Forgiveness versus Revenge

     The Catherine Sloper in the book Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880, shows a forgiving and childlike Catherine. The play The Heiress, written in 1948 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, and filmed by William Wyler in 1949, shows a Catherine revengeful and manipulative woman.

     The Catherine in the book seems rather meek and has no personality. She does not display any wit about her. Her only real accomplishment seems to be her ability to needlepoint. Catherine then meets Morris Townsend. She listens quietly to his every word and does nothing to further their brief conversations. She seems to have a poor self-image, which could have been due to her father, Doctor Sloper. This could be the reason she is unwilling to show her true self to Morris. Catherine's father has no faith in her and does not think she is very clever, which is very important to the Doctor. He constantly compares her to his late wife, who grows more beautiful and clever everyday in his mind.

     The Catherine in the movie, portrayed by Olivia de Havilland, follows the Catherine in the book pretty much up to this point. However, more of Catherine's wit and personality is shown in the movie. When Mrs. Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) asks Catherine if she thinks her late husband is looking down on them, Catherine replies it depends on where he is. The movie also shows how much Doctor Sloper, as depicted by Ralph Richardson, dominates and belittles her. This is shown when Catherine goes to buy a fish and her father criticizes her for not having the salesman bring it to the house.

     After Morris leaves her on the night they are to elope, two different Catherines emerge. The book and movie show different images of our poor, sweet Catherine.

     In the book, Catherine turns down numerous suitors and becomes a kind of "aunt" to young children. When Morris comes back in town again, he goes to see Catherine. Morris is not the handsome young man we once knew. He is now fat, bald, and bearded. She is polite, but firm with him. She tells him she is not interested and wishes not to see him again. She is civil to him although he leaves angry.

     In the movie, Catherine sustains an image of a sweet "aunt" to children. However, she changes drastically after Morris, played by Montgomery Clift, returns. At first, she refuses to see him. Then, she agrees to talk to him and says she has forgiven him. He tells her he still loves her, and they decided to get married. When he leaves to get a carriage, Catherine reveals her changed self.

     She tells Mrs. Penniman that she will not marry Morris; and, if she, Mrs. Penniman, wishes to stay on at the house, she will never mention his name again. The line spoken by Catherine--"Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters!"--shows her feelings toward her father and Morris.

     When Morris returns and begins knocking on the door, she quietly finishes her needlepoint. Catherine tells the servant girl, Maria, as depicted by Vanessa Brown, to bolt the door when Morris begins to pound. Catherine picks up her lamp and begins up the staircase. While she ascends the stairs, the same stairs she walked up when Morris abandoned her years ago, the audience can see the change in her. She is no longer the meek girl we first met; she is now a manipulative woman.

     Although both the book and the movie follow the same story line until the very end, two different Catherines emerge--one with forgiveness in her heart, and one with revenge.

Angie Butler

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