Bringing Jamesís Washington Square to Cinematic Life

†††††††† Throughout the semester, many of the films we watched followed the story lines of the novels closely. Many of the directors gave the films their own touch, but one cinematic adaptation in particular followed the story line of the original novel more so than any of the films. William Wylerís 1949 The Heiress, which is based on Henry Jamesís 1880 novel, Washington Square, was depicted perfectly. The overall progression of the story, the personality of each of the filmís characters, and the setting of the film truly brought Jamesís novel to life.

†††††††† ďI expect nothing,Ē he said to himself, ďso that if she gives me a surprise, it will be all clear gain. If she does not, it will be no loss,Ē Dr. Sloper, Catherineís father, says in the novel. This quotation represents Dr. Sloperís attitude toward his daughter, Catherine; and attitude is not only depicted in the novel, but in the film as well. One of the most important ideas presented in the novel, if not the most important idea, is Dr. Sloperís consistently degrading attitude toward his daughter. If the movie had lost this element, the film would have been a failure because it would not have allowed the viewer to understand the inner-turmoil Catherine suffered because of her father. The film, however, almost enhances the negative feelings Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) feels for his daughter Catherine (Olivia de Havilland). He constantly compares Catherine to her dead mother, whom Dr. Sloper continues to admire even after her death. The feelings portrayed between Catherine and her father set the tone of the film, while also helping shape the attitudes and personalities of the characters

†††††††† After the viewer is introduced to the feelings that exist between Catherine and her father, the film is quickly able to progress. Luckily, not a single part of the story line is different from the novel. Catherine becomes interested in Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), but Dr. Sloper is not in favor of the relationship. After Catherine gets engaged to Morris, Dr. Sloper threatens to take away her inheritance from him. Catherineís emotions become tangled, and she is stuck between her feelings for Morris and her feelings for her father. Throughout the novel, I can feel the tension Catherine must feel. The film is even able to capture that tension with the help of a few key scenes and a timeline that progresses exactly like the book.

†††††††† The personalities of the characters are essentially what made the novel and the film so strong and what made the two versions of the story seem almost identical. James portrays Catherine as a plain-Jane type characterónothing special about her. Although she is not ugly in the film, there is really nothing about her that sparkles, similar to the physical description she receives in the novel. Morris Townsend is another key character whose physical depiction could have destroyed the film. Morris is, without question, out of Catherineís league in the novel. The director picked the perfect actor, Montgomery Clift, in the movie because Morris was attractive, yet there was something about him that seemed genuine. His looks were able to fool Catherine, but not Dr. Sloper in both the novel and the movie.

†††††††† The setting of the film was another strong point. James really paints the perfect picture of Washington Square in the novel, and the film simply brings Jamesís description to life. The house shows exactly what kind of people the Slopers are. Plus, the elegant setting helps support Dr. Sloperís negative opinion of Morris. Dr. Sloper believes Morris only wants to marry Catherine for her money. The setting puts Morris right in the middle of the lifestyle he would enjoy if he had money (Catherineís money), subsequently strengthening the argument against Morris Townsend.

†††††††† The best, and most important, similarity between the book and the film was saved until the very end. The strength in Catherineís personality finally shines through at the end of the two pieces when she turns Morris down once and for all.

Autumn Boaz

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