Brontë, Emily (1818 - 1848)
(1818 - 1848)
(Full name Emily Jane Brontë; also wrote under the pseudonym Ellis Bell) English novelist and poet.
Brontë is considered an important yet elusive figure in nineteenth-century English literature. Although she led a brief and circumscribed life, spent in relative isolation in a parsonage on the Yorkshire moors, she left behind a literary legacy that includes some of the most passionate and inspired writing in Victorian literature. Today, Brontë's poems are well regarded by critics, but they receive little attention, and her overall reputation rests primarily on her only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847). While Brontë incorporated into that work the horror and mystery of a Gothic novel, the remote setting and passionate characters of a Romantic novel, and the social criticism of a Victorian novel, she transformed all of these traditions. In this story of extraordinary love and revenge, Brontë demonstrated the conflict between elemental passions and civilized society, resulting in a compelling work that has been elevated to the status of a literary classic. At the same time, Brontë's writings have raised many questions about their author's intent. Unable to reach a consensus concerning the ultimate meaning of her works and reluctant to assign them a definitive place in the English literary tradition, critics continue to regard Brontë as a fascinating enigma in English letters.
Although Brontë's life was outwardly uneventful, the unusual circumstances of her upbringing have prompted considerable scrutiny. One of six children born to Maria Branwell Brontë and the Reverend Patrick Brontë, she was raised in the parsonage at Haworth by her father and maternal aunt following her mother's death in 1821. In 1825 she was sent to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, but returned to Haworth when her sisters Maria and Elizabeth became ill at the institution and died. A significant event in Brontë's creative life occurred in 1826 when Patrick Brontë bought a set of wooden toy soldiers for his children. The toys opened up a rich fantasy world for Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Branwell, and Anne: Charlotte and Branwell created an imaginary African land called Angria, for which they invented characters, scenes, stories, and poems, and Emily and Anne later conceived a romantic legend centered upon the imaginary Pacific Ocean island of Gondal. The realm of Gondal became a lifelong interest for Brontë and, according to many scholars, a major imaginative source for her writings. In addition to composing prose works (now lost) concerning the history of Gondal, she wrote numerous poems that were evidently directly inspired by Gondal-related themes, characters, and situations. While Brontë was intellectually precocious and began writing poetry at an early age, she failed to establish social contacts outside of her family. She briefly attended a school in East Yorkshire in 1835 and worked as an assistant teacher at the Law Hill School near Halifax in about 1838, but these excursions from home were unsuccessful, ending in Brontë's early return to Haworth. She stayed at the parsonage, continuing to write poetry and attending to household duties, until 1842, when she and Charlotte, hoping to acquire the language skills needed to establish a school of their own, took positions at a school in Brussels. Her aunt's death later that year, however, forced Brontë to return to Haworth, where she resided for the rest of her life.
In 1845, Charlotte discovered one of Emily's private poetry notebooks. At Charlotte's urging Emily reluctantly agreed to publish some of her poems in a volume that also included writings by her sisters. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, reflecting the masculine pseudonyms adopted by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, respectively, was published in May 1846. While only two copies of the book were sold, at least one commentator, Sydney Dobell, praised Emily's poems, singling her out in the Athenaeum as a promising writer and the best poet among the "Bell" family. Meanwhile, Brontë had been working on Wuthering Heights, which was published in 1847 in an edition that also included Anne's first novel, Agnes Grey. Brontë's masterpiece was poorly received by contemporary critics who, repelled by the vivid portrayal of malice and brutality in the book, objected to the "degrading" nature of her subject. Brontë worked on revising her poetry after publishing Wuthering Heights, but her efforts were soon interrupted. Branwell Brontë died in September 1848, and Emily's health began to decline shortly afterwards. In accordance with what Charlotte described as her sister's strong-willed and inflexible nature, Brontë apparently refused medical attention and died of tuberculosis in December 1848.
