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Monday, March 16, 2015

Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff & Catherine

This intensely gothic classic penned by the younger sister of Charlotte Bronte- best known for Jane Eyre- should have been titled Heathcliff and Catherine or just Heathcliff instead of Wuthering Heights. Having read Jane Eyre several times over, Emily’s only novel was a surprise as it was a lot darker in tone; a love story yes, but a doomed one. After reading this, one wonders if two people who are too much alike can actually make a relationship work!

Heathcliff was found on the streets by Catherine’s father, Mr. Earnshaw during a shopping trip to Liverpool and on returning him to the family home- Wuthering Heights- is immediately disliked by the Earnshaw son, Hindley but became thick as thieves with little Catherine; from children to teenagers; finding in each other, their soul mate. But with the elder Earnshaws’ deaths; Hindley vindictively refused to recognize Heathcliff as a member of the family, turning him into a servant in the household and doing all he can to break his friendship with his sister. The Lintons befriending Catherine and teaching her more ladylike manners didn’t help matters and Heathcliff one night found out his stand with Catherine after observing she never seemed to have time for him anymore. And this was via a conversation between Catherine and the housekeeper Nelly Dean (one of the many narrators of the story).
It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire. (9.92)
Technically, Heathcliff only heard part of Catherine’s words-" It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now" - but that was enough for him to leave the house for three years, not wishing to hear more reasons why Catherine felt he was beneath her, even though he was her soul mate and vice versa. Unknown to Catherine at the time, it was the beginning of her downfall… and of several others.
One would judge Catherine Earnshaw harshly; marrying money and position instead of following her heart. However circumstances made her weigh her options, either marry Heathcliff and be poor, no thanks to Hindley’s deliberate neglect of him or marry Edgar Linton who had the means of providing and taking care of her. Ironically, it was her betrayal that made Heathcliff leave Wuthering Heights to seek his fortune. The book doesn’t elaborate on his adventures while he was away except some hint that he was in the army for a while. Nevertheless, when he returned he was a rich gentleman but by no means changed in demeanor. The first time reader will feel suspicious, wondering what’s his angle as he keeps coming to see Catherine, much to her husband’s annoyance but is too much of a gentleman to tell Heathcliff to get lost. Nelly Dean, the principle narrator, felt Heathcliff was up to something, especially after hearing Heathcliff had bought Hindley’s (a drunk, since his wife’s untimely death) mortgage and was the new owner of Wuthering Heights and then noticing (with horror) he was courting Edgar’s sister Isabella.
A showdown between Edgar and Heathcliff was inevitable, causing Catherine to fall very ill. On her last meeting with Heathcliff, he tearfully and savagely admonished her for denying her heart by marrying Edgar...

You teach me now how cruel you've been — cruel and false! Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they'll blight you — they'll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine!

That night Catherine died after giving birth to a premature baby girl. His anguish was epic...

Oh! You said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! (16.25)

Having eloped with Isabella Linton prior to Catherine’s death was the second phase of Heathcliff tyrannical revenge towards the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Hindley was a drunken lout in a house no longer his own and died there afterwards. Heathcliff raises Hindley’s son Hareton; degrading him by not getting him educated and turning him to a servant (just like Hindley did to him) but is rather kind towards him as he resembled his late love Catherine. He’s abusive to Isabella who ran away and gave birth to a son afterwards, Linton; frail and sickly. Meanwhile, Catherine’s daughter Cathy finds her way to Wuthering Heights when she’s 13, despite her father and Nelly not telling her anything about the place or its dark owner. She not only meets Heathcliff *groan* but also her unknown cousin Hareton who is immediately offended when she thought he was a servant.
Heathcliff claims his son immediately Edgar fetches him from London after Isabella’s death as Linton was his instrument in carrying out his revenge. Cathy (a completely disobedient and willful child) kept wandering away from home and it came about, Cathy is trapped in Wuthering Heights and forced to marry Linton (whom she exchanged love letters with but was stopped by Nelly who threatened to tell Edgar); barely making it back to her father’s sickbed. After Edgar is buried, Cathy was taken to Wuthering Heights to live with the ‘family’; while her home Thrushcross Grange or ‘The Grange’ was rented out to the tenant, Mr. Lockwood, whom we meet at the beginning of the book and to whom Nelly Dean narrated the whole story to. Linton is very ill on Cathy’s arrival and Heathcliff heartlessly refused to allow anyone, not even Hareton (who had sympathy for Cathy) to send for a doctor. The poor young man dies and Cathy has nothing in the world as Heathcliff had made Linton sign away all his property to him. Cathy was now his servant and his revenge was complete!
However, some months later Mr. Lockwood returned to Wuthering Heights and immediately put out at the sight of a newly improved Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy sharing a kiss in the middle of a reading lesson and seeking out Nelly, hears the rest of the story. Cathy and Hareton became friends after a rather rocky start, slowly falling in love. Heathcliff on the other hand, seemed no longer interested nor triumphant of what he’d achieved, instead longing to be with Catherine senior again- particularly after Mr. Lockwood encountered her ghost during an unexpected sleepover at the Heights. After some days of odd behavior and not eating or sleeping, Nelly found him dead in his bed; reunited with Catherine at last as a shepherd boy swore to Nelly he saw a man and woman walking along the moors. The novel ended on a happy note and revival of hope as Cathy and Hareton are to be married on New Year’s day and permanently move to The Grange.

My take on this novel? Well, I felt it was a story of passion and tragedy, with the promise of a new beginning through the Linton and Earnshaw left; Cathy and Hareton. While they were a different from the other and raised differently; they turned out to be each other’s foil and it made them fall in love despite the odds. And I couldn’t help but wonder several times if Heathcliff would’ve treated Cathy a lot nicer if she’d been Catherine’s senior carbon copy. One will sympathize with Heathcliff when they read about how Hindley treated him so badly but definitely not with the adult Heathcliff. But for Catherine’s decision, Cathy would’ve been his daughter, so how on earth could he bring himself to treat her the way he did, and oh… so heartless towards his own child, simply to get revenge? He loved Catherine but I felt his love for her was unhealthy; losing her to Edgar and then losing her to death brought out the worst in him; he remained obsessed about her and obsessed about getting even with the people who came between them and wronged him at the same time, Hindley and Edgar; through Edgar’s sister Isabella and their children; Cathy and Hareton’s falling in love was ‘a poor conclusion’ to his mission, according to him.
Catherine… should it be said she caused her own problems? She loved Heathcliff very much, claiming “I am Heathcliff!” For years they were joined at the hip so it was a blow to Heathcliff when she decided to marry Edgar Linton instead; we see a woman who has to be practical and realistic at the time so we can’t blame her really. She gets caught in the middle between Edgar and Heathcliff and has a “meltdown” to provoke her husband after he and Heathcliff fight, a meltdown that becomes real and she falls very ill. Like I mentioned earlier, she and Heathcliff were very much alike; until she is taught to be more ladylike, she was wild and strong willed like him and retained her waywardness after her ‘education’. Should we call her mercenary for marrying Edgar? The modern readers would say “hell yeah!” but others might reflect than in those days, women mostly married men who were high in social status and sure to provide them with financial security. But soul mates find it hard to stay away from each other and Catherine’s decision only brought about tragedy instead of happiness for her; as her tormented heart remained Heathcliff’s.

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