In Chapter 18 of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Nelly recounts the first interaction between Cathy Linton and Hareton Earnshaw. In this brief encounter, Cathy immediately judges Hareton by his appearance, distinguishes him as a servant, and is unprepared for a rude awakening when discovering that the man she insists is a servant, is in fact, her cousin.
During this reading, I was particularly struck by Nelly’s reflection of Hareton and his circumstances: “Good things lost amid a wilderness of weeds, to be sure, whose rankness far over-topped their neglected growth; yet, not withstanding, evidence of a wealthy soil, that might yield luxuriant crops under other and favourable circumstances” (paragraph 54). Nelly’s description of Hareton’s unfortunate luck has striking parallels to Percy Shelley’s, “England in 1819” whose poem begins with “An old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king, Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow Through public scorn – mud from a muddy spring, Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, But leech-like to their fainting country cling” (lines 1-5).
While Nelly’s wilderness of weeds metaphor differs from Shelley’s description of a tyrant king who oppresses his people, I can see a distinct connection between the tyrant king and Heathcliff in regard to his treatment of Hareton. Inattentive and unfeeling rulers, like that of the mad king Shelley references, diminish the value of their subjects by neglecting their potential, which is exactly what Heathcliff does to Hareton. By restricting Hareton and diminishing him to a status that is beneath that of his birth, I am convinced Heathcliff becomes no better than the mad king who leeches off his country for the protection of his own wealth and greed.