Although Brontë is more distinguished as a novelist than as a poet, scholars regard her poetry as a significant part of her oeuvre. In particular, lacking first-hand information concerning her life and opinions, commentators have looked to the poems as a source of insight into Brontë's personality, philosophy, and imagination. Critics have attempted to reconstruct a coherent Gondal "epic" from Brontë's poems and journal entries. In addition to identifying Gondal's queen, commonly referred to as Augusta Geraldine Almeda, and her lover Julius Brenzaida as key characters in the Gondal story, scholars have underscored the presence of wars, assassination, treachery, and infanticide in Brontë's fantasy realm. Critics have consequently noted many similarities between the passionate characters and violent motifs of Gondal and Wuthering Heights, and today a generous body of criticism exists supporting the contention that the Gondal poems served as a creative forerunner of the novel.
In Wuthering Heights, Brontë chronicles the attachment between Heathcliff, a rough orphan taken in by the Earnshaw family of Wuthering Heights, and the family's daughter, Catherine. The two characters are joined by a spiritual bond of preternatural strength, yet Catherine elects to marry her more refined neighbor, Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange; ultimately, this decision leads to Catherine's madness and death and prompts Heathcliff to take revenge upon both the Lintons and the Earnshaws. Heathcliff eventually dies, consoled by the thought of uniting with Catherine's spirit, and the novel ends with the suggestion that Hareton Earnshaw, the last descendant of the Earnshaw family, will marry Catherine's daughter, Catherine Linton, and abandon Wuthering Heights for Thrushcross Grange.
Initially, critics failed to appreciate Brontë's literary significance. While commentators acknowledged the emotional power of Wuthering Heights, they also rejected the malignant and coarse side of life that it depicted. Charlotte Brontë responded to this latter objection in 1850, defending the rough language and manners in her sister's novel as realistic. At the same time, however, she acknowledged the dark vision of life in the book, which she attributed to Emily's reclusive habits. This focus on Brontë's aloofness, combined with the mystical aspects of her poetry and the supernatural overtones of Wuthering Heights, fostered an image of the writer as a reclusive mystic that dominated Brontë criticism into the twentieth century. During that century, however, a number of modern studies brought Brontë's craftsmanship to light. Recognition of her artistry increased dramatically as scholars discovered the sophistication and complexity of her images, characterizations, themes, and techniques in Wuthering Heights. Interest in her poetry has also grown, primarily due to investigations into its Gondal background, so that today Brontë is the focus of considerable scholarly attention as both a novelist and poet.
Many critics have noted the Gothic elements in Brontë's novel, particularly the distinct architecture of Wuthering Heights, the characterization of Heathcliff as a dark, brooding hero, and ghostly wanderings on the moors. Syndy McMillen Conger wrote that Wuthering Heights arouses emotions "central to the Gothic experience: melancholy, desire, and terror." Commentators observe that Brontë heightened her story as well with fierce animal imagery and scenes of raw violence. Dream motifs figure prominently in Wuthering Heights, and critics also stress the importance of windows as symbolic vehicles for spiritual entrance and escape in the novel. While the Gothic tradition influenced Brontë, she also deviated from that tradition in significant ways, notably in her characterization of Catherine Earnshaw. The typical Gothic heroine is petite, naïve, and morally virtuous, but Catherine, as Conger wrote, is "complicated, analytical, and uninhibited." The subject of wide-ranging critical debate for generations, Wuthering Heights continues to defy categorization and endures as a literary classic.
Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell [as Ellis Bell, with Currer and Acton Bell (pseudonyms of Charlotte and Anne Brontë)] (poems) 1846
∗Wuthering Heights [as Ellis Bell] (novel) 1847
†Life and Works of the Sisters Brontë. 7 vols. [with Charlotte and Anne] (novels and poetry) 1899–1903
The Shakespeare Head Brontë. 19 vols. (novels, poetry, and letters) 1931–38
Gondal Poems (poetry) 1938
The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë (poetry) 1941
∗ This edition of Wuthering Heights was published with Anne Brontë's novel Agnes Grey.
† This work includes letters written by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë.
EMILY BRONTË (NOVEL DATE 1847)
SOURCE: Brontë, Emily. "Chapter 1." In Wuthering Heights. 1847. Reprint edition, pp. 1-6. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003.
The following excerpt comprises Chapter 1 of Wuthering Heights, which was first published in 1847.
1801—I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's Heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.
'Mr. Heathcliff?' I said.
A nod was the answer.
'Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir. I do myself the honour of calling as soon as possible after my arrival, to express the hope that I have not inconvenienced you by my perseverance in soliciting the occupation of Thrushcross Grange: I heard yesterday you had had some thoughts—'
'Thrushcross Grange is my own, sir,' he interrupted, wincing. 'I should not allow any one to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it—walk in!'
The 'walk in' was uttered with closed teeth, and expressed the sentiment, 'Go to the Deuce': even the gate over which he leant manifested no sympathizing movement to the words; and I think that circumstance determined me to accept the invitation: I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself.
When he saw my horse's breast fairly pushing the barrier, he did pull out his hand to unchain it, and then suddenly preceded me up the causeway, calling, as we entered the court,—
'Joseph, take Mr. Lockwood's horse; and bring up some wine.'
'Here we have the whole establishment of domestics, I suppose,' was the reflection, suggested by this compound order. 'No wonder the grass grows up between the flags, and cattle are the only hedge-cutters.'
Joseph was an elderly, nay, an old man: very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy.
'The Lord help us!' he soliloquised in an undertone of peevish displeasure, while relieving me of my horse: looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner, and his pious ejaculation had no reference to my unexpected advent.
Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling. 'Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.
Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date '1500,' and the name 'Hareton Earnshaw.' I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.
One step brought us into the family sitting-room, without any introductory lobby or passage: they call it here 'the house' preeminently. It includes kitchen and parlour, generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter: at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues, and a clatter of culinary utensils, deep within; and I observed no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fire-place; nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof. The latter had never been underdrawn: its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, except where a frame of wood laden with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton, and ham, concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villanous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and, by way of ornament, three gaudily painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floor was of smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade. In an arch under the dresser, reposed a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer, surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.
The apartment and furniture would have been nothing extraordinary as belonging to a homely, northern farmer, with a stubborn countenance, and stalwart limbs set out to advantage in knee-breeches and gaiters. Such an individual seated in his armchair, his mug of ale frothing on the round table before him, is to be seen in any circuit of five or six miles among these hills, if you go at the right time after dinner. But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of underbred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling—to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He'll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again. No. I'm running on too fast: I bestow my own attributes over liberally on him. Mr. Heathcliff may have entirely dissimilar reasons for keeping his hand out of the way when he meets a would-be acquaintance, to those which actuate me. Let me hope my constitution is almost peculiar: my dear mother used to say I should never have a comfortable home; and only last summer I proved myself perfectly unworthy of one.
While enjoying a month of fine weather at the seacoast, I was thrown into the company of a most fascinating creature: a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me. I 'never told my love' vocally; still, if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head and ears: she understood me at last, and looked a return—the sweetest of all imaginable looks. And what did I do? I confess it with shame—shrunk icily into myself, like a snail; at every glance retired colder and farther; till finally the poor innocent was led to doubt her own senses, and, overwhelmed with confusion at her supposed mistake, persuaded her mamma to decamp.
By this curious turn of disposition I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness; how undeserved, I alone can appreciate.
I took a seat at the end of the hearthstone opposite that towards which my landlord advanced, and filled up an interval of silence by attempting to caress the canine mother, who had left her nursery, and was sneaking wolfishly to the back of my legs, her lip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch.
My caress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.
'You'd better let the dog alone,' growled Mr. Heathcliff in unison, checking fiercer demonstrations with a punch of his foot. 'She's not accustomed to be spoiled—not kept for a pet.'
Then, striding to a side door, he shouted again—'Joseph!'—
Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, but gave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him, leaving me vis-à-vis the ruffianly bitch and a pair of grim shaggy sheep-dogs, who shared with her a jealous guardianship over all my movements.
Not anxious to come in contact with their fangs, I sat still; but, imagining they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making faces at the trio, and some turn of my physiognomy so irritated madam, that she suddenly broke into a fury, and leapt on my knees. I flung her back, and hastened to interpose the table between us. This proceeding roused the whole hive. Half-a-dozen four-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hidden dens to the common centre. I felt my heels and coat-laps peculiar subjects of assault; and, parrying off the larger combatants as effectually as I could with the poker, I was constrained to demand, aloud, assistance from some of the household in reestablishing peace.
Mr. Heathcliff and his man climbed the cellar steps with vexatious phlegm: I don't think they moved one second faster than usual, though the hearth was an absolute tempest of worrying and yelping.
