Though the semester has only really just begun, class discussions have already gone into great depth about a number of topics, one such topic being the role of hope in Romantic literature. As a result of these class conversations, I have started to view hope as a near necessary element of Romantic literature, though, now that I have begun to critically engage with Wuthering Heights, this view has certainly been challenged, particularly by the character of Hareton Earnshaw. It can be argued that Hareton Earnshaw exists without hope due to the tragic circumstances of his upbringing. His mother died in childbirth and his father dealt with alcoholism and ultimately died indebted to Heathcliff, who in turn raised Hareton without nurturing him in any sense. Indeed, Hareton is afforded no education, no socialization, and, perhaps most upsettingly, no love or affection. While these aspects may lead some to assume that Hareton exists without hope, I can see a parallel between the experiences of Hareton throughout the beginning of Wuthering Heights and the apparent hopelessness latent within Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “England in 1819,” a poem that, in fact, bears a great deal of hope for its readers. The neglect that Hareton experiences throughout the novel mirrors the way in which the people of England were treated by their rulers, as is portrayed by Shelley in his poem. Shelley’s poem depicts a glorious phantom being born from the neglect the people have suffered. Such a phantom seems to be promising some kind of revolution, or perhaps retribution. In that same vein, there is a certain tension that readers can perceive regarding the character of Hareton, one that suggests that despite his neglect, there is a glimmer of hope for him after all. For while Nelly perceives him to be a poor and uneducated servant to Heathcliff, she, and her young charge, Catherine, afford Hareton a great deal of attention and consideration. Thus, despite the neglect that Hareton has felt while in Heathcliff’s care, Nelly’s attention to and occasional praise of his person suggests that perhaps Hareton will, like a glorious phantom, rise above the way Heathcliff has treated him and regain what his father lost.
After reading these next few chapters In Wuthering Heights I was intrigued thinking about the relationships between the different characters. As we read earlier on in the novel, when Catherine and Heathcliff were children they would often run off together and play and enjoy each other company as most young people do. We can compare their relationship to that of their children years later. I found it interesting that the carefree attitude that Catherine and Heathcliff once had is not as easily acquired for their own children. Heathcliff’s son Linton is a sickly boy who is often too weak to go out and instead stays inside whining all day. His father treats him quite poorly as he never even loved his mother and thus doesn’t care much for the boy. Cathy, Catherine’s daughter longs for more freedom but her father forbids her from seeing Linton because of the bad history he has with Heathcliff. I think it’s also important to talk about Heathcliff’s treatment of Hareton, Hindley’s son. It seems that Heathcliff loves treating the people in his life very poorly. I find this extremely ironic as Heathcliff himself used to be treated badly by Hindley and was often times treated like a servant in his own home. Now, many years later, Heathcliff has made it his mission to take revenge on those who have wronged him and I think that is apparent with his mistreatment of Hindley’s son, Hareton. Instead of being able to go out and play with his cousins Cathy and Linton, he is forced to do whatever Heathcliff says. He is practically treated like a servant and has no freedom of his own. Heathcliff won’t even let Hareton get a proper education so he doesn’t even know how to read. After reading this, I immediately thought of the poem we read in class called “The Cry Of The Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This poem expresses the child labor victim’s sorrows as they spend all their time working instead of playing and enjoying their childhood. Although Cathy, Linton, and Hareton aren’t out working in factories all day, they are bound by family ties and obligations and have no time to enjoy themselves. In my opinion, Hareton is the one who is really put to work and is ordered around by Heathcliff the most. Unlike their parents, Linton and Cathy don’t have the luxury of roaming around the moors and acting carefree.
A recurring theme in Wuthering Heights is the way in which the speaker frames differences in gender, as well as the standard for each gender that characters are expected to meet. Catherine is looked kindly upon for her favorable, “feminine” qualities, like her beauty and quiet intelligence, but this is very much in spite of her less favorable, less “ladylike” qualities, speaking to her strong will and temperament. Heathcliff also insults Linton’s mother in Chapter 20, calling her a slut — yet another instance in which a man judges a woman based on characteristics perceived to be more or less feminine by societal norms at the time. This double standard is a pattern throughout the book; we can even go back to Chapter 8, for example, and examine the instance in which Catherine is looked down upon for her “unladylike temper” with Edgar, when they get into a small fight. This bit of sexism in such a dated book highlights what little value people placed on women in the age at the time, as well as the everyday ways in which women would be judged and characterized for personality, for example.
