Every time I pick up Wuthering Heights, whether it be for a literature class or simply indulging myself with a bit of pleasure reading, I am constantly reminded why Emily Brontë is my favourite writer. This is my fifth time reading her novel and still I find myself engaging with different aspects of the text each time I discuss it because her usage of evocative language frames the novel as if it were an elaborate piece of poetry. Besides having my heartstrings consistently tugged throughout the course of the novel, I was curious about Heathcliff’s profound assertion that “the dead are not annihilated” but rather torment the living. In chapter 33, when Heathcliff reflects to Nelly about the sudden change that has taken over the Heights with the alliance between Catherine II and Hareton, he confesses that “The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!” In my recent analysis of the text, I have come to the possible conclusion that the “dreadful collection of memoranda” Heathcliff refers to is the kindling romance between Hareton and Catherine II.
Heathcliff sees in Hareton a younger version of himself, and while according to Heathcliff, Catherine II has nothing of her mother besides her eyes, he is still haunted by the circumstances in which he fell in love with Catherine E. in the first place. Heathcliff even goes so far as to warn Catherine II, “Your love will make him an outcast and a beggar” (Chp 33). I’m particularly interested in unpacking the specific language used in this declaration to insinuate that Catherine II has the means to make Hareton an “outcast and a beggar” because it is reminiscent of Heathcliff’s own status in relation to Catherine Earnshaw. There seems to be a direct connexion between Heathcliff’s warning in Chapter 33 to Catherine’s complaint in Chapter 9, “I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now.” It’s critical to remember that during this declaration, Heathcliff listens until he hears Catherine confess her reluctance to marry him on the basis of status. This particular piece of information is important when trying to understand Heathcliff’s warning to Catherine II because he is aware of the turmoil and heartbreak that class status can force lovers to endure.
Every time I finish this novel, I always find my heart aching for Heathcliff. Not out of pity, but out of empathy because he constantly torments himself by trying to seek out the one thing he desires most in the world: a love annihilated placed out of his reach. It’s inevitable that he must be miserable, for how does one live without one’s life, one’s soul- without dreaming of the sweet release and reunion that death promises.
One aspect of Wuthering Heights that is deeply interesting is the accruement of wealth and status, and the subsequent disillusionment with these material objects, by both Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. To wit, the accruement of wealth and status by both Cathy and Heathcliff are cruel and passionless. While the rise of Cathy and Heathcliff’s rise to status is deeply different, they both fell into the praxis of Rural Victorian’s rubric of success (but more so Catherine than Heathcliff). Moreover then, Cathy’s debate with Nelly is the best representation of how the interpellated idea of capitalist success succeeds against primordial and passionate emotions. In that, Cathy’s choice of the safe route is exactly what the system had in mind for her, as the combination of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange is the best outcome of wealth generation. Indeed, this practice of marrying the people who border your land was a well-known tactic in Victorian England to maintain and extend the status quo. The focus then turns to Heathcliff. Indeed, Heathcliff takes the more atypical route to wealth in Victorian England, although, when you think about it his story of pulling himself up by the bootstraps and making something of himself is about as typical as you can get. Yet, his rise is not detailed, and without any evidence, that section of his life cannot be used to prove his interpellation into capitalist society. However, the preceding events (i.e. his overhearing of Catherine’s conversation indicating the success of interpellation) of his life can be. Indeed, once he hears that he must be wealthy to achieve what he wants, he springs fully into the maneuverings of gaining wealth in a capitalist society. Moreover, his subsequent actions show how indebted his into this gain, as he purposefully rends families apart from each other to gain more wealth. This is, of course, thematically done under the auspices of his passion for Cathy, but it can also be read as him learning that gaining wealth is alienating and detrimental when in conjunction and confronted with maintaining and supporting families. The sad part in all of this however is the ultimate failure of entering the capitalist society for both Cathy and Heathcliff as neither of them get their ultimate desire, and both are worse off for letting themselves be interpellated into capitalism (although, one usually does not have the choice to ‘let themselves’ be interpellated).
The final chapters of Wuthering Heights reminded me of Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus because of the prominence of themes like romanticism and the supernatural in both texts. In Sartor Resartus, while Carlyle uses religious language, he is not having a religious conversation. Instead, Carlyle argues that we can find a source of hope and meaning in some new way that isn’t established religion. This conversation comes from romanticism which entails a scholarly embrace of optimism, the recognition of beauty in the natural world and a shift to turning to nature for spiritual meaning and some kind of alternative source of optimism and home in nature. In Natural Supernaturalism, Carlyle reflects this view when he asserts that nature itself is supernatural. He asks, ‘isn’t it a miracle that I can just reach my hand forward?’ He claims that we need not look further than ourselves to find the spiritual. In the research that was presented in class last week, we learned that Emily Bronte was raised evangelical, yet growing up, she was unaware of this. Throughout her youth, Bronte was surrounded by a lot of non-conformist communities which resulted in her own rejection of religion. Instead she thought of determination and hard work to be her guiding forces. Catherine and Cathy specifically seem to be characters that represent the Bronte’s views the religious and spiritual; both women seem to represent a rejection of traditional religious belief. At one point Catherine explains that in her dream she hated heaven and wished to go back down to earth. She instead finds her source of hope/spirituality/understanding in the moors. With regards to Cathy, the contrast between her and Linton’s ‘perfect days in heaven’ seems to clearly represent the conflicting ideas about traditional religion that occurred throughout the Victorian Era. Linton is a symbol of adherence to traditional religious practice and Cathy a symbol of some other alternative source of meaning/hope. Finally, Bronte’s inclusion of ghosts and spirits in the novel can be interpreted as rejection of traditional religion and a belief in heaven. Perhaps Bronte argues here that instead of heaven and hell there’s a spirit world that has a life of its own; perhaps nature is alive with spirits.
