Jail? Prison? Hell? Welcome to the world of Dr. Sloper. Catherine will never have a wrinkle on her face because of a smile. She will never experience love because no one is good enough for her according to her father. She cannot speak her mind, because in her father's mind she is always wrong. She is not pretty, smart or capable of being loved if you ask her father. Is he wrong?
When his wife and son died, his happiness died with them. Catherine did not get any of her mother's looks or personality, but she is human, and she has feelings. Her father does not like to believe this. He likes to believe that he can push her feelings to the limit and it will not change a thing. It only makes Catherine love him more.
Henry James, who wrote Washington Square in 1880, knows how to work an audience. I felt so many different things during this novel. No wonder the 1949 film, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler and based on James's work, was awarded one of the "ten best" films of the year. There are ups and downs throughout the entire book, such as the way Dr. Sloper handles things. He is a possessive, manipulative man who is very selfish of his daughter's feelings toward Morris. I do not like the way he treats either one of them. It is almost as if they were in prison for falling in love. The questions, spying and manipulating that he does makes me ill.
When he is on his deathbed and the last thing he asks from Catherine is that she not marry Morris, I threw my book down. He has no right saying this to her. She is a grown woman and can make choices for herself. She should not have to suffer for falling in love.
Towards the end of the story, I changed my mind about Morris. He is just as guilty as Dr. Sloper. He ends up revealing to Catherine that he is moving away and just leaves her behind. Once more, Henry James has my feelings turned around. Catherine ends up without Morris and her father. She has her mother's money to live on and ends up as a old maid.
If Dr. Sloper would have given his daughter a little more affection, the decision for Catherine to make about marrying Morris would have been easier. She would have known that no matter what, he would love her because she is his daughter. Instead, he is stubborn and selfish and wants her to be unhappy because he is unhappy. She has missed out on true love because of her father's unloving ways.
Although Dr. Sloper, as played by Ralph Richardson, seems more respectful in the movie, he still has that miserable way about him. Regardless of what her father has said, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) stays in love with Morris (Montgomery Clift) for the rest of her life. She has moved on with her life and has never got married again. It is the right decision in the end.
The price Catherine has paid for falling in love is not worth losing her life over. Morris has been just as evil as Dr. Sloper. She manages to escape from her father's prison when he passes away. When Morris comes back for her, she is already in her new life; which does not include Morris or her past.