Reading 42

Washington Square

  1. When the child was about ten
  2. years old, Dr. Sloper invited his
  3. sister, Mrs. Lavinia Penniman,
  4. to come and stay with him. He
  5. was extremely polite to Lavinia,
  6. scrupulously, formally polite;
  7. and she had never seen him in
  8. anger but once in her life,
  9. when he lost his temper in a
  10. theological discussion with her
  11. late husband. With her he
  12. never discussed theology nor,
  13. indeed, discussed anything; he
  14. contented himself with making
  15. known, very distinctly, in the
  16. form of a lucid ultimatum, his
  17. wishes with regard to Catherine.
  18. Once, when the girl was about
  19. twelve years old, he had said to
  20. her ‘Try and make a clever
  21. woman of her, Lavinia; I should
  22. like her to be a clever woman.’
  23. Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked
  24. thoughtful a moment. ‘My dear
  25. Austin,’ she then inquired, ‘do
  26. you think it is better to be
  27. clever than to be good?’
  28. ‘Good for what?’ asked the
  29. Doctor. ‘You are good for
  30. nothing unless you are clever.’
  31. From this assertion Mrs.
  32. Penniman saw no reason to
  33. dissent; she possibly reflected
  34. that her own great use in the
  35. world was owing to her
  36. aptitude for many things.
  37. ‘Of course I wish Catherine to
  38. be good,’ the Doctor said next
  39. day; ‘but she won’t be any the
  40. less virtuous for not being a
  41. fool. I am not afraid of her
  42. being wicked; she will never
  43. have the salt of malice in her
  44. character. She is “as good as
  45. good bread,” as the French
  46. say; but six years hence I
  47. don’t want to have to compare
  48. her to good bread-and-butter.’
  49. ‘Are you afraid she will be
  50. insipid? My dear brother, it
  51. is I who supply the butter; so
  52. you needn’t fear!’ said Mrs.
  53. Penniman, who had taken in
  54. hand the child’s
  55. ‘accomplishments,’ overlooking
  56. her at the piano, where
  57. Catherine displayed a certain
  58. talent, and going with her to
  59. the dancing-class, where it
  60. must be confessed that she
  61. made but a modest figure.
  62. Mrs. Penniman was a tall, thin,
  63. fair, rather faded woman, with
  64. a perfectly amiable disposition,
  65. a high standard of gentility, a
  66. taste for light literature, and a
  67. certain foolish indirectness
  68. and obliquity of character.
  69. She was romantic; she was
  70. sentimental; she had a passion
  71. for little secrets and mysteries
  72. – a very innocent passion, for
  73. her secrets had hitherto always
  74. been as unpractical as addled
  75. eggs. She was not absolutely
  76. veracious; but this defect was
  77. of no great consequence, for
  78. she had never had anything to
  79. conceal.
  80. Her brother, who was very
  81. shrewd, understood her turn
  82. of mind. ‘When Catherine is
  83. about seventeen,’ he said to
  84. himself, ‘Lavinia will try and
  85. persuade her that some young
  86. man with a mustache is in
  87. love with her. It will be quite
  88. untrue; no young man, with
  89. a mustache or without, will
  90. ever be in love with Catherine.
  91. But Lavinia will take it up,
  92. and talk to her about it;
  93. perhaps even, if her taste for
  94. clandestine operations doesn’t
  95. prevail with her, she will talk
  96. to me about it. Catherine
  97. won’t see it, and won’t believe
  98. it, fortunately for her peace of
  99. mind; poor Catherine
  100. isn’t romantic.’
  101. She was a healthy, well-grown
  102. child, without a trace of her
  103. mother’s beauty. She was not
  104. ugly; she had simply a plain,
  105. dull, gentle countenance. The
  106. most that had ever been said
  107. for her was that she had a
  108. ‘nice’ face; and, though she
  109. was an heiress, no one had
  110. ever thought of regarding
  111. her as a belle.
  112. Her father’s opinion of her
  113. moral purity was abundantly
  114. justified; she was excellently,
  115. imperturbably good;
  116. affectionate, docile, obedient,
  117. and much addicted to
  118. speaking the truth. In her
  119. younger years she was a
  120. good deal of a romp, and,
  121. though it is an awkward
  122. confession to make about
  123. one’s heroine, I must add
  124. that she was something of a
  125. glutton.
  126. Catherine was decidedly not
  127. clever; she was not quick with
  128. her book, nor, indeed, with
  129. anything else. She was not
  130. abnormally deficient, and
  131. she mustered learning enough
  132. to acquit herself respectably
  133. in conversation with her
  134. contemporaries. She was
  135. extremely fond of her father,
  136. and very much afraid of him;
  137. her deepest desire was to
  138. please him, and her
  139. conception of happiness
  140. was to know that she had
  141. succeeded in pleasing him.
  142. She had never succeeded
  143. beyond a certain point.