Washington Square and The Heiress: Not Much to Look At

         Henry James’ 1880 novel entitled Washington Square tells the story of a young lady named Catherine. Catherine is nearing that time in her life when a young lady starts to look for the company of a young man. Her father, Dr. Sloper has told her all her life that she is plain looking and dull minded. This is Catherine’s problem. She has found a man she likes, Morris, but her father insists that he is only after her large inheritance. Her father basically thinks: “How could Morris like her for any other reason?”

         This is the general dilemma of the novel version and the film version of the story. There is not much excitement in the story, but there is just enough drama to keep the audience mildly entertained. Some more conflict arrives when we find out that Morris leaves Catherine after she tells him that she will not be receiving the inheritance, confirming her father’s predictions about Morris. Morris returns while Catherine and her father are on vacation to live in their house and drink and smoke all of Mr. Sloper’s wine and cigars. The fact that Morris lives in the doctor’s home and uses his things gives the audience a true understanding of his motives.

         At the end of the story, Catherine inherits the money, and Morris returns, but Catherine has found enough strength in herself to turn him away. We can admire Catherine for this, but we still feel sorry that she has been wronged in her life by the two male figures in this story. All she wanted from anyone was love or acceptance. This is the true meaning of the story, but it should not take this much information to tell.

        William Wyler directed the film version in 1949 entitled The Heiress. The film version was not all bad. Olivia de Havilland, The actress who played Catherine portrayed the roll very well and showed lots of great emotion. There was little action, and the drama was only slightly entertaining. This story makes a better book than a film. The story slightly diverges from what the audience thinks would happen when Catherine finally finds herself at the end, but this is about the only thing that could be considered mildly as a “twist.”

Brian Schuldt

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