“The Dead Are Not Annihilated:” Poetry Masquerading as Prose

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.

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