Wuthering Heights was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. In the last chapters, I found myself questioning a few of the characters. I almost looked at the ending as how Heathcliff’s everlasting wish for his life, that is to be with Catherine again, came true. And the entire books issues and arguments came back to where it all started. One theme that is prevalent throughout the novel is love, but overall the entire book seems like it was an everlasting struggle between love, power, and gender. I found a lot of repetition in the relationships throughout the story. For example, parallels can be drawn between Heathcliff and Catherines relationship with Cathy and Linton, and Cathy and Hareton. Love seems to be the underlying driving force for all the chaos, and when it does not go a certain way, the love is then turned into hatred and revenge, as we saw with Heathcliff. I think the patterns I have been noticing throughout the book are very characteristic of the Victorian era. In connection to some research we have done about the gender norms and hierarchical constructed power, we see this a lot in the novel. We spoke about the blurred boundaries between genders and we see this with many characters. For example Bronte gives voice to females in the book, where during this time period women did not have too much of a voice and were expected to behave in certain ways. Even up until the end when Cathy is abused by Heathcliff, it creates an interesting dynamic between the gender roles. Additionally, men were supposed to be these proper gentlemen which sometimes is not the case as well; this all linking to societal expectations of gender. I feel like I kind of went all over the place in this connection, but my mind is overflowing with thoughts about the books and connections, reflecting both on how stereotypical and non-stereotypical norms are prevalent through the book.
When I was reading the passage, some of the imagery Emily used to describe Heathcliff reminded me of the text of William Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper”. One moment that specifically stood out to me was when Bronte described a conversation between Nelly and Heathcliff in Chapter 33 during his impending illness. Nelly asked Heathcliff if he was afraid to death, to which he responded, “With my hard constitution and temperate mode of living, and unperilous occupations, I ought to, and probably shall, remain above ground till there is scarcely a black hair on my head” (Paragraph 53). Here, Bronte is using Heathcliff’s black hair as an indication of youth. When Heathcliff does not have black hair on his head, he will be an old man. However, contrary to Heathcliff’s claims that he will die an old man with gray hair, he dies of starvation at mid life. The Chimney Sweeper mirrors this with the quote, “A little black thing among the snow: Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!” In the days before Heathcliff’s death, he is distraught over the relationship between Hareton and Cathy. He dies in his bedroom, following his pleas to be with Catherine. Nature, specifically wind, enters the room when his window is open.
Furthermore, the line “Because I am happy & dance & sing / they think they have done me no injury” can be connected to Heathcliff’s happiness toward being reconnected with Catherine. When he dies, Nelly even notes that he “seemed to smile” (Paragraph 64). When Heathcliff dies, he dies without redemption, and barely anyone is at his funeral because they all see him as the one at fault. This can be seen in the poem’s quote, “They think they have done me no injury” (Paragraph 10). Heathcliff, once a child servant, dies at a young age similarly to the main character in the poem, and no one seems to give him their attention.
This was the first time I read Wuthering Heights and so I went in not really having an idea of what it was about. Now that I have finished it, if I could summarize it in three words I would say ”abuse and obsession” which is what Heathcliff’s character demonstrates throughout Emily Bronte’s novel. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine is so strong throughout the novel that I would call it an obsession. However, Catherine never fully commits to Heathcliff as she eventually marries Edgar to fulfill societal expectations. As the story continues, Heathcliff becomes so engrossed in getting revenge for the way in which he was separated from Catherine that he plots his whole life around it against the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Some of his actions include putting Hindley into debt so he can inherit Wuthering Heights, his marriage to Isabella to anger Edgar and devising a plan to have Linton and Cathy marry so he can take over Edgar’s property once he passes away. We further see Heathcliff’s obsession with Catherine when he tells Nelly that at Edgar’s burial he asked them to cut the lid off of Catherine’s coffin so that when he is buried they can both be facing each other.
Heathcliff’s obsession over Catherine reminded me of what John Stuart Mill says in his Autobiography. Mill says, “My course of study had led me to believe, that all mental and moral feelings and qualities, whether of a good or of a bad kind, were the results of association; that we love one thing, and hate another, take pleasure in one sort of action or contemplation, and pain in another sort, through the clinging of pleasurable or painful ideas to those things, from the effect of education or of experience”. Here Mill is explaining why humans are so opposed to change. We are accustomed to what we know that it is hard to accept change. Heathcliff was so used to having a free-spirited Catherine by his side growing up that when they were older, he was unable to accept that she has changed in order to fit society’s expectations for women.
