Revenge by Any Other Name Would Be as Sweet

     Revenge is the plot of many plays and films. It seems to sell the chosen work. But not in the case of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, and William Wyler's 1949 film, The Heiress. There is an absence of long-lasting malice by Catherine, in both the novel and the film, although the film Catherine is more spiteful upon Morris's return than is the book Catherine.

     The film version of Catherine, played by Olivia de Havilland, is much more spiteful towards Morris, played by Montgomery Clift. She is spiteful due to Morris standing her up, basically, at the altar, or more precisely at the window of her living room. He does not show up on the night that they are to elope. This hurt she feels builds up through the years and eventually turns to bitterness. Though Catherine does feel resentful towards her memory of Morris, she does not bear him ill will, nor does she seek to get revenge on him during the years he is away. However, she does receive a small amount of spiteful satisfaction when Morris, himself, is stood up, pounding on her locked front door after returning to marry her. This small triumph will never amount to the years of suffering Catherine has and will endure from the pain Morris has caused her.

     The novel Washington Square, on the other hand, presents Catherine in a much more mentally stable capacity. Catherine is hurt by Morris and his actions, yet she does not let this hurt consume her being. She remembers their good times along with the hurt she feels. She allows herself to heal her heart properly without bottling up her emotions and letting the hurt take over her life. She probably sees a good psychiatrist. Catherine realizes that she no longer has intense feelings for Morris. She also realizes that her feelings for him are a thing of the past due to them being totally different people now. She has no vengeful plot towards Morris, just indifference.

     Both the novel and the play boast major female characters that have no long-lasting vengeance in them. Though, if one character had to be tending in that direction, it would be the Catherine in the film The Heiress. I think this is due to the director's appeal for melodrama. It seems when there is a tragedy-stricken woman it sells more tickets, especially if it is a woman who is scorned and hurt by a lover.

Colleen Klein

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