Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
Type of Text: Novel
Main Characters: Mr Lockwood, a gentleman from the south who rents Thrushcross Grange, the primary narrator (although we don’t learn very much about him). Heathcliff, his wild landlord, who lives at Wuthering Heights, and who was fostered into the Earnshaw family as a child. Ellen (Nelly) Dean, former nursemaid for the Earnshaws, housekeeper for Mr Lockwood who tells him Heathcliff’s story. The Lintons of Thrushcross Grange and the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights: Lockwood meets Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Heathcliff (née Linton; Heathcliff’s widowed daughter-in-law); Ellen Dean talks about Hareton’s parents (Hindley and Frances) and his aunt Cathy, and about Edgar and Isabella Linton. Joseph, an old servant attached to Wuthering Heights, who speaks in a broad Yorkshire accent.
Genre: Gothic, Romance
Narrative Style: There are two principle narrators, both first-person, only slightly differentiated in style: Mr Lockwood, who writes as if keeping a diary (although without dates), recording events as if they have just occurred; and Ellen Dean, who tells him the story of Heathcliff’s past (as much as she witnessed herself), looking back from the vantage-point of several years, with the opportunity for moving around in the narrative which that entails.
Themes & Imagery: Solitary natures. Wildness in spirit and wilderness in the Yorkshire moors (with local flavour added by Joseph’s strong accent); powerful passions and consuming hatred. Pride. Ghosts and hauntings, dreams and signs. Heartbreak; wasting sickness and delirium. Rain, snow, storms, bleak weather. No real consolation in religion, but focus on devils and hell. Lives cut short; different responses to crisis and grief. Broken homes – loveless marriages, sibling conflict, children raised without one or both parents, and becoming adults without ever growing up. Nurse as go-between (which rather recalls Greek tragedy, or its reflex in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”). Obsession with intricate plans of revenge (wanting not just that one’s enemy is miserable, but to be the direct cause of that misery), even if that means hurting oneself. People as animals, whether wild beasts or pets.
Synopsis: After meeting his new landlord Heathcliff and his wild sullen household, Lockwood hears the tale of Heathcliff’s doomed love for Cathy. Mrs Dean, his housekeeper, comforts Lockwood in his convalesence by describing how Heathcliff was fostered into the Earnshaw household, loved by his foster-father and his foster-sister Cathy but hated and abused by his foster-brother Hindley; how Heathcliff had run away upon hearing that Cathy said she could never marry him, but would marry Edgar Linton instead; how Heathcliff had returned after some years, fought with Edgar and eloped with his sister Isabella (despite not loving her in the least); how Cathy fell sick and eventually died shortly after Heathcliff’s second return, and how Isabella eventually ran away from her abusive husband; how Heathcliff arranged to marriage of Cathy’s daughter by Edgar, also Cathy / Catherine, and Heathcliff’s son by Isabella, forenamed Linton; how both Edgar and Linton died soon afterwards, and what has become of the rest of the family since.
Personal Response: Try as I might, I just couldn’t get into this novel, either because of the plot or, more probably, the distance occasioned by the mediation of Ellen Dean as narrator, which meant I couldn’t really get into the heads of the principle characters (and the confusing repetition of names didn’t help me either). I’ve termed it a romance, since it is often classified and remembered as such (and certainly that was my expectation of it before reading; I might even have termed it a tragic romance), but actually, I do not think it has very much to offer on that score. The love of Cathy for Heathcliff seems to me not such a desirable thing to have, and something she herself does not understand in anything but a childish fashion; Heathcliff’s love for Cathy is scarcely touched upon, or so it seems to me, and when it does appear seems like more of a violent and destructive obsession (of the sort which might merit a restraining order in the modern world). The young Catherine has initially a similarly childish love for Linton as her mother did for him father, albeit more caring and wholesome; his supposed love for her is shown to be hollow, his letters the machinations of the vengeful Heathcliff. Mrs Dean is not overly devoted to her charges either, once they show their true characters; Lockwood’s suggested love for Catherine is fanciful and superficial, and the lack of depth is particularly felt because he is one of the principal narrators whose emotions we should see; the final love of Catherine and Hareton might perhaps redeem this text as a romance, and certainly provides an unexpected happy ending, but it might have profited from a more full exploration. Indeed, my primary gripe with this text is the poor use to which Lockwood is put: he could have been profitably used to show the present situation at Wuthering Heights with more fullness, and allowed to develop into a proper character, whereas instead he is a rather two-dimensional internal audience and framing device. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, but would probably have been happier without the dedicated attempt to represent Joseph’s speech with an accent which I found pretty impenetrable throughout.