Happily, an inhabitant of the kitchen made more dispatch: a lusty dame, with tucked-up gown, bare arms, and fire-flushed cheeks, rushed into the midst of us flourishing a frying-pan: and used that weapon, and her tongue, to such purpose, that the storm subsided magically, and she only remained, heaving like a sea after a high wind, when her master entered on the scene.
'What the devil is the matter?' he asked, eyeing me in a manner I could ill endure after this inhospitable treatment.
'What the devil, indeed!' I muttered. 'The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir. You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers!'
'They won't meddle with persons who touch nothing,' he remarked, putting the bottle before me, and restoring the displaced table. 'The dogs do right to be vigilant. Take a glass of wine?'
'No, thank you.'
'Not bitten, are you?'
'If I had been, I would have set my signet on the biter.'
Heathcliff's countenance relaxed into a grin.
'Come, come,' he said, 'you are flurried, Mr. Lockwood. Here, take a little wine. Guests are so exceedingly rare in this house that I and my dogs, I am willing to own, hardly know how to receive them. Your health, sir!'
I bowed and returned the pledge; beginning to perceive that it would be foolish to sit sulking for the misbehaviour of a pack of curs: besides, I felt loath to yield the fellow further amusement at my expense; since his humour took that turn.
He—probably swayed by prudential considerations of the folly of offending a good tenant—relaxed a little in the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs, and introduced what he supposed would be a subject of interest to me,—a discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of my present place of retirement.
I found him very intelligent on the topics we touched; and before I went home, I was encouraged so far as to volunteer another visit tomorrow.
He evidently wished no repetition of my intrusion. I shall go, notwithstanding. It is astonishing how sociable I feel myself compared with him.
E. P. WHIPPLE (ESSAY DATE OCTOBER 1848)
SOURCE: Whipple, E. P. "Novels of the Season." The North American Review 67, no. 141 (October 1848): 354-70.
In the following excerpt, Whipple presumes that the author of Wuthering Heights is male and faults the novel as amoral and offensive.
Acton Bell, the author of Wuthering Heights, … when left altogether to his own imaginations, seems to take a morose satisfaction in developing a full and complete science of human brutality. In Wuthering Heights he has succeeded in reaching the summit of this laudable ambition. He appears to think that spiritual wickedness is a combination of animal ferocities, and has accordingly made a compendium of the most striking qualities of tiger, wolf, cur, and wild-cat, in the hope of framing out of such elements a suitable brutedemon to serve as the hero of his novel. Compared with Heathcliff, Squeers is considerate and Quilp humane. He is a deformed monster, whom the Mephistopheles of Goethe would have nothing to say to, whom the Satan of Milton would consider as an object of simple disgust, and to whom Dante would hesitate in awarding the honor of a place among those whom he has consigned to the burning pitch. This epitome of brutality, disavowed by man and devil, Mr. Acton Bell attempts in two whole volumes to delineate, and certainly he is to be congratulated on his success. As he is a man of uncommon talents, it is needless to say that it is to his subject and his dogged manner of handling it that we are to refer the burst of dislike with which the novel was received. His mode of delineating a bad character is to narrate every offensive act and repeat every vile expression which are characteristic. Hence, in Wuthering Heights, he details all the ingenuities of animal malignity, and exhausts the whole rhetoric of stupid blasphemy, in order that there may be no mistake as to the kind of person he intends to hold up to the popular gaze. Like all spendthrifts of malice and profanity, however, he overdoes the business. Though he scatters oaths as plentifully as sentimental writers do interjections, the comparative parsimony of the great novelists in this respect is productive of infinitely more effect. It must be confessed that this coarseness, though the prominent, is not the only characteristic of the writer. His attempt at originality does not stop with the conception of Heathcliff, but he aims further to exhibit the action of the sentiment of love on the nature of the being whom his morbid imagination has created. This is by far the ablest and most subtile portion of his labors, and indicates that strong hold upon the elements of character, and that decision of touch in the delineation of the most evanescent qualities of emotion, which distinguish the mind of the whole family. For all practical purposes, however, the power evinced in Wuthering Heights is power thrown away. Nightmares and dreams, through which devils dance and wolves howl, make bad novels.
