Poor Linton. And Hareton. And Catherine, for that matter. All have fallen victim to the vacuous pit of Wuthering Heights. But can they really be blamed for their frequently petty actions, especially given the toxic environments they have grown up in? Linton and Hareton both should be fine and educated gentlemen, the cream of the crop of the landed gentry — yet Heathcliff, due to his own notions of insecurity and vengeance, refuses to allow them to thrive. They, such as the princes of Shelley’s “England in 1819”, have became “the dregs of their dull race who flow through public scorn”. Linton and Hareton both attempt to impress the young Catherine, as she is quite literally the only “public” they have to show off to, and yet their attempts to do so are met with scorn. When coming upon an inscription of his name at Wuthering Heights, Hareton exclaims pathetically “Miss Catherine! I can read yon, now,”, though when pressed by Nelly to give the date listed next to his name, he is unable to. During Nelly’s cruel mirth afterwards, she notes that a “grin hover[ed] about his lips, and a scowl gather[ed] over his eyes, as if uncertain whether he might not join in my mirth… it really was contempt… He imagined himself to be as accomplished as Linton… because he could spell his own name,” (Chapter 24). Nelly is being a bit obtuse here, as she is not noticing the structural inability for Hareton to actually learn anything because of Heathcliff’s interference.
Linton is similarly maligned, though in a different fashion. He is petulant, bratty, and entitled, most likely due to his higher-class education and adolescence in London. I suppose the question then is, who is to blame for the childrens’ shortcomings? The easy answer is Heathcliff, and yes, he is mostly at fault, the “mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king” to this whole affair. But I don’t think that Bronte was attempting to establish Heathcliff as an outright villain. Earlier in the book, he was the dreglike “prince” under a despised “king” (Hindley). This is not just an issue with individuals, but the pressing weight of systematic exploitation and mistreatment throughout the generations due to jealousy and hatred of the “other”. The conflicts of Wuthering Heights, like those of “England in 1819”, are not meant to be viewed in a person-to-person basis, but as a failure of the society that raised them. And, while I have not yet finished the book, I have the strangest feeling that the ending is not a happy one, and that the cycle of perpetual mistreatment and awful romances born from stymied emotions will yet continue. Perhaps, though, like Shelley’s “glorious Phantom”, the constant death and misery eventually will cause a burst of inspiration within those who remain to learn from their experiences, to abandon the toxic mentalities that lead to all of the suffering to begin with.
But I think not.