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Nelly Dean, the servant who has witnessed the entire story of the Earnshaws, Lintons, and Heathcliff, tells Mr. Lockwood and us the tale.
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And I think she is very likeable indeed! To keep her head amidst all the raging passions and dangerous undercurrents of the other characters, and be that steady rock that really all of them trust, is no small feat. I think the point of Lockwood and Nelly is to be our guides on the harsh crags of the Heights of love, obsession, and passion.
Not for nothing is this story called Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff and Catherine live on a different emotional level, stark and bare and unforgiving. Wuthering Heights and the Grange are set up as polar opposites throughout the novel.
The Grange is sheltered, comfortable, safe - Wuthering Heights is dangerous, exposed, and harsh. As readers, we need to see the world of the Heights through the eyes of someone with whom we can identify, someone who will express some of the same feelings we have. By using both a male and female narrator, Bronte fulfills that need and renders her dark tale accessible to the rest of us. And this, I think, is partly why this novel has attained classic status in spite of its many detractors. Despite attempts to humanize and romanticize Heathcliff, he remains harsh, forbidding, and cruel.
He is not the Darcy of Austen's lighter imagination, or a dark, brooding, misunderstood hero.
He is a villain through and through, and everyone in the story knows it. It seems Bronte anticipated the attraction his darkness would have, for she wrote a female character into the story, Isabella Linton, who convinces herself that Heathcliff's gruff exterior is really hiding a noble character. She was horribly wrong, and suffered from her mistake all her life And yet one cannot help wondering what would have happened if Heathcliff had married Cathy.
Would his rapacious desire for her and desire in every sense of the word, not just the physical be satiated by constant proximity? I rather think she was strong enough to hold her own against his need for her. Perhaps Heathcliff is overly romanticized by certain female readers because of his unflagging devotion to Cathy. But I think it is better viewed as the unflagging devotion of a stalker who is dangerously obsessed with his object.
There is a wonderful symmetry to this story. We start with a Catherine Earnshaw, who becomes Catherine Linton. And we end with another Catherine Earnshaw who has also borne the name Linton, as well as Heathcliff, as a sort of bridge. The Earnshaw estate of Wuthering Heights, unnaturally owned by the interloper Heathcliff during his life, passes once more into the hands of the Earnshaws at the end of the story.
The original Catherine Earnshaw lives again in her nephew Hareton, and the lady of the house again falls in love with an uneducated laborer. But Hareton's and Cathy's story ends much more happily than that of their predecessors. Many readers note the importance of the moor in the story, as almost a character in its own right, that colors the tale with its dark bleakness and lays bare the pretensions of civilization. I was actually surprised how little description the moor gets - it is described far less often than the landscape in, say, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and yet it is central to the story, because it provides a believable context for the characters' motivations.
It isn't to everyone's taste, but I love the Gothic atmosphere and the thought of the wind "wuthering" on the moors. If this is a book you have avoided because of its reputed gloominess, I hope you will not leave it unread forever. A happy ending is wrested from the characters' choices, and I found it very satisfying.
Emily Bronte's writing is very graceful, and I applaud her skillful characterizations. Her insight into the dark heart of Heathcliff is especially unexpected from a sheltered clergyman's daughter. But Emily loved the moors, and it is perhaps that harsh landscape that informed her imagination of the dark obsession and hatred possible in the human heart. I highly recommend this book. This novel is as wild as the weather on the Yorkshire moors; with so much drama and brooding, no wonder it's a favorite among hormonal teens. We have dysfunctional, forbidden love that destroys others in its path with its fierce passion -- it's easy to see why many personify Catherine and Heathcliff as romantic heroes.
Yet, they are far from such. For one, Catherine is also in love with Edgar and the wealthy life he represents.
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In Heathcliff, she not only finds a pagan, raw sort of love, but part of herself: "I am Heathcliff! But she is also Edgar, and is eternally divided between the two, never relinquishing her hold on either man. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is mad with hate, bitterness, and cruelty when denied Catherine all to himself, and he sets out to destroy the Lintons and Earnshaws. He nearly succeeds, but never finds comfort in his revenge.
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Truly, he never seeks comfort, either, as he begs the ghost of Catherine to haunt him. Redeeming love is represented in the second generation, between Hareton and Young Catherine. Heathcliff's poisnous, "foreign" blood is finally eradicated from the Linton-Earnshaw line, and healing can begin for those ravaged by Heathcliff's revenge. Their early flirtation is a balm after Heathcliff's savagery, and a beacon of hope after the unfolding of a dark plot.
This novel is noteworthy for its heavy presence of the supernatural, which is intertwined with romanticism. When Heathcliff and Catherine are together, it is otherworldy, their passion for each other creating a place all their own. Catherine's relationship with Edgar brings her back to reality, to the duties of a woman in her class and position. She seems caught between heaven and hell, and unsatisfied with only one or the other. Perhaps that's why after death she's described as a spirit who wanders the Earth, later joined by Heathcliff's spirit, together as in more innocent times. Some people call this one of literature's great love stories, while others object strenuously to this idea.
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