Poor, Pitiful Catherine... or Not?

         Henry James’s character, Catherine Sloper, plays the “not so much” main role or heroine in this work of literature, Washington Square 1880, filmed in 1949 by William Wyler as The Heiress. Despite her lack in physical attraction, she, as played by Olivia de Havilland, lacks any sort of self-esteem and charisma. Her father (Ralph Richardson) is continuously disappointed by the way she turned out. Catherine is no comparison to her adored mother, who passed away in childbirth. Perhaps, this was another reason for her father’s disdain towards the child; she was directly related to the passing of his beloved.

         Regardless of her father’s feelings, Catherine’s character rubs me the wrong way; to be quite frank, she annoys the fire out of me. She seems so naive, despite all of the high quality schooling and etiquette training she received growing up. She was probably one of the millions with undiagnosed attention deficit disorder back in this day; But that is neither here nor there and I digress! Sure, her father was relatively hard on her, but what parent does not want the best for his or her child? Her love interest, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), is clearly after her money, yet she remains oblivious because she is so infatuated with the attention she is receiving. Attention-starved describes her whole character.

         Perhaps I am being hard on poor, pitiful Catherine, but I do not see it that way. The way I interpret the conclusion of the story is that Catherine is defeated as a person. Yes, she had the courage to stand up to Morris; however, she allowed this crummy fellow to turn her into a lowly, miserable older woman. So, ultimately, Morris succeeded in ruining her adult life, which is no victory in my book.

         What it boils down to is that I do not pity “no personality” Catherine. She has allowed the men in her life to mute her to the point that she is all but nonexistent. She is not the strong-willed heroine that we all enjoy reading about. While this aspect of the novel does make it somewhat different from the norm, her character is so displeasing I am turned off immediately. Regardless, her role is the equivalent to nails on a chalkboard and scores low in my opinion.

Sarah Willig

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