Mind of a Woman

     Women are hard to understand, as the saying goes. It is many times difficult to know their thoughts. Brontė and James, though, seem to capture the spirit of many women in their two Catherines. Their actions and words show the many sides of a true woman. This is also the same for the two movies based on these stories.

     First and foremost is Catherine Earnshaw from Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights. Could a woman ever be portrayed so well? I hate to put down my own gender, but could she be any more true? One minute she is in love with Heathcliff and wants to run away with him, and she is protecting him and only speaking kind words. The next minute, she is in love with Edgar Linton and wants nothing to do with Heathcliff. She is bossy and wants her way, yet she can be kind and gentle.

     William Wyler casts her excellently in the 1939 film of Wuthering Heights. Merle Oberon, the actress who plays her, is very diverse. She can be beautiful with a bright smile on her face speaking of happiness with Heathcliff, depicted by Laurence Olivier, or she can be harsh and sour when defending him or demanding her way. The script gave her an intelligence and strong side, as well as an innocence.

     Her character had numerous sides, but this is not uncommon to any woman. She was young and confused. She had different men who loved her. She knew what her heart wanted, but many times that is not for the best. She was pulling herself in different directions. She wanted to be strong and womanly, yet you could see the child in her when she made her confessions to Ellen, played by Flora Robson.

     Next, we have Catherine Sloper from James's 1880 Washington Square. This Catherine is in many ways different from the one just discussed; however, she also truly exemplifies many women. Henry James portrays her as very meek and shy at the beginning of his novel, yet by the end she makes a complete transformation. When faced with adversity and put through trials she becomes tough and independent. She decides to not let the world of people run her over. She shows the strength of a woman and what women can do if put to the test.

     She is cast wonderfully in William Wyler's 1949 film, The Heiress, which is based on the novel of Washington Square. Olivia de Havilland captured the role. Her look and tone of voice can be very extreme. She begins with a frail, non-pretty appearance and barely speaks above a whisper, but as the film continues her appearance becomes more pleasant to the eye; and her words become loud with an independent air.

     Upon reading these novels, I was surprised to see such outgoing, headstrong women for that time. Many have misconceptions about the role of women in past society. They were cast as the keepers of the home who sat back and did as the men said. I believe both Catherines were definitely ahead of their time. They were not afraid to show their beliefs and stand up front. It is remarkable how Brontė, James, and Wyler captured this and were not afraid to present women in full light. I assume they were very proud of their women.

Andrea Lea Yates

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