Resentful Ties

         In the movie The Heiress, Catherine played a much bigger part whereas she was so shy in the novel, Washington Square. In Henry James’s 1880 Washington Square and William Wyler’s 1949 The Heiress, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) married a wealthy woman much like Morris (Montgomery Clift) wanted. Except Dr. Sloper worked for his own money as well, while Morris was a bum looking for handouts. Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) only had money, unlike her beautiful charming mother; she was dull and boring; and her father knew Morris did not want to work just get money through marriage.

         Catherine was seemingly stronger on their trip to Europe in Washington Square, not tip-toeing around her father as she did in The Heiress. Dr. Sloper was not a loving father. He treated Catherine as though she was not what he wanted in a daughter. He was looking for his son in her. He resented having her because instead of her taking care of him, he had to care for her, unlike her mother Catherine.

         Catherine ended up comparing Morris to her father. Dr. Sloper claimed she was ‘glued’ and had a dissatisfying effect on him. She had actually decided Morris was a no-good for wanting her money then wanting her love and after leaving her; he was not good enough. Dr. Slopers’ first comparison was between his daughter and her mother. His daughter was dull and boring, where her mother was intelligent and witty. Dr. Sloper believed his daughter had the right characteristics but not the right mannerisms; her worth was low to him, but high to Morris for the wrong reasons.

         Wyler showed more of the fact that Morris resented Dr. Sloper because he had Catherine and money; Morris was insulted that Dr. Sloper went to his sister, Mrs. Montgomery (Betty Linley), to look into his financial history. He acted as though he were resentful toward Catherine for not wanting to marry him right away even though he was just after money. Because of Morris’ handsome good looks, he thought she would be happy to have him in her presence as is shown with their dance cards in the film.

         If Catherine had not compared Morris’ love to that of her father, she might have thought he truly loved her. He may wanted both her love and money; unlike her father, Morris asked her to love him in return for his love, where Dr. Sloper may have loved her but only shown his dislike for her dullness. I believe Morris at least at least liked her, and there could have been love there, beyond needing her money.

         The wonderful song about love not lasting long enough, “Plasir d’amour,” was only in The Heiress, which Aaron Copeland used as he completed its original music. The comparison Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins) made was just as biased as Dr. Slopers’ between his daughter and her mother. Aunt Lavinia compared Morris to his cousin, who had just gotten married and was doing well; he and his wife actually were happy. Lavinia assumed Morris and Catherine could be just as happy. She was wrong to compare Morris to someone she did not know for Catherine’s benefit. She had an ignorant illusion of playing matchmaker for her niece and attempting to satisfy two people for her entertainment.

         The most unfair comparison was made by Dr. Sloper when he compared his daughter, Catherine, to his wife, Catherine. He misses his wife and is looking to raise a son with his wife still in Washington Square not so much in The Heiress. Catherine cannot have the same qualities of his wife and cannot behave as if she were a son to him; only in the film The Heiress it was extremely apparent through her actions. Catherine could not act like her mother while Morris is Dr. Slopers’ son and give both standings; she could be the daughter he would have wanted. That way he could have a perfect daughter and son. He does say she is entertaining in the movie while they are in Europe.

         A comparison made by Dr. Sloper between his daughter and Morris leaves him to assume his daughter would settle into life with Morris and still be the same old dull Catherine in The Heiress, the comparison is not made so apparent in Washington Square he leaves her a spinster with only a smaller amount of money than she had planned, while in the film he leaves her all the money. She attains wisdom from her harsh experience with Mr. Townsend. Dr. Sloper wanted her love in return for his and expected to keep the money from her much like Morris expected to do to her; he became like the man he warned to keep her away from.

         Dr. Sloper did not have to console Catherine in The Heiress because she did not run to him with outstretched arms after she learned Morris’ love was false as she did in Washington Square. I determined her father was the most unforgiving character because of his expectations and resent toward Catherine. I ended up liking Aunt Lavinia and Morris just a little more at the thought he could have really loved Catherine if her father were not so cruel to her. It made me wish she could have went to the door in the film instead of climbing the stairs.

         Morris was more false in the movie compared to his character in the book. He would kiss Catherine and leave right away with some excuse. He waited for her in the rain only to leave the next night. Catherine was a stronger woman in the film than her shyness in the book; standing in the background or her quietness behind her father. Dr. Sloper was also a stronger character in the movie than the novel; bossing his daughter and going to Mrs. Montgomery directly after learning about Catherine and Morris’ love.

Candice Nelson