Life After Death, as told by T.H Huxley and Emily Brontë

In his essay, “Agnosticism and Christianity,” T.H Huxley reiterates the distinction between the good spirits and bad spirits: “The chief of the good spirits, infinitely superior to all the others, and their creator, as well as the creator of the corporeal world and of the bad spirits, is God. His residence is heaven, where he is surrounded by the ordered hosts of good spirits; his angels, or messengers, and the executors of his will throughout the universe.” On the matter of the bad spirits and their chief, Satan, Huxley asserts that the devil “and his company of demons are free to roam through all parts of the universe, except the heaven” (Paragraph 18-19). Huxley’s distinction between the good spirits and bad spirits in this essay reminded me of the multiple incidents throughout Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights where both Catherine E. and Heathcliff fetishise an afterlife of careless wandering together and an omission of God altogether.

In Chapter 12, we see Catherine deliriously looking out her window at what she assumes is Wuthering Heights, and speaks as though she addresses Heathcliff: “We’ve braved its ghosts often together, and dared each other to stand among the graves and ask them to come. But, Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture? If you do, I’ll keep you. I’ll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over, but I won’t rest till you are with me. I never will!” (Paragraph 40). In another instance, directly after Catherine’s death in Chapter 16, Heathcliff cries, “May she wake in torment! . . .And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” (Paragraph 16). 

I am particularly drawn to Emily Brontë’s decision to have both Catherine and Heathcliff, on multiple occasions, talk of life after death as a means in which they will be reunited, and until then, their souls will languish and ache for the other’s company. And I find myself consistently struck by Brontë’s decision to include the little boy with the sheep who claims to see the spirits of Heathcliff and a woman (arguably Catherine), in the final chapter of her novel. This additional narrative adds depth to the novel not only because it offers the reader a glimpse of life after death, but because it is so controversial to Brontë’s own upbringing and religious community.

 In addition to this notion of bad spirits roaming the earth, I am fascinated by Brontë’s narrative ability to challenge the ideas surrounding Heaven. While Huxley is explicit in his understanding that bad souls are free to roam anywhere, except “Heaven”- Bronte challenges this rule because “Heaven” for Catherine E. and Heathcliff is not a reunion with God, but with each other. In Chapter 9, when Catherine confesses to Nelly that she would be miserable in heaven, she elaborates: “I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.” There is so much to unpack after reading these two works in consecutive order, but it seems as though Emily Bronte and T.H Huxley had more in common than I anticipated. They both shared the same ability to stray from collective belief systems, challenged established systems that lacked evidence, and considered multiple interpretations concerning religion.

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