The Ugly Duckling

     In the 1880 novel Washington Square by Henry James, Catherine Sloper was an object of pity and disgust. From her father's viewpoint she was nothing more than a timid, shy, creature that proved to be his constant, torturing reminder of the way his wife had left his side. To him she represented a spineless creature that was incapable of forming her own opinions, taking care of herself, or deserving the love of any man, including himself.

     This pitied opinion of others seemed to likewise go without saying from relatives such as Mrs. Penniman and Mrs. Almond in that she was an unattractive, boring, girl that no one would ever want to marry. Thus, as an unmarried woman in her upper twenties, she was considered to be a hopeless old maid.

     Morris Townsend likewise believed in the pitiful opinion of Catherine Sloper in that he felt he would be doing her a favor in helping spend her inheritance. Since he was handsome and a "good catch," why would anybody like Catherine not want to marry him? So, believing Catherine to be a complete fool, he carried out his plans of stealing her heart and taking her money.

     In the 1949 film version of this book, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, Catherine, portrayed by Olivia de Havilland, appeared to be a totally different person from that of Catherine in the book. First of all, Olivia de Havilland was a very pretty and talented woman who brought soul and uniqueness to the character of Catherine. In her portrayal of this character she was an educated, crafty, and socially accepted woman who volunteered much of her time to social works. Secondly, the Catherine in the movie did not let her father (Ralph Richardson) or Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) get to her in the end. By finally standing up to her father and eventually blowing Morris off, she was able to show that there was a great individual inside her mind that had never been allowed to show its true colors.

     Thus, was Catherine Sloper an ugly duckling? If one judges by yesterday's standards, maybe she was considered an ugly duckling. By today's standards however, an educated, refined, and all-around sweet person like Catherine, who is able to overcome obstacles in life, would be considered nothing short of queen material.

Krysta Ernstberger

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