Realism versus Realistic Adaptation

        The realism of Henry James is always pleasant to read for me. I think reading Henry James is a decision: Either you like his writing or not. I belong to the group of people who enjoy reading his books. His novel Washington Square, which was originally written in 1880, is a very good example for this. I heard a lot of people say that they suppose Henry James and this writing to be boring; but, in contrast to that, I really enjoyed it! I think his way of describing emotions is amazing, and the portrayed treatment of Catherine by her father was very well worked out. Henry James is very skilled in presenting a realistic story.

        Therefore, it gets very hard if such a novel is turned into a movie because important decisions have to be made. In such a case, certain details may not be left out; and it has to be decided which can be left out in order not to lengthen the film. Moreover, very fitting actors and actresses have to be found to portray the situation of the novel. I think that the Washington Square’s 1949 film adaptation, The Heiress, by William Wyler, based on the 1948 play The Heiress, which was written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, could have been much better. Ralph Richardson, the actor for the figure of Catherine’s father was a good choice in the film because he could convey the impression of superiority and his subtle contempt for his daughter, but the character of Catherine is not the same in the play and in the movie as in the novel. This is a big mistake because she is the protagonist and, therefore, very important. In the play as well as in the movie, as depicted by Olivia de Havilland, she is much more self-confident than in the novel; this changes the complete story in my eyes.

        Moreover, the detail about Mrs. Montgomery telling the doctor that her brother should not marry Catherine is left out; and, again, this is a grave mistake. This sequence makes the doctor sure about the purposes of Morris; and in the film one can only guess that he wants to marry only because of the money because he does not come to the appointment for the elopement, as he has promised Catherine.

        Finally, one can say that the surroundings like the house in Washington Square were well made in the movie, but the story was a completely different one from the one in the book.

Corinna Witkowski