†††††††† Between the original novel, Washington Square, published in 1880 by Henry James, its screenplay, The Heiress, written in 1948 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, and The Heiress movie, directed by William Wyler in 1949, one thing is for certain; Dr. Austin Sloper (played by Ralph Richardson on screen) was completely responsible for the outcome of his daughter, Catherine (depicted by Olivia de Havilland in the film). He had her failed from birth. He resented the death of his wife, due to Catherine's birth and was never going to let that go. He was disappointed in the woman that she had become, but he had formed her that way; and I think that this is actually what he really wanted for her, a life of solitude.
†††††††† He was never going to approve of a man for Catherine. He did not want her to be happily married because she had taken away his happy marriage. He disliked his own daughter for not being clever enough, and he detested Morris Townsend (actor Montgomery Clift in the movie) for being too clever. He may have been right about Morris' bad intentions, but he also should have known that pulling her away from her first love would have scarred her permanently and left her alone, just as Catherine had left him alone when his wife had died after her birth. Dr. Sloper's intentions for the situation were worse than the intentions held by Morris.
†††††††† He was also intimidating to her. She was nervous to speak her mind or express any thoughts because she was certain that he would disapprove. He wanted her to be clever, but he never encouraged her to be outspoken. He criticized her too much, and that discouraged her from becoming her own person. It seemed better that she remained quiet, so Dr. Sloper could not humor himself with her silly speech.
†††††††† Dr. Sloper never wanted his daughter's life to measure up to her mother's life. He may have loved his daughter, but he did not know how to show it, and deep down he really just wanted his wife back. He wrecked Catherine's life, and it seemed as if he did so intentionally.