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To own a house in Washington Square is a sign of success in nineteenth-century New York, and Dr Austin Sloper is a successful man. He is also fashionable, interesting, amusing, and clever.
His daughter Catherine is none of those things. She is a good, simple girl, who loves and admires her father and always tries hard to please him, but she is a great disappointment to him. Dr Sloper does not expect any interest or excitement from Catherine.
But life in Washington Square does become rather exciting, after all. Romance arrives, in the shape of a handsome young man who comes to court Catherine. This pleases Catherine's foolish aunt, Mrs Penniman, very much; she thinks Morris Townsend is charming, and so of course does Catherine. Dr Sloper, however, looks at young Mr Townsend rather differently. The Doctor is a rich man, and is conscious that after his death Catherine will inherit a fortune of 30,000 dollars a year. He wonders why such a charming and handsome young man is courting his dull daughter...