Wyler’s B…Witches

         To refer to the Catherines of both Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, and the movie, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, and Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James and filmed as The Heiress in 1949 by William Wyler, as witches might sound fairly uncouth. However, in my eyes this title should be viewed only as a compliment, especially, since both actresses did such an excellent job of taking the characters from the pages of the books and bringing them to life on the big screen.

         As I read through both of these books and then watched the films, I had forgotten how women of this era were supposed to be passive and non confrontational. Apparently the Catherines in both sets of works chose to take the path less taken. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw refused to be a passive young lady from the moment she was introduced in both the book and the movie.

         Catherine Earnshaw was a rambunctious tomboy, who was unafraid to speak her mind regarding her true feelings; nor was she afraid to get dirty. She was as tough as nails, and she did not let anyone walk all over her, that is, until her father (played by Cecil Kellaway) died. After her father passed, her brother Hindley (depicted by Hugh Williams) tried to run the show. The only thing he was good at was getting drunk!

         The Catherine of Wuthering Heights learned that the only way to get one's way is to act like a total witch. The only problem I had with this Catherine is that she let her bitchery, I mean witchery, get in the way of her true love Heathcliff (played by 1930's heartthrob, Laurence Olivier). In more ways than one, she doomed herself to a life of unhappiness with Edgar Linton (played by David Niven) just so she would not be a beggar. There is nothing wrong with being headstrong but, cutting one's nose off to spite one's face is not the way to go.

         Catherine Sloper of Washington Square, portrayed by Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, was a different kind of witch. Catherine Sloper was born with anything worldly a girl could want. The two things she was denied of were a mother and a loving home. Instead, she was given a father, Dr. Austin Sloper (played by Ralph Richardson), who almost seemed to loathe her very existence. This Catherine was different from the previous Catherine. Catherine Sloper as opposed to Catherine Earnshaw was polite, shy, and never acted up. Had Catherine Sloper been given the love and attention she needed from her father she probably would have grown up to be the ideal lady.

         Catherine Sloper learned to be a witch the hard way. She was given every luxury anyone could want but the one thing she really wanted was love. The only two men in her life who could have given her love, Morris Townsend (depicted by Montgomery Clift) and her father, denied her of it. By being denied of love, Catherine became hardened, not toward everyone but, mostly toward men. Catherine's father, Dr. Sloper, was so hateful toward her that she defied him and his wishes up until his death. He never got the satisfaction of knowing his daughter would not marry the man he detested. While Morris Townsend broke her heart, she waited patiently until the day she could give him his just desserts. In the book Catherine Sloper is not quite as deceitful as in the movie,where she really lets Morris have it.

         Believe me when I say it; Catherine Sloper got the ultimate revenge against her lost love. Catherine did what Morris did to her years before only ten times worse. Imagine the embarrassment of actually thinking that she would marry him and upon returning to get her she does not answer the door. Bravo, Catherine Sloper, Bravo! If I were Morris Townsend, I would never show my face in Washington Square ever again. Catherine Sloper attained her revenge tastefully, unlike Catherine Earnshaw, and to be able to get revenge with style, that is being the biggest bitch of all.

Katie Clark

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