The battle between a father and a daughter is usually portrayed in literature as a struggle between a headstrong but feisty girl and a tradition-bound lead weight of a father. Henry James, of course, had to do it somewhat differently.
He tells a story of an intelligent man riding the turn of the tide in mid-19th-century New York and watching what he sees as his numbingly dull and conventional daughter making the mistake of her life in her choice of husband.
The fight between these two delicious characters makes this one of James' funniest and most enjoyable of novels, with the suspense carried right up until the last moment as to how the contest will end.
Public Domain (P)2008 Silksoundbooks Limited
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"A fine narrator, wasted"
I've never been a big fan of Henry James. But when I read (while browsing on Wikipedia!) that "Washington Square" is a James novel for people who don't like James - and saw that it was narrated by Jennifer Ehle, an exceptional actress - I figured OK, why not?
I'm pleased to report that I now know how to pronounce Ehle's name, and from an unimpeachable source: her own voice, introducing the recording. For the record, it rhymes with Feely.
But despite her lively and charming narration, I really didn't connect with the story or the characters. James seems to go out of his way to make his characters unappealing and the story slow and predictable. His heroine, Caroline, is repeatedly described as unattractive and dull; and her father seems to think that letting her twist in the wind (regarding her marriage plans) is an amusing game. The narrative zooms in and out like an accordion, lingering over lovers' meetings and then racing through a year or two - or in one case a decade - with a few paragraphs of the dullest exposition: and then crashes to an abrupt end.
So my conclusion is: Jennifer Ehle is a gem, and Henry James remains (for me) a pill.
"Disappointed in narrator"
No, I wouldn't. The dynamic between the characters is clear and I didn't find subtleties in the plot or the characters to draw me back. And the narrator, Jennifer Ehle, was tremendously disappointing. She spoke as if she had never heard English spoken. It was almost as if she had never heard a human language spoken. The inflections were mannered and odd words emphasized. I loved her performance in Pride and Prejudice, so I hoped for an enjoyable listen, but instead it was simply painful.
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