The Weak-Strong Women of English 213

     While reading and watching the various works in our class, I noticed a familiar pattern of distressed women in these tales. For the most part, these women were weaklings striving to become strong but only sometimes succeeding. These women include Catherine Sloper, Nora Torvald, and Eliza Doolittle. These women were the common ground in our readings.

     Our first weakling was Catherine, from James's 1880 novel Washington Square. In the book, Catherine was mistreated and abused by her father, Doctor Sloper. She rarely stood up to him. The man she fell in love with, Morris, was only interested in her money, and he duped her. Fortunately, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) finally found her spine in the 1948 play, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, and the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, and left Morris (Montgomery Clift) pounding at the door when he returned to marry her.

     Now we are up to the most child-like woman, Nora, from Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively. I would not classify Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) as necessarily weak, but she is more girlish and dependent. Her father and husband, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins), both treated her like a child. Nora decides she must find herself and be on her own for a while, so she leaves Torvald.

     Finally, Eliza Doolittle makes our list. Eliza may not seem weak on the surface, but she is in some ways. She is bold and "all mouth," but she also allowed herself to fall in love with Higgins. I realize she has no control over her feelings, but she should not have tried to reunite with Higgins as she did in Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 Pygmalion and George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 play. He (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison on screen) always treated her (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn in the films) disrespectfully, and she did not deserve that. She should have tried to make a life for herself and used what Higgins taught her, instead of continuing to depend on him.

     Several of our works in class revolved around women, with the majority of them being weak. Some of them tried to become strong and independent; a few of the succeeded, but not all.

Krista Kimmel

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