Feminism or Retribution?

Yum Yiu ‘25

Opinions Editor

One thing that I have never understood is romantic drama. Some screenwriters just think that it is a good idea to spice up a romantic cliche with actions and words that give us second-hand embarrassment. I understand that it is normal for any human being to fantasize about a sugar-coated dream of romance, but what is the need for second-hand embarrassment? As someone who has grown up with princess stories and fairy tales, I could never understand the appeal of most modern romantic comedies. In my opinion, a nice romance story should bring comfort like a cozy blanket that not only warms the body but also the heart. 

However, I have been proven wrong. My perception of romantic drama has been shattered into broken pieces. It is just like the time where I watched a tacky modern romance drama for the first time in my life: Heiress, has once again completely blown my mind.  Heiress (1949) is an American romantic drama film directed and produced by William Wyler. The film is an adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 stage play of the same title, which itself was also an adaptation of Henry James’ 1880 novel Washington Square. The movie tells the story of Catherine Sloper, a young naive aristocratic woman, who falls in love with Morris Townsend, a handsome young man whom Catherine’s father suspects to be a gold digger. Catherine makes plans with Morris to elope at the price of disinheritance from her father. However, on the day of elopement, Morris never comes. Catherine is heart broken, and having learned her lesson, she grows cold towards everything in her life. A few years later, Catherine meets Morris again through the arrangement by her Aunt Lavinia Penniman. Even though Morris has made nothing out of himself from the past few years, Catherine still promises to leave with him and gives him the ruby buttons that she has bought for him in Paris. To my surprise, she has no intention of offering her love to him anymore, instead she gives him the same exact treatment as he had given to her. 

It is unimaginable for me to expect this kind of character development. I cannot help but think to myself: is this the feminism that has been lost in the modern romantic drama, or is it just retribution? Did Catherine treat Morris this way to seek vengeance for his betrayal? I would like to believe that this is a deliberate choice by the author. Even though the choice seems to be an act of feminism, which was pretty rare during the times that the novel was written, the author might not have done it intentionally. I have to say that as a modern audience, no matter why she refuses to love Morris, the act of refusal after the betrayal is an act of feminism. To me, feminism is about humanizing women through self-love and self-appreciation. Despite the speculation of Morris being a gold digger, Morris is in no way worthy to be with Catherine. By rejecting a man who cannot put his own life together, Catherine is demonstrating self-love and self-appreciation as she avoids potential toxicity in her life. Leaving him is the best thing that Catherine could have done. Her action is shocking but extremely significant.

In this paragraph, I will do my usual appeal to urge you to watch this movie. Even though I have basically spoiled the movie for you, Heiress is definitely worth viewing. I believe that a good movie will still provide an amazing experience to the audience even if the plot has been revealed. In your own viewing, you may or may not see what I see or you may even discover something brand new that I have missed out on. 

Photo courtesy of IMDb

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