In Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880 and filmed as The Heiress in 1949 by William Wyler, the main character, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), is a simple young girl who lives with only her father (Ralph Richardson) and her aunt (Mirian Hopkins). Catherine's mother had died when Catherine was very young, and ever since her father has made Catherine live in her dead mother's shadow. Constantly comparing Catherine to her mother, he makes the young girl feel as if she is absolutely nothing. His stories of her mother make her sound perfect and angelic, a woman like no other.
Because of all of Dr. Sloper's mental intimidation of Catherine, he begins to create a complex for her at a very young age. When Catherine was born, Dr. Sloper was hoping for a son and was disappointed to be raising a daughter. After his wife dies, he tells himself that he will "make the best" of Catherine. Catherine slowly began to grow into a fine young lady, but in Dr. Sloper's eyes she was nothing more than "nice." Catherine was often described as plain and dull. Although when Catherine was very young her father never said these things to her face, his demeanor towards her spoke volumes.
As Catherine grew older and began attending social events, she often "had no desire to shine" and would spend much of the evening lurking in the background. Catherine slowly became aware that as much as she wanted nothing more than to please her father, there was only so much she could do. Catherine increasingly became aware of her father's disappointment with her. She knew her father loved her mother so very much, so much that he idolized her. Yet everyday Catherine strove to please her father.
When Catherine slowly became of age, Dr. Sloper starting telling himself that no man would ever love her. If any man did love her, it would be because the young girl is an heiress not because of her looks and personality.
Dr. Sloper's in-affection towards his daughter may explain why she turned out "plain and dull." Maybe if Catherine had known what or how she could more realistically please her father, she would have come out of her shell. If Dr. Sloper loved his wife as much as he claims, he might have tried harder to accept his daughter, as his wife would have. I feel that if Mrs. Sloper could have known how her widowed husband was treating their only child, she would be appalled.