At the time the events of Wuthering Heights were taking place, the idea of Romanticism was combating ideals of the Enlightenment. Romanticism was an alternate source for hope where the spiritual could be found both in the natural world and inside of us as humans.
As the story of Wuthering Heights came to a close, Heathcliff’s life that was so driven by revenge and scorned feelings, seemed to drift into a need for escape. He tells Nelly that he sees Catherine, “in every cloud, in every tree” (chapter 33, paragraph 46) and this memory of her haunts him and makes life unbearable. Heathcliff does not see hope in these natural images but instead reminded of his lost love. After leading a life so bent on revenge, Heathcliff finally sees his life has no true meaning without Catherine. Heathcliff also tells Nelly, “I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven…” (chapter 34, paragraph 57) which is to die and be with the love of his life.
This just reminded me of a quote from Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus where Carlyle claims that we are all spirits that take the form of a body that “…revel[s] in our mad Dance of the Dead- till the scent of morning air summons us to our still Home” (paragraph 22). Heathcliff lived a great portion of his life angry and vengeful until he felt a summon to his own heaven, one where Catherine would be. Hints of the natural world (the clouds that reminded Heathcliff of Catherine and the scent of morning air) appear in Wuthering Heights and in Sartor Resartus. Although Heathcliff dies, he hold onto the hope that he will be reunited with Catherine.
When continuing to read Wuthering Heights we can see a strong parallel between Catherine and Cathy. I wanted to relate this back to discussing if Emily Bronte put woman in a position of inferiority for the novel’s story line or just because this is what was normalized for the times. Was this parallel between mother and daughter one that was written in on purpose or did this just happen naturally. I was very interested in this connection between the Catherine’s and what motivated the author, Emily Bronte, to write the novel this way. There is also the interesting fact that Catherine did not raise Cathy, she died when she was giving birth to her, this is why it is interesting to the reader that there is such a connection between they way Catherine acts and what happens to her and they way that Cathy acts and the things that happen to her. In the story we can even recall the section where Nelly compares the two and says how much Cathy reminds her of Catherine. Simple things such as how they act towards people and there specific personality traits she can see in both characters. We also see there there is some sort of physical resemblance between the two as well. There are few cases where Nelly brings up the physical resemblance and we can also see this in the attitude change that Heathcliff has with Cathy when she starts to remind him more and more of her Mother.
After becoming interested in this aspect I did some research on the side and noticed that a lot of people pose the argument that Catherine and Cathy actually differ from each other in many ways. When finding interesting connections amongst these texts, it is interesting to do some further research to see if there are different opinions on these connections. Now, I can see that on the surface there are many similarities es but as you go deeper their may be many evident differences. At first glance when reading it seems as if there is almost an intentional parallel between the plot lines and character developments of Cathy and Catherine. I would be interested in understanding if this was done for a particular reason, or if this is just how all the woman were to be written.
In the poem, “Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” the narrator mentions how there are many black things in the world that God created, yet for some reason, the people are seen as lesser or scarier than white people. Moreover, she includes how people say that African Americans “have no stars,” and “our blackness shuts like prison bars.” Furthermore, she illustrates how there are numerous other dark things in the world. She mentions, streams, frogs, and birds in her list of examples. Overall, her argument is that it is ridiculous to justify slavery and inequality by hating on someone’s skin color, when that color isn’t an issue when describing other living things; for some reason, it is an issue when it comes to humans proving how hypocritical that argument is. Consequently in chapter 34 of Wuthering Heights, Nelly is explaining her fear she was feeling of Heathcliff and remembers his “deep black eyes.” Additionally, she speaks of him in the present as an “incarnate demon,” perhaps a ghoul or vampire. She reflects on raising him, while remembering him as a “little dark thing.” If the narrator of the poem were to read these lines, she would perhaps point out the hypocritical nature of Nelly’s description. Notably, she would wonder why Nelly connects the dark physical attributes of a person to something negative and scary, while if the physical attributes were lighter in appearance, they wouldn’t even be mentioned. Hence, both these works of literature deal with the hypocrisy of connecting someone’s physical appearance, to something negative and scary.
As I was reading the remaining chapters of Wuthering Heights, the term “master” kept reappearing. In Chapter 30, the master tells Zillah to “walk out of the room” and “let [him] never hear a word more about him!” This statement proves how heartless Heathcliff could be since he did not care about the wellbeing of Linton. After recognizing this, I was reminded of The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point. In this text, the master mistreats his slaves through verbal and physical abuse. This is visible when the narrator mentions “the master’s look, that used to fall on my soul like his lash… or worse.” Both of these texts mention masters quite a bit, which causes me to assume that their presence was widely accepted during the time of Victorian Literature. Even though the meaning of the term slightly differs in each text, both of the masters dictate what other people are allowed to do. In many of the texts we have looked at, there always seems to be one person who controls everyone else. In my opinion, the obvious difference in power caused a great deal of inequality within society that still exists today.