The Heiress

Definition

Theater

  • A play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on Henry James's novelWashington Square. It was first produced in 1947 in New Yorkand two years later at London's Haymarket, when John Gielgud directeda cast that included Peggy Ashcroft, Ralph Richardson, and DonaldSinden. Harold Hobson wrote of Ashcroft in the Sunday Times:"For her performance all superlatives are pale and feeble things."A film version in 1949 starred Olivia de Havilland.

    Set in New York in 1850, the story centres on Catherine Sloper,plain and unmarried, who lives in Washington Square with her widowedfather, Dr Sloper, and her aunt. Morris Townsend charms Catherineand courts her for her inheritance; when Sloper threatens to disinherithis daughter, Townsend fails to turn up for their midnight elopement.Two years later Townsend returns penniless from California. Catherineagrees to elope with him as before, but when he knocks at the doorit is her turn to reject him.

    The play was originally given a happy ending, in which Catherinecalled Townsend back with the line "Morris, come home, you'rehome at last!" This was so mercilessly lampooned by the opening-nightaudience as they left the theater that the authors went home and rewrotethe final scene.

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