I’ve been meaning to read ‘Wuthering Heights’ for years, but what I expected to pick up was a lavish romance (romance with a small ‘r’) – what I found was a Romance with a capital ‘R’, that stopped and restarted part-way through, but displayed some of the most intense emotions I have ever witnessed in classical literature.
The most confusing thing about the whole novel was that I had been led to believe (probably by a combination of hearsay and television/film input) that it was entirely a love story, based on the passion of the wild Heathcliff and that of an established lady, Catherine. There’s no doubt in my mind that their love was based on intense and all-consuming passion: one soul split into two bodies, split by Heathcliff’s degrading treatment at the hands of Hindley and his perception of Edgar as a rival. However, whilst I recognised this (and I’m loathed to call it love when it was far more fierce and fiery than I’ve seen it portrayed before), the novel is led by Heathcliff, which I was not expecting: his fury, his vengeance and his thwarting in the conclusion. I feel like I connected with Heathcliff as a character thoroughly, knowing what motivated him and how he existed. Catherine, on the other hand, remained an object, rather than a subject, in my eyes. In part, I believe this is due to her sex: as the woman, she was inherently controlled by the males in her life. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it was because I did not expect the loss of the heroine so early in the novel, and I certainly was not expecting the novel’s continuation long after this death. Catherine’s passion seemed to reflect that of Heathcliff, enhancing the notion of the two being one being divided in corporeal form only.
The second Catherine, moreover, detracted from her mother significantly: as a being left isolated until the arrival of Linton, she was more of an individualised character, and as with Heathcliff, I felt I knew Catherine Linton’s temperament well. Her passion was more of a positive one: Mrs Dean says at one point that her love was deeper and more enduring than her mother’s passionate and flightful fancies. As such, it was easier to see her as a sustained character: she generally kept a clear emotional path throughout the novel, and as such it was easy to see how she was manipulated by Heathcliff and Linton, as her clear personality traits enabled them to play on her ability to love without changing her mind. Because of this, I can see why she finally married Hareton, and why he returned this: she was consistent, moving from mocking in hate to jesting in love.
Hareton was, in my opinion, the most interesting of the minor characters, particularly in how he was a more worthy son of Heathcliff, despite Heathcliff’s attempts to crush his spirit. He seemed like a more humane version of Heathcliff: intolerable to teasing, yet refusing to run away as his master did in his youth, leading to his adaptability to Catherine’s initial temper at being bound to the house. In this respect, the couple could be seen to represent what the original Catherine and Heathcliff could have been if their passion had been removed. Without this consumptive force drawing them together, Heathcliff and Catherine would not have entangled themselves in the affairs of others, as seen with the younger Catherine’s realisation that she cannot talk badly of Heathcliff in Hareton’s company. The younger version of the couple know how to be two people, instead of fighting to be the same person, struggling to cope with being separated and how to exist simultaneously. Indeed, Heathcliff’s absences and return are what eventually kill Catherine, sending her into the fever that will claim her life, evidently highlighting their inability to live together or apart.
I have focused on characters within the novel for a reason: the plot centres around human emotions. The passions, love and violent tempers of every character push the plot forward, enabling the reader to understand character reactions as being part of their genetic make-up, consequently making them seem realistic in their consistent presentation.When I reflect upon the novel, I realise that the events are seldom blown into lavish affairs: it is the emotional states that make events seem larger than they are, particularly Heathcliff’s rage, which turns what may be the positive affair of Catherine and Linton’s marriage into a devastating manipulation of his son to rob Catherine of her father’s grace and livelihood, and turns his death into a blessed release into the universe to reunite with Catherine’s wandering soul.
As such, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a wonderfully exciting spectrum of humanity, moving deftly between the innocent and the contemptuous actions in order to develop the reader’s understanding of a character, and prompt the plot to move at a fast pace to match the tempestuous emotions. It is, despite its difference to my expectations, a scintillating read for these reasons, and worth adding to a classical collection.