Catherine Heathcliff and Harriet Martineau: Women and Marriage

I wanted to explore the death of Linton Heathcliff, in relation to Catherine and Heathcliff, while cross-referencing Harriet Martineau’s Society in America. Heathcliff plays a tricky and manipulative game involving Catherine, who is the central piece in his move to access Thrushcross Grange. When Heathcliff trapped Catherine at Wuthering Heights when her father was dying, she became emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to Heathcliff manipulating her into a marriage with Linton. Martineau’s discussion on “The Political Nonexistence of Women,” (TPNW) does not only reflect American society, but Victorian England as well. As Martineau states: “Governments decree to women in some States half their husbands’ property; in others one-third. In some, a woman, on her marriage, is made to yield all her property to her husband; in others, to retain a portion, or the whole, in her own hands.” (TPNW, Paragraph 4). In relation to Catherine’s situation, if she was unmarried, the property bequeathed to her would remain in her hands until she married and would transfer over to the husband for “safekeeping,” but since Heathcliff forced her to marry Linton, it became his property upon Edgar’s death. Step one: complete. The other phase kicked in when Linton was dying and Heathcliff was able to get Linton to bequeath his access of Thrushcross Grange to Heathcliff who was “[claim] and [keep] it in [Linton’s] wife’s right” (Chapter 30, Paragraph 19), which in reality, means that Heathcliff has the property. Technically speaking, the property still belongs to Catherine, but that last tidbit of Heathcliff maintaining it for Catherine, is the loophole that allows him to have it. Catherine, having neither money nor friends for she is in an isolated area, has no choice but to comply. This points out how the Victorian period politically is still not fulfilling the true “consent of the governed” for if it did, Heathcliff could not have been able to take Thrushcross Grange so easily. Certainly, Heathcliff still could have manipulated his son into dedicating his will to Heathcliff, but Linton Heathcliff would not have had Thrushcross Grange in the first place. There seem to be some claims about how Emily Brontë’s work is ‘different’ or treats female characters differently, but this is a prime example of how it falls into a stereotypical (for the time) instance of how society used to work.

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