The inspiration of James`s `Washington Square` (1881) was an anecdote told him by Fanny Kemble about a jilted heiress. The only child of a rich New York physician, shy, unattractive Catherine Sloper falls an easy victim to the attentions of a good-lookingfortune-hunter. The clever domineering father whom she adores attempts to blight Catherine`s feelings for her suitor by chilling sarcasm, only to succeed in blighting her affection for him. Meanwhile, her meddling Aunt Penniman, intent on stirring the fires of romance, threatens at every moment to turn Catherine`s tragic experience into farce.
James`s witty, brilliant, and fast-moving narrative seems always to outpace the slower Catherine and leave her behind, yet all the while it is revealing the development of her individual will and dignity. At the novel`s conclusion the poignant figure seated at her fancy-work `for life, as it were` has at last become, in some indefinable sense, remarkable.