The first man in a woman’s life is her father. No matter how old she gets or whom she meets (especially in the realm of romantic relationships, if she is straight), her father will always cast a shadow in her life.
In the 1949 movie, The Heiress (based on the book by Henry James), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) appears, on the surface to have it all. A loving father, a secure home, clean clothes, fresh food, etc. But appearances are deceiving. Her widower physician father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is still in mourning for his late wife and son decades after their deaths. His treatment of his daughter, who is his only surviving child, borders on emotional abuse.
When Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), it looks like she has found a spouse and lifetime partner. But Dr. Sloper has a different view of Morris. He believes that Morris is only interested in his daughter for her fortune. Catherine is torn between loyalty to her father and her love for Morris. In the end, she must choose one man and resign a relationship with the other man.
I enjoy this film for several reasons. The first is, that unlike other film adaptations of novels from this period, the screenwriters and creative team kept to the source material. What the reader reads on the page is what the audience sees on-screen. The other reason is that it is my favorite Olivia de Havilland performance. Her performance is quiet and subtle, with moments of strength and emotion that are surprising.
I absolutely recommend this film.
There is nothing so defining as a woman’s relationship, or lack thereof, with her father. Regardless of the status of their relationship, a woman’s father will always play a role in her life.
Today I finished re-reading Washington Square, by Henry James. Catherine Sloper is the poor little rich girl. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper is a successful doctor who lost his wife soon after Catherine’s birth. Still in mourning for his wife decades after her death, Dr. Sloper constantly demeans his daughter and makes impossible comparisons to his late wife. When Catherine meets and falls in love with Morris Townsend, her father suspects that Morris is after his daughter’s fortune more than he is her heart. Catherine must choose between being obedient to her father or marrying Morris and losing her inheritance.
I re-read the book because the movie adaptation of the book, The Heiress (1949) was on TV a few weekends ago. What strikes me about both the book and the movie is three things: the first thing is that a father plays a greater role in a daughter’s life than is something noticed. Growing up with her emotionally abusive father, Catherine’s self-esteem is shot. She has only known appeasement with her father, she has never known true paternal love that fosters a child’s emotional growth and self-respect. It’s no wonder that at the end of the novel, Catherine makes the decision she makes.
The second thing is that while the movie is amazing (I will at some point, feature the film in a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post) it does not allow for the character’s inner dialogue. In the movie, Morris is portrayed as a young man so earnest in his love for Catherine that he is willing to wait for her and put up with the abuse that Dr. Sloper dishes out. In the book, Morris is a little more questionable in his motives.
The third thing is that this book sheds a light on why we need feminism. Granted, this book does take place in the 19th century, but I kept thinking that if Catherine had the opportunities that woman have today, her choices might have been very different. She might have not been jockeyed between her father and her lover and have to choose one or the other.
Today I re-read Washington Square.
A father is the first man in a woman’s life. No matter how old she gets or how many other men she may meet, he is the blueprint for how she will react to other men.
In Henry James’s classic novel, Washington Square, Dr. Austin Sloper has been hit early on in his life with two major losses: his son and his wife. His only consolation is his sole surviving child, Catherine. According to her father, Catherine’s charms lie solely in the money she is to inherit upon her father’s death. Catherine is neither intelligent, witty or easy on the eyes, according to her father. When Morris Townsend, a young man who is long on charm but short on cash starts to pay attention to Catherine, Dr. Sloper’s starts to suspect the real reason that young Mr. Townsend is coming to visit. Will Catherine follow her heart or will she continue to live as her father wishes?
This book is flawless. It is not just about a young woman choosing between loyalty to her father and the man she loves. There is a real psychological element to this novel. At stake is not just Catherine’s heart and mind, but also her future. What also struck me, as both a student of history and a student of this era, is that I grateful that I no longer live in that era. I am grateful that my only option in life is marriage and that I am not bound to marry a man that would be approved of solely because of his family or his income.
I recommend it.
It is not uncommon for a book to be made into a movie. Whether or not the movie is successful and it is true to the book is another story.
In 2005, the classic children’s novel, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe By C.S. Lewis, was made into a film. Re-titled The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), the story focuses on four children. During World War II, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are sent to the English countryside in the wake of the German bombing of English cities. They think that they are living in an ordinary country house.
What they don’t know is that a wardrobe in the home leads to a magical world of Narnia where the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) rules with an iron first. They are not ordinary children. A prophecy states that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve with the help of Aslaan (voiced by Liam Neeson) will lead a rebellion against the witch. Are these the children whose fate it is to free Narnia or will they perish on the battlefield of this magical land?
The good thing about technology is that it has caught up with the imagination of the author. Unlike many movies, the special effects do what they were intended to do: add to the movie’s overall appeal, not fill in weak areas in the script.
Eight years earlier, in 1997, Henry James’s 19th century novel, Washington Square filled movie screens. Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) is the original poor little rich girl. She is set to inherit quite a tidy sum upon the death of her widower father. But she is socially awkward and her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Albert Finney) has low expectations of his daughter. Enter Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin). Morris is charming and attractive and Catherine starts to see a future with him. But her father is dead set against the match and will do anything to prevent their marriage, including labeling Morris a gold digger. Does Catherine have the emotional strength to stand up to her father or is she destined to spend her life alone?
I happen to enjoy this movie very much. There is something simplistic about this story, but in a good way. Unlike other female heroines of the era, Catherine does not have the emotional strength or the ability to stand up to her father. A lesson for many parents to learn from this novel is that emotional support and teaching your children self esteem is just as important, if not more as the material items in life.
I recommend them both.