The Heiress
Theater Hist./Lit.

The Heiress, a tragic drama by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, is set in Victorian America, in the middle of an unchanging room, with several characters, and over a relatively small period of time. This makes The Heiress an example of a “well made play.” Each character has a special piece of the play that sets them apart, whether it is class, profession, wealth, or beauty.

Dr. Austin Sloper is a doctor and practices his medicine with grave seriousness. He is demanding of loyalty and respect, yet he rarely reveals any other characteristic than arrogance. Sloper believes he is a man of total knowledge; he knows all that there needs to be known. Sloper is crude, intolerant, and impatient. The only person he holds in high esteem and respect is his maid, Maria. Dr. Sloper believes that Morris Townsend is seeking his daughter’s hand in marriage because of her wealthy inheritance, which she may get sooner than expected as Sloper’s health takes a drastic turn for the worst. No matter what Morris does to prove his love, Sloper does not believe him. However, it is possible that Morris could have really been after Catherine’s money the whole time. Perhaps the whole courtship was motivated by Morris’ attraction to material possessions, rather than love and honesty.

Catherine, on the other hand, is on the brink of becoming one the wealthiest women in her town, yet she is rather uncomfortably ill suited for the title. She has neither the wits nor the beauty that a woman born to high society would posses. Catherine is often consumed with the need to prove herself to her father, who, being the intolerant man he is, never acknowledges her as being “good enough.” Catherine, having no beauty, intelligence, or he father’s respect, has nothing left but the money to offer anyone that may marry her. Sloper is intent on stopping all money-hungry treasure-seekers from taking advantage of Catherine because of her trusting nature. This act, which may be seen as selfless on Sloper’s part, may also appear as an insult to a hurting Catherine, living the life of a spinster.

The Goetz adaptation turns the James story, in which all the actions are inside (introverted) and isolated, into an extroverted melodrama. The Heiress is full of conflicts, crises, and resolutions, and takes the spectator on an emotional roller coaster.