National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
Washington Square

Washington Square

by Henry James

We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.


Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted Washington Square for the stage. Their play The Heiress began a successful run on Broadway in 1947 and inspired the 1949 movie starring Olivia de Havilland. Working with your school’s performing arts department, perform the play for a school assembly or at a community Big Read event.
  2. Have students create a photo gallery of mid-nineteenth-century New York City. Many images can be found at the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. Encourage students to include a caption for each photograph. Display the gallery in the classroom or school library.
  3. Create a new cover for the novel that would encourage today’s audience to read Washington Square. Display your students’ artwork at a local bookstore or a Big Read sponsor.
  4. Partner with a local theater to host movie screenings of The Heiress (1949) starring Olivia de Havilland and Washington Square (1997) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh. Afterward, lead a discussion about the films. What aspects of the novel did each version seem to highlight? How did the portrayal of the characters in each film compare with the novel? Which actress did students prefer in the lead role? Which adaptation was more faithful to the book?
  5. Have students research the history of the women’s rights movement in the United States and create a timeline that highlights the most important event.
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