SYNDY MCMILLEN CONGER (ESSAY DATE 1983)
SOURCE: Conger, Syndy McMillen. "The Reconstruction of the Gothic Feminine Ideal in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights." In The Female Gothic, edited by Julian Fleenor, pp. 91-106. Montreal, Quebec: Eden Press, 1983.
In the following essay, Conger studies the influence of the traditional Gothic genre on Wuthering Heights as well as Brontë's innovations within and upon the Gothic tradition, particularly in terms of her portrayal of the heroine.
In the first chapter of Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë invites her readers to expect a Gothic thriller, an eighteenth-century form bound by a set of narrative conventions long established and easily recognized by 1847. She opens her tale by sketching the outline of a dwelling on a hill, which, like the Gothic castle in its age, disrepair, and isolation, is a monument to the fragility of human constructs. Next she fills in details designed to elicit the emotions central to the Gothic experience: melancholy, desire, and terror. The hilltop is bleak with the only vegetation being "a few stunted firs" and "a range of gaunt thorns."1 Grass grows between the flagstones leading to the door, over which the narrator sees Gothic ornamentation: "grotesque carving," "a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys," and a barely visible ancient date "1500" and name. Like the narrator's name, "Lockwood," which has the unsettling connotation of something or someone being shut out, and the name above the door, "Hareton Earnshaw," which suggests nature's mockery of woman's birthright or wages (hare + earn + shaw, 'a clump of bushes or trees; thicket; copse'), other names also evoke that sense of vague threat so pervasive in the Gothic world: "Wuthering Heights" for a house constantly buffeted by "atmospheric tumult" and "Heathcliff" for the abruptly inhospitable landlord. While Lockwood quickly recognizes the morose, dark-skinned gypsy as an isolato and a misanthrope, the reader is very apt to assume, in this context, that he is a Gothic villain.
Critics often take note of these Gothic characteristics but rarely linger on them, perhaps assuming that Gothic details are mere "trappings" (a favorite word, after all, of early students of the Gothic novel),2 decorative devices which could in no way touch the essence of Wuthering Heights. Such an assumption can handicap readers, condemning them to unnecessary historical short-sightedness in their interpretation of Brontë 's masterpiece. The rather obvious fact that Wuthering Heights is much more than a re-creation of Gothic formulae should not deter us from asking ourselves what Brontë did for the Gothic tradition and what the Gothic tradition did for Brontë. Her contribution to the tradition was to give it aesthetic respectability and also to introduce liberating modifications into what had become an overly rigid plot form. The tradition provided her with a unique opportunity to define for herself and for her readers a new kind of Gothic heroine.
From the protagonist's perspective, the traditional Gothic plot can be briefly described as fearful periods of pursuit and flight or confinement, persecution, and escape; brief interludes of reconciliation with loved ones; and a final, advantageous marriage and the restoration of tranquillity. Brontë's first modification in this traditional formula is to introduce her heroine not as a marriageable young woman but as a child. Catherine will also be wooed, terrorized and pursued, and married, but Brontë first develops her into a complex and individualized character. Her second innovation is to reverse the significance attached to marital and extramarital love. Brontë's heroine is married early in the novel, but this marriage is no resolution as it is in the traditional Gothic. It does not settle conflicts but exacerbates them, and in Brontë's structure, replaces the period of fearful confinement found in the middle of the traditional Gothic novel. Whether or not Nelly believes the perception valid, for Catherine marriage has seemed a dungeon: "Oh! I'm burning! I wish I were out of doors—I wish I were a girl again, half savage, and hardy, and free…." This second change signals nothing less than a redefinition of freedom. In the early Gothic novel freedom is associated with escape from the dark usurper into marriage. In Wuthering Heights, however, in a way which underlines Brontë's adherence to the romantic inversion of eighteenth-century values,3 freedom is inextricably bound to a social outcast and to the lawless—even incestuous—relationship he offers her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
H. F. CHORLEY'S NEGATIVE RESPONSE TO WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Here are two tales [Agnes Gray and Wuthering Heights] so nearly related to Jane Eyre in cast of thought, incident, and language as to excite some curiosity. All three might be the work of one hand,—but the first issued remains the best. In spite of much power and cleverness; in spite of its truth to life in the remote nooks and corners of England, Wuthering Heights is a disagreeable story. The Bells seem to affect painful and exceptional subjects:—the misdeeds and oppressions of tyranny—the eccentricities of "woman's fantasy." They do not turn away from dwelling upon those physical acts of cruelty which we know to have their warrant in the real annals of crime and suffering,—but the contemplation of which true taste rejects. The brutal master of the lonely house on "Wuthering Heights"—a prison which might be pictured from life—has doubtless had his prototype in those ungenial and remote districts where human beings, like the trees, grow gnarled and dwarfed and distorted by the inclement climate; but he might have been indicated with far fewer touches, in place of so entirely filling the canvas that there is hardly a scene untainted by his presence…. Enough of what is mean and bitterly painful and degrading gathers round every one of us during the course of his pilgrimage through this vale of tears to absolve the Artist from choosing his incidents and characters out of such a dismal catalogue; and if the Bells, singly or collectively, are contemplating future or frequent utterances in Fiction, let us hope that they will spare us further interiors so gloomy as the one here elaborated with such dismal minuteness.
