The Comparison of Two Catherines

     Perhaps as a matter of coincidence, the primary characters in two great works, Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Brontë, and Washington Square (1880), by Henry James, share the same name--Catherine. Moreover, in both novels the name is shared by both mother (who dies in childbirth) and daughter. Building upon this "coincidence," if indeed it is one, I would like to compare the personality traits and subsequent effect on their lives of the characters of Catherine Earnshaw Linton Wuthering Heights) and Catherine Sloper Washington Square).

     Although they share the same name and the trials of a difficult love affair, these two women are vastly different in personality. The portrait given of Catherine Linton both in the novel and the 1939 film, directed by William Wyler, is of a beautiful, spirited woman. She rides the moors at will, listens to practically no one, and does as she pleases. Although loved by most everyone, especially Edgar (David Niven) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), she shows a marked unconcern for the feelings of others. For example, although she loves Heathcliff, she lets him know that he is not considered "good enough" for her to marry. She consistently tells him that he is not rich enough or nearly refined enough to be her husband--even though she knows that he loves her desperately. She treats her husband, Edgar, in much the same way. Although she marries Edgar of her own choice, she seems to let him know at every opportunity that it is not he, but Heathcliff, that she truly loves. It seems that she never pauses to consider how her actions might hurt those that love her. The character of Catherine Linton either does not have a clue what she wants from life or is truly a selfish and shallow woman that refuses to grow up.

     Catherine Sloper, on the other hand, seems to be in complete contrast to this type of woman in both the original book and the 1949 film The Heiress, also directed by William Wyler. Catherine Sloper, as played by Olivia de Havilland, is plain in appearance, but wholesome at heart. She considers the feelings of others, namely her father (Ralph Richardson) and Morris Townsend (Montgomery Cliff), much more than her own. She works towards finding common ground between the two and is heartbroken that she cannot do so. Unfortunately, her willingness to cater to these two powerful and opposing forces in her life allows her to be dictated and her own personality practically "swallowed" during her younger years.

     Nevertheless, she has more caring and concern than Catherine Linton ever imagined possessing; and, if I had to choose between them for a friend, I should choose Catherine Sloper.

Melody L. Enoch

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