Father/Daughter Relationships

In William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress, based on Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1948 play, the strained relationship between Dr. Sloper and Catherine is even more pronounced than in Henry James's 1880 novel Washington Square. While in the book the depressing love loss Sloper directs toward Catherine is obvious, but not directly so, their relationship is dreadfully empty in the film.

Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) spends all of her time during the first half of the film trying to please her father (Ralph Richardson); and, a few times, she even expresses her wish to make him proud of her. Then he repays her love with smart remarks like the time she was showing off her new dress, which was red, a color in which her mother had looked beautiful, for the party, all he could say to Catherine was, "Your mother was fair and dominated the color." Her obvious attempt to please her father and try to get him to see his dead wife in her has been rejected by the one person she wanted most to love her. Even later, comments from him-in both the play and the movie-for example, in the dispute they have about Morris Townsend's (Montgomery Cliff) wish to marry Catherine, just overtly show his lack of love for his daughter:

"Catherine, I've been reasonable with you. I've tried not to be unkind, but now it is time for you to realize the truth. How many women and girls do you think he might have had in this town?" "Yes, I'm sure he does. A hundred are prettier, and a thousand more clever, but you have one virtue that outshines them all!?"-"Your money."

Although Sloper's suspicions are correct in that Morris does not want her for herself but instead for her money, love is not behind his actions to keep Catherine from marrying Townsend. He is concerned only that the money for which he has worked so hard is well taken care of after his death. And while we do know this in the book, the degree to which he does not love her is much more overt in the film.

Catherine does have her revenge on her father, as well as on Morris. When she refuses to tell her father she will not marry Morris after Sloper's death, he will not disinherit her, and he is left to wonder what will happen when he is no longer in the house on Washington Square. Just before she refuses to say she is done with Morris, she tells her father she knows he had never loved her:

Sloper: Morris Townsend did not love you, Catherine.

Catherine: I know that know, thanks to you.

Sloper: Better to know it now than twenty years hence.

Catherine: Why? I lived with you for twenty years before I found out that you didn't love me. I don't know that Morris would have hurt me or starved me for affection more than you did.

Sloper: You have found a tongue at last, Catherine. Is it only to say such terrible things to me?

Catherine: Yes. This is a field where you will not compare me to my mother.

She has her revenge at last on both her father and Morris. Because she was a woman no one ever truly, unconditionally loved, she was left to live alone-wondering what it might have been like if someone, anyone, even her own father, had ever returned her affections.

Vanessa Childers

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