Was There Ever Any Love?

        In Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880 and The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler, love is turned into a hollow emotion. Every human being desires to be loved. But unfortunately, some never truly get to experience it. In this novel and movie adaptation, love is twisted into selfishness.

        There are three main characters in his novel and the movie version: Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) and Morris (Montgomery Clift). Dr. Sloper had lost his wife when she gave birth to her daughter, Catherine. Dr. Sloper, of course, was heartbroken and was never able to let go of that pain. In turn, his daughter never received the love she desired because of the misery he lived in. His wife was vivacious and spirited; qualities that were not passed on to his daughter. Catherine was a sweet girl but was quiet and timid. Even though she devoted her life to trying to please him, it was never enough for him. In his heart, I believe he wanted her to be like her mother so the pain of his wife's death could be eased. He wanted her to be something that she was not and criticized everything about her. Catherine grew up to be self-conscience in herself; nothing she did ever brought her praise from him. What a sad life it is to live where your own father can only put you down. But that did not change her desire to try and make him happy. This was her way of trying to prove to her father that she was worthy to have his love. After they returned from Europe, Dr. Sloper became ill, although there was a much longer lapse of time in the book. In the book, reconciled to her fate, Catherine tends to her dying father out of a sense of duty, whereas in the movie, she is closer in time to her double blow of her father's expressed contempt and Morris' abandonment, so she refuses to go to his deathbed.

        Well, it cannot be a surprise that she would fall in love with the first man that told her nice things about herself and made her feel good about herself. This young man's name was Morris. He was a poor, but handsome, man that played his moves on Catherine to gain her inheritance. Catherine truly fell in love with him, or at least she thought. She fell in love with the idea of being loved, no matter what the cost. Though she probably figured out his motives early in the relationship, this did not stop her from wanting to feel loved. Of course, once he had to face the thought of the inheritance being taken away, so was he gone. When he returned years later after her father's death, he was no longer the trim, handsome Morris of yesteryear; and Catherine politely told him to go away. However, in the book, still good-looking, he returned much earlier to claim his prize and was left pounding in vain on the bolted door, as Catherine rudely rejected him for good.

        By this time, Catherine had finally realized how she had been played from both men. Neither her father nor Morris truly loved her. Morris was selfish and just wanted her money. Dr. Sloper really only loved his wife and wanted to remake Catherine into her; but he could never do that. No wonder Catherine ended up alone.

        Why would she ever want to risk being hurt again, when all she had ever known was of false artificial love? There never was truly any love for her.

Lindsey Bennett

Table of Contents