Catherine's Recipe for Revenge

         In Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James, and in The Heiress, filmed by William Wyler in 1949, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) turns away Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) when he makes an unwanted appearance at her doorstep after a long absence. However, the way in which she turns away her fleet-footed suitor differs greatly in the two works. A gentle letdown and a cruel taste of the same betrayal, come from the same Catherine Sloper. I am personally fond of the latter but then again, I was aware of his motives all along.

         In Washington Square, our sweet Catherine has been without Morris for almost twenty years when the overweight Don Juan shows his faces and once again professes his love. She tells Lavinia that she has no desire to see him when all of a sudden; he is at the door thanks Aunt Lavinia! Morris instantly begins to profess his undying love for Catherine. Catherine has grown wiser in the many years without this parasite in her life. She sees through the fluff and tells him that she does not wish to see him anymore.

         However, in The Heiress, Catherine has only been without Morris' presence for a mere two years. When he shows up, again at Aunt Lavinia's (Miriam Hopkins) insistence, he tells her how much he loves her. This time, Catherine acts more enthusiastic, and the viewer believes that she may actually run off with Morris. They talk briefly about eloping again, since her father (Ralph Richardson) has passed away. She runs up the stairs and grabs a set of buttons she bought for Morris in Europe. She leads him to believe that when he returns later, they will run off and elope.

         An hour later, Morris arrives back at a darkened house with locked doors. His pounding fists and shouts are met with orders by Catherine to Maria (Vanessa Brown) to bolt the door on the inside. Catherine says good night to her servant and sees herself to bed, mounting the stairs in triumph. She leaves her suitor with a bitter taste in his own mouth. Imagine being Morris and being so close to all of that money, only to have a trick played on you. Poor Morris, I bet you will think twice before you break your engagement to any more heiresses in the future.

         I am familiar with the phrase, "The ends justified the means" That reminded me of the ending of The Heiress. I was happy for Catherine. Morris was a parasite that never truly loved her. She was better off without him. I would have locked him out too.

Miranda Turner

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