Catherine, Your Not-So-Typical Cat Lady

         We have all heard the phrase "The Crazy Cat Lady." Usually, this phrase is associated with some bitter old lady who sits on her front porch and scares the neighborhood kids away from her yard and keeping balls that have rolled onto her property. Now I know Catherine did not own a cat, nor did she have kids playing kickball near her front lawn. Catherine did however possess a quality that many would say she had in common with your typical "Crazy Cat Lady" and that was being a female beyond her best years and single.

         In William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress, the cinematic adaptation of Henry James's 1880 novel Washington Square, Catherine (played by Olivia de Havilland) was portrayed as a cordial, gentle woman who was consistently polite with every person that crossed her path, despite their rudeness to her lack of social capabilities, above all, her own father, Dr. Sloper, depicted by Ralph Richardson. Dr. Sloper had unrealistic and unreasonable standards of what kind of woman Catherine should have grown into; being that her mother was exceptionally beautiful and eloquent. He did a marvelous job of keeping himself miserable after his son and wife passed away by choosing not to delight in the life and pleasing capabilities of his own daughter. This lack of love and attention had a huge impact on Catherine's need for adoration and affection. When Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) came around with charming comments and a shocking display of affection, Catherine was quick to take advantage of the situation and agreed to marry him, oblivious of his desire for her money alone. As Dr. Sloper suspected all along, Morris abandoned Catherine when he found out they would be living off one-third of his expectations.

         Years later Morris returns and is begging for a marriage with her again. Catherine has at this point grown aware of his true intentions and is ready for the revenge of her wounded heart. She makes him believe they are to be married and he is filled with excitement of his soon-to-be earnings. Catherine fools him just as he had fooled her by letting him bang on her front door with no intention on answering. Catherine declares that she can be cruel since she was taught by masters.

         After this, Catherine was able to grow a backbone and a sense of self worth. She turned out to be very admirable, exhibit a strong character in terms of standing up for herself, and not becoming week again at the return of an unsuitable lover; a lesson many could learn from. Unlike the unwed "cat ladies" who obtain their delight in life being mean to the kids in the neighborhood, Catherine acquired hers by having the ultimate revenge on the person who had hardened her heart, which is almost certainly more satisfying than to keep a collection of children's toys. Many women would be extremely jealous at the opportunity and success of her revenge. Catherine, bitter about love as the average single cat lady may be, was probably able to have a very satisfying life once Morris left her doorstep for good with a taste of his own medicine.

Janna Tanner

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