Favourite Part: Cathy asks Nelly for advice about Edgar Linton’s marriage proposal, and then confesses to Nelly her love for Heathcliff.
My Five Top Lines:
Lockwood tells Mrs Dean what he thinks about the locals:
“Are you acquainted with the mood of mind in which, if you were seated alone, and the cat licking its kitten on the rug before you, you would watch the operation so intently that puss’s neglect of one ear would put you seriously out of temper?”
“A terribly lazy mood, I should say.”
“On the contrary, a tiresomly active one. It is mine at present, and therefore, continue minutly. I perceive that people in these regions acquire over people in towns the value that a spider in a dungeon does over a spider in a cottage, to their various occupants, and yet the deepened attraction is not entirely owing to the situation of the looker-on. They do live more in earnest, more in themselves, and less in surface, change and frivolous external things. I could fancy a love for life here almost possible – and I was a fixed unbeliever in any love of a year’s standing. One state resembles setting a hungry man down to a single dish, on which he may concentrate his entire appetite and do it justice – the other, introducing him to a table laid out by French cooks: he can perhaps extract as much enjoyment from the whole, but each part is a mere atom in his regard and remembrance.”
Mrs Dean describes her feelings at seeing the death of Cathy:
I don’t know if it be a peculiarity in me, but I am seldom otherwise than happy when watching in the chamber of death, should no frenzied or despairing mourner share the duty with me. I see a repose that neither earth nor hell can break, and I feel an assurance of the endless and shadowless hereafter – the Eternity they have entered – where life is boundless in its duration, and love in its sympathy, and joy in its fullness. I noticed on that occasion how much selfishness there is even in a love like Mr Linton’s, when he so regretted Catherine’s blessed release!
To be sure, one might have doubted, after the wayward and impatient existence she had led, whether she merited a haven of peace at last. One might doubt in seasons of cold reflection, but not then, in the presence of her corpse. It asserted its own tranquillity, which seemed a pledge of equal quiet to its former inhabitant.
Heathcliff explains his feelings towards Hareton Earnshaw:
“I’ve a pleasure in him,” he continued, reflecting aloud. “He has satisfied my expectations… If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half so much – but he’s no fool, and I can sympathize with all his feelings, having felt them myself… I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly: it is merely a beginning of what he shall suffer, though. And he’ll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I’ve got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me, and lower, for he takes a pride in his brutishness. I’ve taught him to scorn everything extra-animal as silly and weak. Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son if he could see him? Almost as proud as I am of mine… But there’s this difference: one is gold put to the use of paving stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it, yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first-rate qualities, and they are lost, rendered worse than unavailing… I have nothing to regret, he would have more than any but I are aware of… And the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me! You’ll own that I’ve outmatched Hindley there. If the dead villain could rise from his grave to abuse me of his offspring’s wrongs, I should have the fun of seeing the said offspring fight him back again, indignant that he should dare to rail at the one friend he has in the world!”
Catherine describes how she and Linton have different ideas of the perfect day:
“One time, however, we were near quarrelling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sunshinging steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness – mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above, and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos, pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells, but close by, great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze, and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace – I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee.”
Heathcliff tells Mrs Dean how his feelings about Hareton have changed:
“Five minutes ago Hareton seemed a personification of my youth, not a human being – I felt to him in such a variety of ways, that it would have been impossible to have accosted him rationally.
“In the first place, his startling likeness to Catherine connected him fearfully with her. That, however, which you may suppose the most potent to arrest my imagination, is actually the least – for what is not connected with her to me? And what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped in the the flags! In every cloud, in every tree – filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day – I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women – my own features – mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!
“Well, Hareton’s aspect was the ghost of my immortal love, of my wild endeavours to hold my right; my degradation, my pride, my happiness, and my anguish…”