An analysis of how Nelly Dean embodies the themes of education influencing a woman’s relationships in Wollstonecraft and Fullers’ works.

When reading Wuthering Heights, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between the relationships between men and women George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) discusses in her critical essay on Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft’s works of nonfiction and the way that Emily Bronte depicts the relationships between Cathy Earnshaw and her love interests: Heathcliff and Edgar Linton.  In her essay, Eliot writes that both Fuller and Wollstonecraft assert that “while men have a horror of such faculty or culture in the other sex as tends to place it on a level with their own, they are really in a state of subjection to ignorant and feeble-minded women”. In Wuthering Heights, the influence that Catherine Earnshaw has on Linton and Heathcliff is astounding. Bronte writes, “At fifteen she was the queen of the countryside: she had no peer: and she did turn out a haughty, headstrong, creature… She had a wonderful constancy to old attachments: even Heathcliff kept his hold on her affections, unalterably, and young Linton…” (Bronte 66). Wollstonecraft and Fuller’s books argued for an education of women that exceeded outside of household duties and was well versed in the arts, humanities, and sciences.

While Catherine Earnshaw displayed qualities of a strong, independent woman based on her own outspokenness and free will, she is also deprived of a real education: although as a lady her education is superior to Heathcliff’s, at the same time her education is limited to manners and the ritualistic Christianity she and her brother are taught by Joseph. Nelly Dean, to a certain extent, is not a reliable narrator. She asserts judgement on Catherine based on her actions, her emotions, and the control she has over her relationships. For example, when Catherine discloses her intention to marry Linton and then use his money to assist Heathcliff, Nelly says, “It only goes to convince me that you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying; or else, that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl” (Bronte 83). Bronte seems to be using Nelly to insert the argument seen in Fuller and Wollstonecraft’s works, and further discussed by Eliot: that in order to succeed in marital relationships, a woman must be educated: not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their spouse.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.