Three endings to the same story. First, the ending to William Wyler’s film The Heiress, adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from their own 1947 stage adaptation of James’s 1880 novel. Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for her portrayal of Catherine Sloper, the homely daughter of an overprotective father, played by Ralph Richardson. (As in several other categories, The Heiress‘s supporting actor nomination for Richardson lost out to All the King’s Men. Montgomery Clift, for what it’s worth, wasn’t nominated for Best Actor.)
Here’s another take, from the 1997 adaptation of Washington Square directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Chaplin. Just as Clift was, Chaplin seems too handsome in the final scene: I want to see Morris fat and bald. I don’t remember much else about this adaptation — it’s been years since I’ve seen it — except for my impression that it seemed to get the provincialism of 1850s Washington Square North dead on. The parties seemed so small town. In any case, its final scene:
And here’s how the novel ends:
“You treated me badly,” said Catherine.
“Not if you think of it rightly. You had your quiet life with your father–which was just what I could not make up my mind to rob you of.”
“Yes; I had that.”
Morris felt it to be a considerable damage to his cause that he could not add that she had had something more besides; for it is needless to say that he had learnt the contents of Dr. Sloper’s will. He was nevertheless not at a loss. “There are worse fates than that!” he exclaimed, with expression; and he might have been supposed to refer to his own unprotected situation. Then he added, with a deeper tenderness, “Catherine, have you never forgiven me?”
“I forgave you years ago, but it is useless for us to attempt to be friends.”
“Not if we forget the past. We have still a future, thank God!”
“I can’t forget–I don’t forget,” said Catherine. “You treated me too badly. I felt it very much; I felt it for years.” And then she went on, with her wish to show him that he must not come to her this way, “I can’t begin again–I can’t take it up. Everything is dead and buried. It was too serious; it made a great change in my life. I never expected to see you here.”
“Ah, you are angry!” cried Morris, who wished immensely that he could extort some flash of passion from her mildness. In that case he might hope.
“No, I am not angry. Anger does not last, that way, for years. But there are other things. Impressions last, when they have been strong. But I can’t talk.”
Morris stood stroking his beard, with a clouded eye. “Why have you never married?” he asked abruptly. “You have had opportunities.”
“I didn’t wish to marry.”
“Yes, you are rich, you are free; you had nothing to gain.”
“I had nothing to gain,” said Catherine.
Morris looked vaguely round him, and gave a deep sigh. “Well, I was in hopes that we might still have been friends.”
“I meant to tell you, by my aunt, in answer to your message–if you had waited for an answer–that it was unnecessary for you to come in that hope.”
“Good-bye, then,” said Morris. “Excuse my indiscretion.”
He bowed, and she turned away–standing there, averted, with her eyes on the ground, for some moments after she had heard him close the door of the room.
In the hall he found Mrs. Penniman, fluttered and eager; she appeared to have been hovering there under the irreconcilable promptings of her curiosity and her dignity.
“That was a precious plan of yours!” said Morris, clapping on his hat.
“Is she so hard?” asked Mrs. Penniman.
“She doesn’t care a button for me–with her confounded little dry manner.”
“Was it very dry?” pursued Mrs. Penniman, with solicitude.
Morris took no notice of her question; he stood musing an instant, with his hat on. “But why the deuce, then, would she never marry?”
“Yes–why indeed?” sighed Mrs. Penniman. And then, as if from a sense of the inadequacy of this explanation, “But you will not despair–you will come back?”
“Come back? Damnation!” And Morris Townsend strode out of the house, leaving Mrs. Penniman staring.
Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy work, had seated herself with it again–for life, as it were.
I plan to write a little bit about that last line for Wednesday. In the meantime, what do you make of the contrasts between these wrap-ups? Which one do you prefer?