After reading Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) and then Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's screenplay (1938), followed by watching William Wyler's movie (1939), I noticed many large differences between the book and the screenplay. Some differences were subtle, and one would expect to see them with any movie adaptation, but perhaps what surprised me the most was that the characters were almost completely different. The Catherine Linton of the book did not seem to truly love Edgar, and it showed when Heathcliff came back to Wuthering Heights, and she was absolutely beside herself with excitement. Then, I read the screenplay and found that the writers had changed Catherine's character to one that seemed devoted to Edgar and wanted nothing to do with Heathcliff.
The change in Catherine's character altered the meaning of the whole story line and perception of the book for me. I began to wonder why they would want Catherine to be more devoted to Edgar in the movie than the book? Then I remembered all the lovely dances and parties that the Lintons held in the movie compared to the book. In the book, there was not even one dance or party.
What connection does Catherine's (Merle Oberon) devotion to Edgar (David Niven) have to there being many dances in the movie? Since Catherine had the opportunity to attend all these dances in the movie, I get the idea that she had a chance to pick from many young men. However, she still chose Edgar over all the gentlemen she must have danced and talked with. Thus, in the movie, maybe she truly loved him. However, in the book, there were no dances and it seemed as if Catherine's only choices for marriage were Heathcliff or Edgar; therefore, she chose the latter strictly for her own convenience.
In today's society we find it hard to believe that we would only have two choices for marriage. However, that was truly the case in the time and rural setting of Wuthering Heights. Even in 1939, the screenplay writers probably realized that the story line would be better adapted for the times if Catherine had a chance to meet other men and still choose Edgar. I personally believe it makes the script more believable, but it also ruins the story line of how Catherine only loved Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) her whole life.
The differences in the characters of the book and screenplay made it interesting to see different perspectives of their personalities depending on how they were brought up. Catherine was brought up differently in the screenplay and that reflected how much she really cared for Edgar.