Catherine's Change

         Catherine Sloper was a quiet, gentle girl. She was every father's dream, but her own. She did as he said, embroidered, and went to parties. But, upon meeting a handsome man named Morris Townsend, she became none of these. She, in turn, did just as her dad did not want. Morris changed her in various ways, while dating and after. Catherine was the main character in the 1880 book Washington Square, which was turned into the 1949 movie The Heiress, directed by William Wyler. The way Catherine changed from one character to another was handled differently in the movie and the book.

         In the Henry James book, Catherine, as a young girl, worshiped her father and everything he said. He was her role model. This included doing everything as her father demanded of her. However, upon meeting Morris, her future beau, she began slipping away from Dr. Sloper and his teachings. Dr. Sloper asked Catherine to stop seeing Morris, and this made her want Morris all the more. Finally, Morris could no longer defy her father's wishes, and more importantly, risk her disinheritance anymore. He broke their engagement and left town.

         These times were hard for Catherine. But she became stronger, older and wiser for them. Dr. Sloper passed away, and Catherine became the sole ruler of her life. For twenty years she never married and perhaps waited for Morris' return. Once it happened, she found the strength to fight him. She told him she would not marry him now or ever. She was not unfeeling towards him because she still loved him; she just did what was right for her.

         The movie handled this scenario differently. It showed Catherine (Olivia Havilland) disobeying her father (Ralph Richardson) more openly and trusting Morris (Montgomery Clift) more because of it. She made arrangements to elope with Morris and leave her father, which he did not honor. This devastated Catherine and left her not only stronger, but also cold-hearted and stoic. She even displayed this stoicism toward her father. She no longer showed Dr. Sloper any emotion, just resentment. Upon his death she showed no sorrow but hate for her father, blaming him for her broken engagement. She went from being homely attired to being extravagantly dressed wearing flashy jewelry.

         Upon Morris' return, she promised him another chance and made arrangements to elope again. When Morris arrived to pick her up, she left him at the bolted door, frantically beating and calling for her. She showed no emotion as she turned out the lights, mounted the stairs in triumph.

         This is not the same Catherine in both version. James's Catherine still showed loved and emotions throughout the book's entirety. This never ceased. But, the on screen Catherine denied her feelings. She was more cold-hearted and hateful. These two Catherines are different people. Perhaps the movie Catherine was created for movie purposes, but I enjoyed James's Catherine's love for life and everyone in it. One could say the film makers ruined her by putting Catherine Sloper on the big screen.

Millicent Wilkins

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