Dueling Interlopers

        There is a similarity in character of two individuals from the stories of Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Brontë, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, and Washington Square (1880), by Henry James, filmed in 1949 as The Heiress by William Wyler. In the story of Wuthering Heights we have the character of Ellen Dean or Nelly (Flora Robson), very similar in many ways to the character of Lavinia Penniman from Washington Squarer (Miriam Hopkins in The Heiress). Both of these individuals are interlopers, which is to say, a meddler by definition; someone who interferes with the actions of others.

        What makes this such an interesting comparison of characterization is that both of these individuals are in similar circumstances regarding their external environment. Both characters are situated in the intrigues and romances of other people. For Nelly Dean this would be the romance of Catherine Earnshaw (Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). Likewise, for Lavinia Penniman she is involved in the romance of Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) and Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). In both situations these are tragic romances that do not become fulfilled. One might argue then that the meddling of these two characters could be a result of that. However, one cannot dismiss the fact that these romances are actually designed to be successful by the meddling of these individuals. In both circumstances Nelly and Aunt Lavinia perform several tasks of arranging meetings, facilitating time with the romantic counterparts, giving advice, attempting to manipulate others, and most importantly living vicariously through the romance they hope to engineer.

        The similarities do not stop there, however; there are internal similarities as well. Both characters are women of the same respective age. Both characters exist in position of counsel to the prospective couple and therefore take on the role of advisor with their demeanor. Both characters are intelligent but often mistaken in their judgments. Both characters are emotionally driven and use affective thinking rather than rational or logical processing to ascertain the validity of their actions. Both characters assume by default that their conclusions are correct and do not engage in self-analysis or critical thinking of their own actions. Finally, both characters seem to psychologically remove themselves from accountability or responsibility to the outcome of the romance. In both situations the romance does not end well, yet these two characters seem to place the blame on other external forces rather than admit to their own culpability.

Joshua L. Cardwell