After a semester of Film and Lit, love seems a little bleak. The common theme seems to be that love does not stand a chance. Love is thrown aside. Vengeance is taken. Wives leave their husbands. Husbands rape their wives' sisters. The problem is not that the plays are overdone. The problem is that the plays are realistic, in at least one regard. The one you love, and the one who loves you, are rarely the same person.
This is never more clear than in Henry James's 1880 novel Washington Square. Catherine Sloper wants to spend the rest of her life with Morris. Morris wants to spend the rest of his life with Catherine's money. Dr. Sloper loves his daughter and tries to protect her from Morris. Catherine hates him for it. The three of them make quite a little group--sad and pathetic characters torn apart by love. Not even William Wyler's film version of Washington Square, The Heiress (1949), can save them. Olivia de Havilland's Catherine just looks more content as she gives up on love forever.
Moving south to New Orleans, we experience an even more sordid tale of love gone wrong. Tennessee Williams' 1947 play and Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire are almost enough to make you give up hope. Blanche (Vivien Leigh) lost her husband to suicide after she found out he was in love with another man. She goes to her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) in hopes of finding sympathy. Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) is an abusive wreck. After Stanley rapes Blanche, Stella stays by Stanley's side while Blanche is committed, although in the film, she makes a pathetic attempt to escape him by running upstairs to Eunice with her new baby. No one in this story really seems to care about anyone anymore. Stanley and Stella desire each other. Desire is not love.