Loyalty or Love

     In the 1880 Henry James novel Washington Square, Catherine in seen as a plain introvert, only hidden by her one quality of dress. Without wit, Catherine father supervises her every move. He has complete control of her. Her loyalty to her father is seen as weak, and pathetic up until the appearance of Morris Townsend. Until then Catherine was content in only making her father happy, leaving out herself or anyone else that was capable of loving her. Morris persuades Catherine to take another look at the way she sees herself. She finds herself choosing between her love and her loyalty. She begins to change from a disobedient child to a stable, capable woman.

     In the 1949 film version of Washington Square, The Heiress, William Wyler makes one see Catherine from another point of view. From the beginning I expected a dull, even ugly girl to come out and play the point of Catherine. I wanted her to be gullible and unknowing. I think that the novel made us believe this about Catherine. On the contrary, in the film Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) was pretty. It seemed as if she did care for herself even outside of her fashion sense. In both the film and the novel, I think Morris (Montgomery Clift on screen) initially really loved Catherine; and it made it easier to believe this after watching the film because Catherine was attractive. It was only after talk of money and her inheritance that I think Morris actually began to take the time and think about exactl what he was getting, or what he would be losing.

     I believe that out heroine begins to see the strong Catherine hidden deep insider of her. Only her ability to love so completely would bring this woman out. Our heroine does a superb job of showing us Catherine as a woman. Even her posture later in the movie makes her seem more powerful and in control. The little girl that her father once knew becomes good with her dry wit, and she finds herself to be the strong, smart one. Her change makes Catherine mysterious and challenging to those around her--quite the opposite of the plain Catherine everyone thought that she was.

     In the novel the relationship between Catherine and her father it is mentioned over and over again, constantly reminding us of the control that he has over her and her stupidity. It is also mentioned several times the change that takes place within Catherine. She begins to control her own life and unwinds from her father's finger. It seems that the narrator is constantly reminding us of how stupid she was, just in case we were to forget! Again, on the contrary, the film version does not portray her as stupid. I only hear it from the constant reminders from the father (played by Ralph Richardson), but I do not see it in her appearance. She faces the indifference of her engagement to what her father believes is a money-hungry man. She begins to realize that her father does not really care for her. It is at this point that she becomes strong. She had so much of her behavior resting on that fact that she knew her father loved her. When she found out this was not the case she broke loose and started living for herself. At this time she stands up for herself and tells Morris that she will marry him. She becomes complete and honest with herself. Morris delays the marriage and then breaks if off completely. This does not make Catherine shrivel away. It only makes her find more pride within herself. She becomes dependent on one but Catherine.

     During Morris' disappearance Catherine becomes a stable women able to care for herself. She creates a strong mind. I do not believe that she ever falls out of love with Morris; and, when he returns, she again has to choose between love and loyalty--the loyalty to Morris, or the love for herself. So our heroine chooses to be proud and never fall to the power of a man again, as she did with her father. In the novel Catherine goes from plain to strong-minded and with strong will. It is here that she proves she is our heroine, and an inspiration to all plain women.

     Love stories, in my opinion, are the greatest novels written. Usually, I would enjoy the common happy ending, the standard plot of the love struck couple falling in love and finding a way to be together forever. This is what made the Henry James novel so unique. Even though Catherine and Morris did not end up together, Catherine still finds herself with a happy ending. This is depicted so well during the scene in The Heiress where Catherine walks up the long stairwell with the lamp symbolizing her long journey to finding strength within herself. It is a different love story that leaves one thinking, yet satisfied with the way things turned out for our Catherine, the only who really deserves the happiness she found in herself.

Rebecca Reville

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