The Parallel yet Divergent Tales of Two Catherines

         William Wyler directed movie versions ten years apart of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights in 1939 and Henry James's 1880 Washington Square as The Heiress in 1949. There are definitely some parallels here in the major love stories between the Catherines and their lovers, as well as differences.

         In fact, a synopsis could probably be written to summarize both works and their cinematic counterparts at once, and it might even go something like this. A main character named Catherine meets and falls in love with a man. This love is met with some opposition. In fact, one of Catherine's relatives outright dislikes this man. Suddenly, the man Catherine has fallen in love with leaves, with little or no explanation. After an extended period of time, years even, he comes back to find that the rules have changed, and Catherine is no longer the woman he knew before he left. There are some additional parallels to be drawn here. Both Catherines (Merle Oberon/Olivia de Havilland) become somewhat bitter by the end of their respective works (one obviously more decidedly so than the other). Both seem to be well-to-do (one marrying into a rich family, the other coming into a sizeable inheritance).

         Did one story influence the other? It is possible, but there are also a number of differences between the two to keep them from simply being the earlier work rewritten. Of course, there have to be a few differences, or one of these works would be a major act of plagiarism. In Wuthering Heights's Catherine's brother, Hindley (Hugh Williams) despises her love interest, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). However, in Washington Square, Catherine's father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), who disapproves of her love interest, Morris (Montgomery). Hindley dislikes Heathcliff, and Dr. Sloper dislikes Morris. In fact, Hindley and Dr. Sloper see their poor "villainous intruders" as unworthy suitors for their rich female relatives for different reasons, of course, but the rejection is still there in both cases.

         The outcome of each story is also different. Wuthering Heights's Catherine went to her grave loving the rejected Heathcliff, who still adored her, while Washington Square's Catherine came to despise the rejected Morris, had had never loved her, only her money, for leaving her.

Jeremiah Franklin

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