The Heiress of the Square

         William Wyler's 1949, a very well-made screen adaptation of the novel is seen from The Heiress's story line that closely follows the works of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, a novel depicting the notions of honor, love, and greed.

         A story beginning with the birth of Catherine and the death of her mother from childbirth makes for a very strong and shocking vein that continues throughout the both novel and movie. Due to the loss of his beloved wife when Catherine was born, Catherine's father knowingly holds a grudge against Catherine and thus tries to determine certain aspects of her life as to not interfere with his own.

         Although as much as Dr. Sloper tries to raise a very elegant daughter, one that will redeem herself in his eyes, the plain Catherine still falls for Morris, a seemingly deviant and money-hungry suitor. Dr. Sloper warns his daughter of the trouble at hand, but in rebellion to her father, she pursues Morris, as he pursues her financial situation.

         Nevertheless, Morris does not return the advances that Catherine hopes him to accept, and thus he leaves, simply disappearing dramatically for many years in the book but standing her up during their planned elopement and returning a few years later in the movie. Later on, now, Catherine finds herself without her lover and now a father on his deathbed. In the book, when he reappears older, balder, and stouter, with a perfumed beard, Catherine politely sends him packing. In the movie, shortly after the death of her father, Morris returns to apologize for not eloping. Catherine shows her boldness by giving Morris a second chance for marriage in the movie, not in the novel. Yet, when Morris goes to accept the second chance, he finds no one to receive him and is left pounding on the locked door in vain.

         In the end, this wonderful adaptation of novel to movie is setting itself apart from other screen adaptations. Both movie and novel show the grace and emotions set forth by the characters, although they are depicted differently in each version.

Adam Partin

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