The Two Catherines

     Among some of the greatest works of literature are the books Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, and Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880. In each book there is an important character by the name of Catherine. Each Catherine's life is affected greatly by her family and the people around her. Their surroundings, as well as the time period, affect their lives as much as their families. Both go through great changes in their life, which set the pace for the two stories. The Catherine in Wuthering Heights and the Catherine in Washington Square have many differences, yet one Catherine evolves into a character much like the other. It is interesting how Catherine of Washington Square and Catherine of Wuthering Heights seem to reverse roles in the books.

     The film versions of both these books show this change as well. William Wyler directed Wuthering Heights in 1939, and he also directed The Heiress, the film version of Washington Square, in 1949. In both films the changes that takes place are easier to see than in the books.

     Catherine in the book and movie Wuthering Heights is a complex character with many different emotions and personalities. She cares little for others with the exception of Heathcliff. But her selfishness gets in the way of her one true love. It eventually destroys her and Heathcliff.

     In the beginning of Wuthering Heights Catherine (Sarita Wooten) is a young caring child. She has a strong bond with her father (Cecil Kellaway) and brother, Hindley (Douglas Scott). After her father brings Heathcliff (Rex Downing) home, tensions between her and Hindley grow. Catherine's strong personality as an independent woman, who is scared of nothing, begins to grow and take shape at that point in her life. Hindley dislikes Heathcliff, but Catherine has deep feelings for Heathcliff. After Catherine and Hindley's fathers death, Hindley's mistreatment of Heathcliff grows, and so in response so does Catherine's hatred toward her brother.

     For a few years Catherine (Merle Oberon) stays with the Earnshaw family. Here she realizes what she wants in life; she wants her cake and to eat it too. She still loves Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), but she wants someone who can give her everything she has ever wanted. She tries to justify her reasons for not wanting to marry Heathcliff by convincing herself that someone with money would allow her the ability to help take care of Heathcliff and keep him near her.

     Catherine marries Edgar Linton (David Niven) after Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights. She is happy with her marriage to Edgar; he is a good and loving husband. Catherine changes into a person much like Edger, a caring and passionate person. But once Heathcliff returns her feeling change. She wants to see Heathcliff despite the way it makes her husband feel. Catherine's selfish side is shown here, as she mistreats Edgar despite all that he has done for her. After Catherine and Edgar have a fight over Heathcliff, she becomes sick and takes to her bed. Catherine's strong and passionate love for Heathcliff is seen here. She is willing herself to die because she cannot have Heathcliff. She became a weak woman who did not know how to live any more. The way she dies in the book and in the movie is different. In the book she falls unconscious in Heathcliff's arms before giving birth to a daughter, named Catherine, after Heathcliff goes outside to await her death. In the movie she does not give birth before she flops dead in Heathcliff's arms.

     Catherine in Washington Square and The Heiress is a much different type of woman. She (Olivia de Havilland) is shy and somewhat homely looking. She loves her father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), as much as any daughter would love her father, even more than he deserved. Catherine's father loved her; but he could not help but compare her to her dead mother. Dr. Sloper never seemed to compliment Catherine despite how hard she tried to please him. Dr. Sloper is the main cause for the change in Catherine's personality.

     Catherine was not an attractive woman and again was shy. This is one reason for her father's distrust of the man who decides to pursue her. Dr. Sloper believes that Morris (Montgomery Clift) is after Catherine's money; he is correct. But Catherine does not believe her father; Morris has convinced her he loves her and wants to marry her.

     When Catherine's father disapproves of Morris, she plans to marry him anyway. Catherine starts to stand up for herself, and for the first time defies her father. Dr. Sloper decides to take Catherine to Europe for six months, hoping that she will forget Morris. He keeps her there for a year in the book but only six months in the film, yet she does not forget and still wants to marry Morris.

     After the two return to Washington Square, Dr. Sloper tells Catherine that, if she marries Morris, she will lose her inheritance of twenty thousand dollars. She tells him she does not care because she still has ten thousand coming from her late mother. This infuriates Dr. Sloper, and he informs Catherine how he really feels about her. This abusive and violent tone drives Catherine away from her father.

     Catherine informs Morris that she will lose her inheritance if they marry. Morris tries to talk her into forgiving her father. He hopes that perhaps Dr. Sloper will later accept their marriage, but Catherine informs him he is wrong. Morris then decides not to pursue Catherine's love anymore. He claims it is due to the fact he does not want to come between Catherine and her father. The truth is he had wanted her money all the time. Catherine realizes her father was right, and this adds to her despair. Catherine informed her father the engagement is over, and her father is relieved. Soon after in the film, Dr. Sloper lets Catherine know he is dying and Catherine seems not to care. However, much later in the book, she politely stays by him till he dies.

     Due to all Catherine has been put through by her father and Morris, she becomes a stronger-willed woman and less forgiving. She becomes more selfish and cares little about what other people think anymore. At the end she refuses to take Morris back after her father has died. She now is worried about her own feeling and not Morris or anyone else's.

     The two Catherines in these stories are very different, yet they have one similarity. Both women fell in love with unstable men, possibly caused by the fact that neither one had the love of a father for most of their lives. In Wuthering Heights,Catherine's father dies, so she grows up without a father's love. In the book, Catherine's father had rejected her before he died, although in the movie he still loved her till he died.

     In Washington Square and The Heiress, Catherine's father never shows love toward her, so she grows up without a loving father. The absent love in their lives caused both Catherines to become strong women.

     At the end of the stories both Catherines change roles due to the men they chose. In Wuthering Heights Catherine becomes weaker when she marries Edgar. When she became sick, she died because she could not have Heathcliff. Catherine let her broken heart kill her. In Washington Square and The Heiress, Catherine became a stronger person due to her love for Morris. She learned to stand up to her father, because she had to defend Morris. Her newfound strength helped her to go on with life, and give up on Morris after he left her. Both Catherine's let their broken hearts affect their lives in different ways. One gave up on life and made it easy for the audience to give up on her as well, while the other became stronger and selfish, and made it easy for the audience to feel sympathy for her. That is the reason most people enjoy the end of The Heiress more than the end of Washington Square.

Colin Moore

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