Snakes in the Grass

         Emily BrontŽís 1847 Wuthering Heights and Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square have some things in common. One of the most notable of these is that the main characters of both novels, and their respective film adaptations, William Wylerís 1939 cinema adaptation of Emily BrontŽís 1847 Wuthering Heights and Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square have some things in common. One of the most notable of these is that the main characters in Wuthering Heights, and his 1949 The Heiress, both have a character who is very close with the female lead. That character seems to be acting in the best interest of her friend but is very much working more against her. Wuthering Heights has its Nelly Dean (Flora Robson), while Washington Square and The Heiress have Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins).

         Nelly Deanís first action in the novel and film Wuthering Heights is telling the history of the two families to a complete stranger, Lockwood (Miles Mander). However, she is far more manipulative in the book, whereas in the movie, she limits her role to that of a sympathetic storyteller. Her true colors, however, show in the book after Catherine marries Edgar Linton. Nelly tells Heathcliff that Catherine is to blame for her own illness and that she deserves it. After which she tells him that he should never see her only shortly after this to assist in him seeing her just before she died. Beyond all that, she also goes along with Heathcliffís wish to be buried beside Catherine.

         As for Washington Square and The Heiress, Lavinia Pennimanís treachery is far more open to the reader and viewer. She seems to be trying to push her niece, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), to get involved with Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). Lavinia knows Morris is interested in Catherineís money and wants her to marry him because she believes he deserves the life Catherine could provide for him. Even though Morris deeply hurts Catherine when he abandons her after finding out she would not inherit her fatherís fortune, Lavinia is the one who attempts to bring Morris back into Catherineís life. And when Catherine rejects him, Lavinia seems hurt worse by Catherine hurting Morris than Morris hurting her own niece.

         The theme seems to be attempting to acquire power beyond oneís normal means. Ellen Dean, simply the housekeeper, is interloping where she can, and being objective as she tells the story of the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Lavinia Penniman, the poor sister living off her rich doctor brother, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) sees the son she never had, and would manipulate her own family to better his life. These two characters could seem sympathetic in comparison to the wealthy, angry people around them, but in reality they are the most untrustworthy.

Jeremy Workman