My reading of James's Washington Square (1880) continues between garden waterings. Lots of wit and wisdom in this novel, set in the 1840s, within a lifetime since the United States revolted from British rule.
The narration of Washington Square is tick-like, as if embedded in its characters. It would be a much shorter lifetime before F. Scott Fitzgerald gave us Nick Carraway to describe the hand-me-down glamour of Jay and Daisy.
The Great Gatsby (1925) is a novel about the three Vs: vanity, voyeurism and vicarity. I am not yet sure what Washington Square is about, though I am hoping Catherine's still waters continue to run deeper as the novel progresses.
I am half-way through Washington Square and have made a number of notes in its margins. A recent note concerns the ongoing negotiation between Catherine and her father, Dr. Sloper, over Catherine's suitor, Morris Townsend. The following passage is not narratively interesting, though it contains an observation that speaks to our times:
"'You told me that if I should have anything more to say about Mr. Townsend you would be glad to listen to it.'
'Exactly, my dear,' said the Doctor, not turning around, but stopping his pen.
Catherine wished that it would go on, but she herself continued. 'I thought I would tell you that I have not seen him again, but that I should like to do so.'
'To bid him good-bye?' asked the Doctor.
The girl hesitated a moment. 'He is not going away.'
The Doctor wheeled slowly round in his chair, with a smile that seemed to accuse her of an epigram; but extremes meet, and Catherine had not intended one."
It is true -- extremes meet. Never in the way we expect -- as in political orientation, with its moribund Left-Right dichotomy -- but certainly in tone and attitude. Catherine and her father are different from each other, yet both are bound by faith and reason, qualities that were, in mid-19th century America, wound tight.