Fortune versus Love

     "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen wrote this in her 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice; and it would have also been appropriate in the 1880 novel Washington Square, by Henry James, filmed in 1949 as The Heiress, by William Wyler. In Washington Square, however, Catherine holds the fortune and is the one in want of a husband. Even though these novels were written in different times, they do have some characters and aspects that are comparable; for example, the characters of Catherine and Elizabeth, Morris and Wickham, and Mrs. Penniman and Mrs. Bennet. Despite the characters slight differences in qualities, they do have that underlying desire, "to be married."

     Love happens to appear in a number of novels that have been written throughout history. Love has occurred in some form in all the literary works that we, as a class, have discussed. It certainly occurs in both Washington Square and Pride and Prejudice. For Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), Morris (Montgomery Clift) captures her love by paying attention to her, which is something that she is not used to. For most of her life, Mrs. Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) is the only one that she can really talk to. Her father, (Ralph Richardson), being domineering, is not the type that one can speak to about matters such as love.

     Elizabeth, on the other hand, has a carefree father to whom she is the favorite. Elizabeth's love interests are a little more complex and complicated than that of Catherine's. Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy at a ball and leaving only a first impression by calling her merely tolerable, she begins to despise him. After becoming acquainted with Wickham, she begins to see why she disliked Mr. Darcy in the first place. Wickham begins to earn her trust and possibly a little of her heart by his charming character. It is not until she realizes that he needs a wife with a fortune that she comes to terms with his true qualities. Later as the novel progresses, Elizabeth begins to see the tender side of Mr. Darcy and after his first proposal and subsequent letter sees him in a new light.

     The men that they cared about could not fool both Elizabeth and Catherine a second time. Catherine knew, after Morris did not return, that he was only out to get her money. When he groveled back to her doorstep years later, she had grown much wiser and surer of herself and no longer needed Morris' attentions. Wickham could not fool Elizabeth again either. When he had decided to give his attentions to the other young lady with a fortune, Elizabeth chose to forget him. When he appeared to her again, she could really see him for what he was worth. Unfortunately, Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia could not see that and only saw herself as becoming an officer's wife.

     Wickham in Pride and Prejudice was the Morris found in Washington Square. Wickham was the same egotistical, selfish, thoughtless man that Morris has been. Wickham had found a spark and lively character in Elizabeth, but he had needed more than that. He needed the money to go along with it. Morris was the same; he saw dollar signs in Catherine's eyes instead of stars that he would have seen had he been in love with her. Morris revealed more and more to Catherine and this charming and attractive man dazzled her. This was also the way that Elizabeth fell for Wickham. He was as thoughtless as Morris and revealed everything to her about Darcy's character on their first meeting. In spite of these two scheming and charming men, the women do not fall for the same tricks twice.

     Mrs. Penniman and Mrs. Bennet in the novels also play an important role in these women's lives. Mrs. Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, is Elizabeth's mother who is just as nosy and "concerned" as Mrs. Penniman. Mrs. Bennet's only goal is to marry off her five daughters. Mrs. Penniman, on the other hand, plays a little more active role in Catherine's relationship. She jumps right in the middle of it, whereas Mrs. Bennet just tries to aid her daughters from the sidelines.

     Even though Catherine was left alone in the novel and Elizabeth found a love in Mr. Darcy, they both had similar characters enter their lives. Towards the end of the novels, Catherine had become more radiant and clever much the way her father had always wanted her to be; Elizabeth, however, realized that after Darcy's letter that she had let her own judgment and opinions override the truth. For Elizabeth, she had found that truth in Mr. Darcy. Both of these novels share a common theme, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man [or woman] in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife [or husband]" (Austen).

Leah Sims

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