While continuing to read Wuthering Heights, I can’t help but feel sympathy for the children. In The Cry of the Children, freedom is spoken about in regard to children and animals, how animals had more freedom than children. I think it is interesting to relate this to Wuthering Heights. Within the chapters 17-25 for this week, we see how Cathy has no freedom to do what she wants. On the contrary, Heathcliff growing up has freedom to do whatever he pleased, maybe not in a social standing status, but with his actions (gender?). This eventually leads her to sneaking around to Wuthering Heights at times. However, this lack of freedom to see who she wants only furthers her attraction to do so. A prominent feature of Victorian parenting seems to be that of having control as well as portraying some affection, in most cases. This freedom that is not all that prevalent in Cathy’s life directly correlates to freedom of emotions as well. We see how Cathy and Linton are forced to contain their emotional attraction towards one another as the surrounding issues of their families will not allow for it, as Cathy is fed lies about bad things about Linton and Heathcliff in order to persuade her from wanting to go there. This is an interesting topic to contrast as well. How come Nelly allows so much freedom for Cathy in these chapters, whereas her father would never have allowed? What does that say about their relationship? Why does it seem Nelly has such a greater connection and tolerance for Cathy rather than for when she cared for her mother Catherine? It is really interesting to think about this contrast of freedom between the characters, focusing on their genders as well, as they develop throughout Wuthering Heights, and more specifically how this freedom impacts their societal choices.
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.
As the story continues, the most interesting character I find within Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff. The combination of Heathcliff’s unique upbringing, contrasted against the upper-class world of wealth within Victorian society makes him into a powerful antagonist. Additionally, at moments his cruelty stands out in a cast full of selfish figures. I found Heathcliff to represent figures of power within both “England in 1819”.
Heathcliff’s roots are not in the upper class, yet he has found himself there, reigning over Wuthering Heights. His weaponization of Victorian societal rules such as marriage and familial connection displays how oppressive this society truly was. In class, we discussed how there was “a large amount of violence” within Wuthering Heights. While there is a large amount of physical violence, particularly surrounding Heathcliff, the actions within the text that do the most lasting damage is his abuses of power within the “rules” of Victorian society. The opening lines of “England in 1819” brings up imagery that makes one think of Heathcliff and Linton.
“An old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow’
Of course, the connection between a king and a prince. Additionally, Linton being sickly paints him to be a much less capable “dreg” than his father. But connecting Heathcliff and his son to positions of nobility highlights more concepts of upper-class society. Heathcliff uses his son as a tool to further his influence, pushing for a marriage that will simply further his means to revenge. Its an action of the political nobility, using his position of power at Wuthering Heights to gain more.
Heathcliff in many ways is a villain of two worlds. His roots contrast with his elevated upbringing later in life, yet he terrorizes those around him utilizing both. He physically fights those around him, but as he learns he realizes that he does lasting damage with the weapons of the upper class. The most damaging blows he did to Edgar were in his actions to marry Isabella, rather than the physical violence he inflicts. His most effective forms of violence against those he felt wronged him he learned within the Victorian world, utilizing methods of revenge that are more subtle and accepted.
I think another interesting element of this is when considering Heathcliff’s trajectory through the novel. His acts of physical violence are often cruel, but they mostly seem to come from situations of high tension or emotion. His slow and calculating plots in the second half of Wuthering Heights come from a Heathcliff immersed in the upper-class society. I suppose a question to consider is whether or not the rawer physical violence that seemed to always be with Heathcliff evolved into his actions later on in the story, or whether it was the culture itself that taught Heathcliff to abuse his power.
From the outset of Wuthering Heights, the most interesting event in the beginning chapters was Lockwood’s discovery of Catherine’s diary. However, the fascination lies not in the act, but rather, in how Catherine’s diary is presented. As it stands, the diary was not a typical diary, but a diary that constituted itself to be both a diary and an obscure book (the book’s title hardly matters). On surface level, Catherine’s diary can obviously be interpreted as a meta-reference to how Emily Brontë delivers the narrative of Wuthering Heights, which is that of the frame narrative. To wit, this object is self-referential towards the form of the novel, but it can also offer itself as a meta-object that deals with the content of the novel. To those ends then, the two content-rich narratives are separately that of the implicit and the explicit. The implicit narrative, and the framing narrative, is the socioeconomic system that prevents Catherine and Heathcliff from realizing their romantic ambitions together. This, of course, is not a traditional narrative, but a systemic narrative localized to Victorian England. Yet, the narrative of Catherine and Heathcliff’s romance is a literary narrative, yet, it also retains aspects of a dialectic (albeit a negative one). But why is this an important aspect of the novel to point out, and how does it flesh out the characters? For the first part, this aspect of the novel gains its importance in Catherine’s death, which is helplessly intertwined with her realization that the dual narratives she and Heathcliff operate within are sustained upon absence. That is to say, she has realized that not only will she never meet the societal expectation of the systemic narrative she takes part in, but she will also never fulfill her romantic expectation with Heathcliff. In this realization then, Catherine can be seen as someone who has had both of her guiding narratives fully deconstructed, and cannot stand the essential nothingness of each of the narratives she has been forced into. Thus, the meta-object of the novel opens up the necessary steps to understand this conclusion. To wit, the meta-object breaks down with Heathcliff, and in most senses, was never there for him. Thus, the breakdown of Catherine, and the unexpected stoppage of her writing their stories in the margins of the systemic narratives, leaves him in a lurch. This lurch comes because he has not yet fully died, in both the physical and philosophical sense. Of course, his narrative with Catherine is dead, but he is still left with the overarching systemic narrative that ripped him and Catherine apart. It follows then, that this narrative is the one he fully rebels against. His anger and diabolic machinations reaches to a fever peak in the following chapters of Catherine’s death. Now herein lies a new question, does Heathcliff rebel so earnestly against that systemic narrative because he hates what it perpetrated onto him and Catherine, or does he rebel because it creates an unbreakable bond of hatred (which could be seen as a good thing for the systemic narrative was deeply intertwined with him and Catherine’s personal narrative, and thus, retains a parcel of Catherine herself) between him and that system?
