Henry James is one of the monuments of American Literature. He is so monumental in fact, that many people never read him. He seems too detached, forbidding, and Olympian. If you have been intimidated by James's formidable reputation, read the first few pages of Washington Square.
This compelling novel presents Catherine Sloper, a young society woman, in her thwarted search for love-from her cold, disapproving father and the man he forbids her to marry. With psychological insight and perfect narrative pacing, James creates the heartbreaking story of a woman unable to escape the past that imprisons her or to create the future she desires.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you're a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Henry James, 1880 (Library of Congress)
Engraving by George Du Maurier from the 1881 edition of Washington Square. (Library of Congress)
A typical 19th century parlor (Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County)