The Tale of Two Catherines

         It is a very funny coincidence that the female protagonists in both Wuthering Heights and Washington Square are both named Catherine. Yet, about the only thing these two girls have in common is their name. I think both of these women could have taken a lesson or two from each other on how to behave in their separate, but equally difficult, situations.

         In Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, Catherine is a woman who is dramatic, greedy, and self-centered. She is always looking out for what will be best for her situation, no matter whom she hurts. She is confident and poised. She is not even bothered by the fact that she has two men dying to be with her. On the other hand, Catherine of Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James, is a shy, socially awkward woman who is never expected to amount to much more than a charming old maid. She is treated by those around her as though she cannot make decisions for herself, and is never appreciated for her kind, unassuming nature.

         It may seem as though the Catherine of Wuthering Heights is clearly the most distinguished and interesting character in this comparison. Yet I believe I would rather walk in the shoes of Catherine Sloper of Washington Square for a year rather than spend a day as the unlucky Catherine Earnshaw. After all, a more interesting personality does not always guarantee that one will have a better life.

         In William Wyler's 1939 film, Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw (portrayed by Merle Oberon) eventually drives herself to a state liken to madness because she is torn between the two men in her life, Edgar (David Niven) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). She only marries for money and convenience, and seemingly not for passion or love. She constantly belittles the two men for their various faults in order to make herself look better. In the end, she dies. Her death is tragic, and there is no sense of a resolved plot or "happy ending" in accordance with her. On the other hand, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) in The Heiress directed by William Wyler finally becomes decisive and essentially emerges victorious. She is not driven to insanity by the "mercenary" Morris (Montgomery Clift), and gets to continue a rather pleasant life where she retains her dignity and self-respect. This cannot be said for the poor Catherine Earnshaw.

        Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Sloper are both very interesting characters. Yet, I think Catherine Sloper is the Catherine that essentially is the most realistic character. I think most women would rather suffer the heartbreak but eventual uplifting survival of Catherine Sloper, rather than the slippery slope to madness of Catherine Earnshaw. I certainly would rather live the life of Catherine Sloper than suffer the untimely demise of Catherine Earnshaw.

Megan Locke

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