The Heiress


In 1948, when a student in the Navy’s five-term college program at the University of Louisville, I was given an assignment to write a book report during a holiday. Since I would be in Brooklyn for the purpose of getting engaged, reading a book wasn’t on my list of things to do. Thus I took my sweetie to see the play The Heiress that, according to a critic’s review, captured the substance of the book Washington Square.

The story is about a young women in the latter part of the nineteenth century who lived with her stern widower father in a house on Manhattan’s Washington Square. Their situation suggested wealth. The daughter, because she was plain, had yet to attract a suitor. Her circumstance came to the attention of an opportunist who managed an introduction and pretended that he had fallen in love. She became truly in love with him.

The father recognized the deceit and warned his daughter. Later, just after the pretender proposed a plan to elope that very night, she reaffirmed her love by saying, “Even though my father will disinherit me, I will go away with you.”

At the appointed hour the scoundrel failed to appear. Her heart was broken.

The next act portrayed the daughter about ten-years later after her father’s demise. She was rich and still unmarried when her former swain, now down on his heels, reappeared. He called and skillfully resumed the courtship that she again encouraged. At an opportune moment she suggested an hour after dark when he should call so that they could elope as planned years before. Because his financial circumstance was so desperate, he was possessed by the same degree of eagerness that love had once provoked in her.

When the rascal called at the appointed hour, she didn’t move from her rocking chair. She sat there with a slight smile of vindictiveness while listening to his pathetic pleas for her to unlock the door.

That final scene of someone so without relatives and friends provoked me to conclude in my book report, “The heiress would have been better off if, when she was a young women, she had married anyone even the fortune hunter, rather than having become an embittered spinster who was without children of her own and living alone.”

When my report was graded, my over thirty, rather plain, unmarried English professor added a special note. In red ink she wrote, “I suppose it is a fate worst than death!”


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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