Morris: Evil or Not?

         Morris Townsend is the evil character in the 1880 book Washington Square, written by Henry James. Morris fools Catherine into falling in love with him, when all the while he only wants her money. This is evident in the book, or at least there is more evidence of it in the book. Yet, in the 1949 movie, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, it is not completely clear that Morris (Montgomery Clift) does only want her (Olivia de Havilland) for her thirty thousand a year.

         In the book, Morris seems like a "mercenary" the moment one meets him. As soon as one finds out that he talked his cousin into bringing him to the Slopers', one suspects something. Then, he talks only to her aunt; and, after they leave, she tells Catherine that he wants to court her. Once she says that one knows that he was just trying to get in good with her aunt (who, he can tell, is her confidant) to get closer to her. If he was sincere with his intentions, then he would have plainly said that he wanted to see Catherine. All of these things and others lead up to his leaving her suddenly. Even the way he left her shows his real intentions. He picks a fight with her and then leaves for New Orleans. One can tell he was just trying to get out of it because he realized that he was not going to get any money!

         The movie is an entirely different story. He is sweet, and charming. He stands up to her father for her. He even comes back with the same demeanor. Yes, he "jilted" her, but his reason could have been exactly what he said it was. There was no real evidence in the way he acted with her to show that he jilted her on purpose. Of course that is what one is led to believe, but what real proof does one have? None. The attractiveness of the actor, Montgomery Clift, does not help because one cannot hate someone who looks like that. However, that is minor compared to the rest of the reasons why he may not be all bad

         If the scriptwriters, Ruth and Augustus Guest, and the director had wanted to make Morris seem evil, they should have stuck to the book more. I do not think that they did a good job conveying to the audience that Morris was the "bad guy" in trying to shorten the book into a movie.

Bianca Bagby

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