After reading Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, I came to the conclusions that Catherine Sloper was a weak character. I considered Catherine to be naive and gentle. I found her character to be easily pushed over and uninteresting. I felt sorry for her because she was not bright, talented, or charming. Imagine my pleasant surprise to watch see William Wyler's 1949 film version, The Heiress. In The Heiress, Catherine is no longer a dull woman of the nineteenth-century; she is transformed into a vindictive, manipulative woman of the twenty-first century. I think that in the film, Olivia de Havilland does a wonderful job portraying Catherine as a smart, strong, and independent woman.
In the novel Washington Square, I was quite disappointed with Catherine's behavior. I can understand Catherine falling in love with Morris Townsend because he was very handsome and charming. However, the whole time I was reading the novel Morris was feeding her lines; and she was eating them up. It seemed very obvious to me that Mr. Townsend was not interested in Catherine as a person. He did not seem genuine towards Catherine. I was disappointed that Catherine could not see the warning signs that I found so clear. Morris always did the talking; and, when he talked, he sounded as though he were giving a speech. Catherine was like a toy for him.
However, I was pleasantly surprised at the change in Catherine's behavior in the film. In the novel, Catherine always conducted herself as a lady. She was very gentle. I enjoyed Catherine in the film because her character was spiced up. I liked the fact that in the film, Catherine did not take care of her father (Ralph Richardson) as he was dying. It was at this point that I realized that Catherine was a strong woman and no longer a pushover. My favorite part of the film comes when Catherine gives Morris a dose of his own medicine. She stands him up just as he stood her up years before. This is a classic example of a woman of the twenty-first century.
I enjoyed the film much better than the novel because I like the idea of Catherine being a modern-day woman. I think that it was interesting that Catherine never married and that she was an heiress to thirty thousand dollars. She got revenge on those whom had hurt her, including her father because he never knew if she married Morris; and she
lived as a very wealthy woman without the faithless Morris.