Dr. Sloper: May Roses Rest on His Grave Rather than His Table

         The major consistency in the 1880 novel Washington Square, written by Henry James, the 1948 play The Heiress, assembled by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, and the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, was that I did not feel that the father was doing an honest job at watching out for the welfare of his only daughter's heart. The only alternative for his false attempt in showing any sort of genuine caring towards his daughter, Catherine, going through my mind in all three versions was that he could not stand the possibility that his money may go to the fortune seeker, Morris Townsend. Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson on screen) recognizes that Morris (Montgomery Clift in the movie) is handsome, quick with his tongue, and charming in his words; consequently, winning the affections of his naïve daughter (Olivia de Havilland in the film). Feeling that the father's main dispute in the marriage between Catherine and Morris was the loss of his fortune to an unworthy businessman, who spent his entire inheritance, made the passing of the doctor more of a relief than a sad occasion.

         It was not wrong of Dr. Sloper to present his opinion to Catherine that Morris was a man out for her money alone; awareness of that would be the honorable duty of any father who saw straight through a man after his daughter's fortune. It was wrong, however, for him to treat Catherine as if the only worth she had in this life was that she was a wealthy girl. He commented on how Catherine would not ever reach the standards of beauty, talent, or companionship set by her mother and believed her to be unsuitable for marriage being that she was so mediocre.

         Had Dr. Sloper been a better father to Catherine and helped her realize her self worth, he probably would not have been put in the position of the panic that his only daughter might go running off with the first fortune seeker that showed any interest. The poor girl's value in herself was probably felt to be so unworthy she was in dire need of romantic attention. It set Dr. Sloper right to go through such a difficult and unsettling time with his daughter. Catherine was much better off with her father deceased and Morris out of her life for good.

Janna Tanner

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