions and words regardless of who they are or what they are striving to do. The narrator hides his biting asides behind a mask of the most formal politeness, but upon reading between the lines the narrator’s kindness and friendship for each of the characters is called into question. Understanding that the narrator is no friend to the characters in the story he is telling, the reader must question all interpretive comments made regarding the events of the novel. Stripping away the bias of the narrator is also essential to understanding the true nature of the characters of James’ novel, primarily Catherine and Dr. Sloper.