The Beast of Washington Square

     Upon my initial viewing of the Henry James 1880 Washington Square-based 1949 film, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, I was utterly convinced of Dr. Sloper's monstrousness. I thought he (Ralph Richardson) was the worst kind of person, the kind that tries to control another person's life; present or future. I could relate to Catherine's (Olivia de Havilland) ploy because my own mother always controlled me enormously. She set my curfew, told me how to dress, how to behave; and, if I dated someone who displeased her, she would not allow me to date at all. I so hated being controlled, being told what to do. I ran away from it so many times but always had to come back, I just had to obey her until I turned eighteen, upon which I vowed to be my own master. Of course now I am financially dependent upon her, and not much better off; but I am free to do as I please, just as Catherine Sloper is free to do as she pleases.

     Catherine has a very attractive feature about her, which is very hard to attain for most women...........she has the prospect of thirty thousand dollars a year, which, in those days, was a hell of a lot of money. Ten thousand is not half bad either. In fact, she really could have easily lived quite comfortably on the ten thousand and never had to work a day in her life. Her father knows that too. He is not letting his daughter go hungry or wanting, he merely sees it that his hard-earned money does not fall into the hands of a man neither he nor his daughter knows very much about at all.

     Dr. Sloper has as much concern for Catherine's heart as well as her money. Dr. Sloper can see right through Morris Townsend's (Montgomery Clift) charm and knows perfectly well that he is only after her money. He cannot simply sit back and allow his own daughter to have the wool pulled over her eyes. Although Sloper misunderstands his daughter, he is not just being cruel when he treats her like a dumb innocent; he fears her heartbreak and wasted devotion on a man who does not love her.

     I think the doctor tries everything he knew to protect his daughter, but alas, resorts to disinheriting her as all other devices have been exhausted. Dr. Sloper, in my eyes, is a bad father. He does not love Catherine and support her as he should have. But I no longer believe him to be a monster because he has done his best.

Gabrielle Deaton

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