In reading all about Heathcliff’s conniving, vengeful behavior in Chapters 17-25, I am reminded of “The Steam King” by Edwin Mead. Though the character of the Steam King in Mead’s poem is supposed to represent the steam engine itself, perhaps it is most fitting to compare Heathcliff to a machine at this stage in his life–after all, machines typically have one specific purpose, and the same could be said of Heathcliff. He is so enamored with his own rage that Heathcliff’s only true purpose and motivation is exacting revenge and performing spiteful acts.
The children of Wuthering Heights (i.e. Linton and Hareton) unfortunately make up the bulk of the casualties of Heathcliff’s actions, which is a fact echoed in this stanza from “The Steam King”:
Like the ancient Moloch grim, his sire
In Himmon’s vale that stood,
His bowels are of living fire,
And children are his food.
We can easily put Heathcliff in place of the Steam King in this poem and understand how Wuthering Heights could be seen as a substitute for Himmon–in the Hebrew Bible, the Valley of Himmon is a cursed place where kings used to sacrifice their children by fire. Similarly, Heathcliff has made Hareton’s life a hell on Earth, sacrificing his childhood and any possibility to get an education all because Heathcliff hated Hareton’s father, Hindley. After Isabella dies in London, Heathcliff forces his son Linton to join the hellscape of domesticity that is life at Wuthering Heights. In addition, the line “children are his food” from Mead’s poem is reminiscent of how Heathcliff views his son–he has no love for him of course, or even a sense of fatherly obligation, but rather he views Linton as the force of sustenance for his scheme to take control of Thrushcross Grange via marrying off the poor, sick Linton to Catherine Earnshaw. In a book where revenge and obsession are the fuel driving the plot forward, making the comparison between Heathcliiff and the Steam King is not only a frighteningly accurate portrayal; it is also the sad reality of these character’s lives with the tyrant that is Heathcliff.
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.
As I was reading these chapters of Wuthering Heights, I could not help but focus somewhat on the relationship between Heathcliff and his son, Linton. The father and son first meet when Linton is 12 years old, as he has spent his life up to that point being raised by his mother, Isabella, in London. When the young boy comes to Thrushcross Grange, he is of sickly temperament, and it is clear his upbringing has predisposed him to incessant whining. For these reasons, Heathcliff takes an instant disliking toward his son. He cannot even stand to be in the same room as him for very long, as Nelly comes to find out from the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights: ” Mr. Heathcliff seemed to dislike him ever longer and worse, though he took some trouble to conceal it: he had an antipathy to the sound of his voice, and could not do at all with his sitting in the same room with him many minutes together” (Chapter 21). Unsurprisingly, Linton takes after his mother much more than he does his father. Heathcliff despises everything about his son that he once hated in his wife and her brother: their refinement, fragility, and spoiled entitlement. Whereas Heathcliff grew up treated as a ward, and later more like a servant or a slave, Edgar, Isabella, and now Linton, all enjoyed comfortable and pampered childhoods. I believe that this leads to Heathcliff having much difficulty in accepting him as his son, since he embodies so much of what he resents.
While thinking about this relationship, I was reminded of the poem “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” by George Eliot. The poem is told from the point of view of an enslaved African woman who is running away from her master. A master with whom she shares an infant son. There is a line where she says ” My own, own child! I could not bear to look in his face, it was so white.” Like Linton to Heathcliff, the woman’s child embodies what she hates most: her master. For this reason, she cannot stand to look at him, and struggles with the idea that he is even her child in the first place. Unlike Heathcliff, however, she also takes pity on the child, as she knows that he will be brought up into slavery. Because of this, she ends up killing him to spare him from this fate.