Which Catherine Did You Fall in Love With?
An Analytical Look into the Adaptations of Washington Square

By Abrahim Harb

All three adaptations of the story "Washington Square" bring the characters to life in a different, yet common way. The two adaptations of the movie were tastefully executed and the actors embodied the characters extraordinarily. “The Heiress” featuring Olivia de Havilland, and the movie of the same name as the book stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as Catherine Sloper.

In "Washington Square" the movie Leigh took the character in a slightly literal way. She often was clumsy and responded awkwardly often. Additionally, she looked too old to play the role. She looked as if she was a 30 year old, stuck in a teenage mindset—when it should have been vice versa. Throughout the entire movie, the mood she had came off as extremely a naïve, with a blank look in her eyes. She harps on the fact that Catherine is very plan and odd, not to mention a few questionable actions, such as kissing the mirror and the way she becomes hysterical and accepting after her father’s will is read, and she is disinherited. This adaption of the movie and its characters is overwhelming realistic and contemporary. The disappearance of Morris is an example of the realistic approach, and the fact he admits he wants her money and they have a fight.

In The Heiress, Havilland’s appearance is older than twenty and the movie was unrealistic, which lost much of the authenticity. Nevertheless, this version seemed to beat viewers over the head with the fact she was extremely naïve. Many of her actions are perceived as indications of her social awkwardness which in those times was not lady like. Her sudden deeper fall into depression due to Morris’s sudden disappearance hits the audience and makes us feel somewhat sympathetic towards her. The ending of their engagement is clean, but leaves her with no closure. She is very much into embroidery and it seems to fill the void in her life that was once occupied by Morris. Catherine’s character loves the idea of being loved, and she feels that with Morris, or so he leads her to believe. This is why she ignores any indication that he is after her money.

In "Washington Square" the book, Catherine’s character sets out to continually disappoint her father after he disapproves of Morris, however, she would do it without knowing before she met Morris. This action was one that backfired in her face, because her thought process most likely was thinking, “Good, I will make my dad proud for once”, but misfires when Morris’s own agenda gets in the way. Although she remains alone throughout the movie, she has made the decision by herself and not mourn the loss of her “true love” when he leaves her. She has the vacant look on her face, and goes to a place of complete insanity within her mind, as if she is not hearing of seeing anything else around her. Each character has their own agenda in the book, trampling over other characters feelings and sanity.

In all three adaptations, Catherine’s social awkwardness is shown and in "Washington Square" the movie, it is magnified. Specifically when she encounters Morris on her way home, she gets so nervous she drops her sheet music, not once—but twice. The first time was a cliché move stunt to show how clumsy she way, the second time was unexpected and refreshing. I strongly believe that showing the montage at the beginning of the movie of her mother dying in child birth is necessary in setting up the first time she disappoints her father—setting off the story with a forewarning of the lifetime of failures and disappointment she endures, when she does not meeting the standards her father has expected of her.

It can be perceived in this movie adaptation that she takes a stronger liking to music, when Morris tells her that he plays. It can be translated in today’s society, as white lie to have something in common with somebody you may like. I appreciated the fact that in this film Sloper’s sister is shown more and they are more involved. Through that edit, Catherine’s softer, human side is shown; as she begins to realize, if she cannot find true love with a man, she can accomplish love through family and teaching music.

In the movie adaptation of "Washington Square," it ends with Morris visiting her, after years of being gone; she does not have resentment towards him. She does not wish to reignite their relationship, and has found her true love in music. The final scene ends off with Catherine kissing a young girl from her daycare on the forehead. The girl looks confused, and this leads the viewers to assume that this young girl is like Catherine, never receiving love or approval from her parents. This ending truly has an ugly duckling vibe to it, and is my personal favorite. The book ends the same way, with Catherine interested in reigniting there long lost “love” and Morris is depicted as unattractive. This isn’t sufficient enough and ends abruptly, there needs to be an action afterward, showing the deep sorrow she feels that Morris has missed out on all she had to offer him or something to that effect.