Here is an alternate ending for this great book. I know it
is really impertinent of me to do this, and I don't want to suggest that
this great classic is anything less than perfect. However, for a long
time I've been haunted by the way this book ends. The reader is unable
to determine whether Morris truly loved Catherine, or was merely after
With great respect to Henry James, I give you the alternative below written in my best Jamesian style (which I understand is still very lacking). I've based the verbiage and style after careful analysis of "Washington Square" and other great works by James. This analysis includes a detailed concordance of his novel, which provides a framework for adherence.
Of course, this alternate ending makes sense only if you have read the book. (If you have not read this book, stop now and read it! You can download a free copy of this book from The FreeLook BookStore, and various other locations on the web.)
We find, at the end of the story, that Morris has returned to Washington Square after many years of separation. He briefly meets Catherine, and asks her if she has read the letter he wrote her. She has not, and she rejects him. Morris wanders off into the night, presumably never to be seen again, and Catherine returns to her sewing.
I pose a simple and obvious question: what was in his final letter to Catherine?
If you have another ending for this great classic, please contact me and I will try to include it in this website. Here is my alternate ending...
Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy work, had seated herself with it again...
For the next hour, Catherine silently labored on her embroidery in single-minded fascination with fancy ruffles and fine strings entwined with thin cloth. At length, fatigued by the stitching, and with a mind that had turned as gray as the summer night, Catherine paused, and felt a longing to sleep, and to dream.
Perhaps - perhaps - perhaps. She closed her eyes and pictured a past that was lost, and a future that was reassuring in its sameness.
Perhaps - perhaps - her father - had loved her mother. Perhaps he had loved her with an intensity Catherine had never known, and now would certainly never know. This love they had felt! At one time, when they had been young, love might have transmuted her parents; filled them with jealousy, inspiration, resentment, and a plentitude of other emotions that Catherine could not permit herself ever to feel.
Yes - perhaps. The thought was mildly disgusting to her. The idea that her parents had physically conceived her, on a cold wintry night, embracing each other in passion - caused Catherine to shudder. A foolish love, she thought. Perhaps her parents had loved each other. But it had been for nothing. The progeny of that love had not been very precious. It was quite ordinary, as the house had become ordinary, both from without and within.
Mrs. Penniman peered at Catherine in the parlour doorway, and yielded to her compulsion to speak plainly, and even angrily.
"He's gone!" she said bitterly. "You have truly been a stupid girl!"
Catherine felt no shock at Mrs. Penniman's angry words, although she had seldom received so harsh a reprimand from her Aunt. Catherine felt no guilt, or pain, or fear. Rather strangely, she felt content. She had knowledge of what would come next, and again, and again, until the last days of summer had passed her completely. She murmured. "Yes, I have been stupid - all of my life. And I have never been good at changing. That was both my stupidity and my virtue."
Abruptly, Mrs. Penniman had begun crying. She sobbed softly. "Catherine - there is no hope for you. None! Or is there?"
The image of her Aunt's tears inexplicably caused Catherine to begin crying herself. "I suppose not," she stated, as her creeping self pity turn into a ravaging flood of emotions. How miserable and pathetic a picture she was! Her father would certainly have agreed to that. He might even have been moved to see her tears falling on to her fancy work, making marks that would stain her laborious stitches.
But remarkably, Mrs. Penniman had now sobered. Whatever sympathy she might have felt for Catherine seemed displaced with a sudden and harsh reproof.
"READ IT!" Mrs. Penniman said, and she flung a brown unopened envelope on to the floor. It glided on the polished wooden surface, coming to rest close to Catherine's chair. Mrs. Penniman turned and was gone. Catherine heard her fading sniffles as she paced away, down the hall to the kitchen.
The envelope lay on the floor, as Catherine sat in her agreeable misery. She dried her eyes on the fancy work, now ruined with her tears. She looked at the letter in a wonderment, as if it contained a powerful secret.
She did not touch the letter. She would never read it, and it would lie next to her unopened and unread, perhaps forever. Even so, after several minutes, she picked the letter up from the floor, and considered it carefully, observing its meticulous folds. She opened it, What caught her eye immediately was a small piece of fabric at the bottom of the envelope. It had been obscured by creases of paper, and she pulled the accompanying letter out to lay it on the table, without looking at it further. The cloth was wrapped around a small item. Her fingers trembled as she unwound the coverings; fearful almost to dispair at what she might find encapsulated within its soft lattice.
Carefully wrapped in the cloth was a large green stone. It was a thinly sliced jewel, clear and viridian, with edges so sharp they seemed almost like a knife's blade. She wondered if it could possibly be a real gem, and wondered whether Morris's fortunes could possibly permit sending her something so priceless, in something as ordinary as a brown paper envelope. The jewel was set in what appeared to be gold. Catherine instinctively moved the chain to her lips, tasting the metal, and feeling its coolness on her teeth. She ran her tongue over the stone, noting a slightly oily texture that was far different from glass or crystal.
She now fumbled for the letter, at first unable to grasp because of a palsy that cramped her fingers. She quickly scanned the words, written in modest block letters. She noticed several spelling mistakes before she caught a singular phrase. Her limbs ached painfully as she read the words.
"I may be poor," the letter said, "but I have cherished memories. It is your gift to me. For many years I have held the enclose emerald in your name. It is the second most valuable thing I have ever held. It came into my possession, during our long years of separation, through remarkable circumstances, unlikely to be repeated. Please take it, as this jewel is not so rare as what we had."
Once more, she began crying, and holding the gem tightly in one hand, she pushed her embroidery onto the floor with her other, and abruptly stood. She began running, tripping on the folds of her dress as she made her way to the house door. She felt the hot summer night air hit her face as she opened door, and was momentarily transported to a similar night, long ago, but never forgotten. She staired into the night, beyond the houses, down the street, and across the park.
Through her tears, Catherine saw something so improbable that it seemed she had, indeed, fallen asleep, and was now dreaming.
Amazingly - in the darkness of the park, far away, lit dimly by the distant gas lights, Catherine saw a figure among the night shadows. He did not see her standing in the doorway. He stood facing away from her, staring into the quiet of Washington Square. He must had stood for an hour or more. He seemed to be waiting, with futile hope, stranded in harsh contemplation of things desired, and things that could never be obtained.
In a moment he might leave. But for now he lingered - with the lack of ambition, as it were, that had scored his entire life.
-- THE END --
Copyright (c) 2005, CC Charles. All rights reserved.