Following my love of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’, it was only natural to progress towards the works of Emily Brontë. With its setting on the moors, the Gothic style and the thematic similarities of love and madness, ‘Wuthering Heights’ seemed the perfect next step, upon discovering them to be the same beloved qualities that encaptured me in ‘Jane Eyre’. However, I was rendered surprisingly disappointed in the novel and in a state of disillusionment at the hype surrounding such a classic.
‘Wuthering Heights’ begins with Lockwood’s arrival; he is not only the partial narrator of the novel, but the new tenant of Heathcliff’s Thrushcross Grange. Nelly, who follows in the footsteps of her mother, as a servant to the Earnshaws, presents the rest of the narration and the story of the infamous love shared between Heathcliff and Cathy. As the pair divulge into the complex relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine, Lockwood sharp learns of Heathcliff’s destructive tendencies, whether it be of the self, or of those around him. Heathcliff bears the gravitational pull of disaster, obliterating all obstacles in his pursuit of Catherine and perhaps themselves in the process.
Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is an intensely brutal depiction of the fatal consequences of such a passionate and unhealthy love. Raw emotion, playing a key role in the novel, slowly unravels to be nothing more than primal, sadistic ‘love’ (if that is the suitable word for it). With a strong aversion towards Brontë’s portrayal of such a mentally exhausting relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine, I can describe the connection as none other than blind dependency upon the other, resulting in the loss of self and degradation of sanity. Bearing parallels to Charlotte Brontë’s wild, savage character Bertha Mason, Catherine Earnshaw, whilst more subtly deranged, clearly sacrifices any traces of self-interest, social values and morality at the hand of vengeful, malevolent Heathcliff, for their twisted interpretation of love.
Whilst Brontë’s intention is clearly to evoke sympathy for poor, orphaned Heathcliff, providing excuse for his despicable behaviour, I can’t help but feel utter antipathy towards the b̶r̶u̶t̶e so-called Byronic hero. His vengeful nature and cruel tendencies are rooted in his true vulnerability, desire to be wanted and the small lost boy hiding within his deteriorating psyche, right? Therefore, Catherine’s selfish choice to take the hand of mentally-stable, well-mannered Edgar Linton in marriage, is the sole blame for Heathcliff’s descent into devastation and is most-certainly a reprimandable choice on her behalf, right? Personally, I believe that we all cage an inner brute, so to say, some to a greater degree than others. However, it is with our own self-restraint and mentality that we are able to withhold the socially unacceptable monster that lingers within. Therefore, Heathcliff alone is responsible for his own ability to act accordingly, rather than acting like an impulsive child on the warpath for not getting what he wants or believes to be rightfully his.
However, with my ability to acknowledge that Heathcliff is a mere character (sorry kids, some people in books aren’t real!), I can accept that Brontë symbolises Heathcliff as a physical (again, not literally physical) representation of either rejection, strife or prejudice. Distorting the traditional Romantic genre, Brontë intercepts any form of compassion or virtuous behaviour that Heathcliff could display at any given opportunity, as most Romantic heroes are expected to do, i.e. Charlotte Brontë’s brooding Mr Rochester. For example, Heathcliff bypasses the forgiveness route on multiple occasions, opting for revenge instead- revenge upon little Cathy for her mother’s death and his inability to be with Catherine, Hindley’s mistreatment, perhaps even neglect of the self and so on. Consequently, Heathcliff never really attains his goal of being with Cathy, until death, which is really rather ambiguous and dependent on the belief in an afterlife, but that is an entirely different argument altogether. If, however, one chooses to believe that Heathcliff does not obtain closure, either in life alone or in life and death, remaining a wandering, mourning, hopeless spirit (okay, maybe I do feel a little sympathy here), then perhaps his embodiment of rejection suggests to the reader an overwhelming moral message; revenge may not be the best approach to the hurdles we must overcome or stumble over in life. Cheesy, I know.
That being said, I am not entirely a fan of Catherine’s arrogant, stubborn behaviour either. Nonetheless, I shall let you be the judge of that. All in all, my aversion towards ‘Wuthering Heights’ may not be the novel itself, but the pitiful behaviour of the characters and the paradoxically idealistic and realistic portrayal of love. It is simultaneously so intense and fervent, rather idealistically so and to the degree of being obsession, yet realistically faces its obstacles, proving that perfect love is unattainable. What do you think of Heathcliff or Catherine? Is their love passionate and true or brutish and destructive?