SOURCE: Chorley, H. F. "Our Library Table." The Athenaeum, no. 1052 (25 December 1847): 1324-25.
This redefinition of freedom is rather too radical to have grown simply from Brontë's discontent with the traditional strictures of a genre. At the hub of both structural changes stands the heroine, and this suggests that underlying Brontë's urge to modify Gothic conventions is a dissatisfaction with contemporary fictional definitions of femininity and feminine happiness. Indeed, the portrait of the heroine which emerges from the novel makes such a conclusion ineluctable; for Catherine is a Gothic heroine quite free from the social and literary proscriptions of her forerunners. For this reason with Emily Brontë the term Female Gothic may be said to take on special significance. It no longer simply means Gothic novels written by females for females, imitative of male forms and attitudes. With Brontë it means literature which deliberately reorders the Gothic experience in order to speak to women about themselves in a new way. Brontë's departures from the conventional Gothic heroine—and the implications of those departures for her readers—will be the focus of the remainder of this essay. It begins with a review of Catherine's foremothers.
The picture of ideal femininity which emerges from early novels in the Gothic tradition is at once reductive and fragmented, a negative fictional construct born of a repressive society. The eighteenth-century Gothic heroine is made exemplary more for what she lacks than for what she has. Antonia wins praise from Lewis in The Monk (1796), for example, for lacking fullness of figure, for being "rather below than above the middle size" and "light and airy."4 She also wins praise for lacking any distinctive physical qualities: "her eyes were not very large, nor their lashes particularly long." Hers is not an awesome physical beauty, Lewis explains, but a beauty of temperament—of the submissive personality: "not so lovely from regularity of features, as from sweetness and sensibility of countenance…."
Submissiveness is a key personality trait of the persecuted Gothic maiden well into the nineteenth century.5 Insofar as it is humanly possible, she obeys the dicta of parents and society, given perhaps their most uncompromising articulation by Isidora's mother in Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820): "perfect obedience … and unbroken silence."6 Only when the Gothic heroine is confronted by dastardly behavior does she offer positive resistance, but it typically takes the puerile form of empty threats, unanswered prayers, or unheard shrieks. In less life-threatening circumstances, she frets and waits but rarely makes an independent attempt to change the questionable values or behavior of those around her. Isabella's response to Manfred's indignities in The Castle of Otranto (1764) is paradigmatic: she flees the secular world without any attempt to expose his outrageous desires. True, Radcliffe's Ellena Rosalba (The Italian, 1797) once refuses to accept unpleasant alternatives offered her by an unjust abbess, and Emily St. Aubert (The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1792) similarly refuses to sign away her property rights despite Montoni's threats. But this is a passive resistance, the last resort of those convinced they are powerless. Active, constructive resistance lies outside the ken or the capability of the early Gothic heroine. Submissiveness, this time coupled with total self-abnegation, is even held up as ideal by Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter in her Frankenstein (1817). Mary Shelley grants her heroine Elizabeth intelligence, but Victor prizes her most for her "light and airy" figure and her yielding nature: "No one could better enjoy liberty, yet no one could submit with more grace than she did to constraint and caprice."7 She is to him most "enchanting" when she is "continually endeavouring to contribute to the happiness of others, entirely forgetful of herself."
As the above examples may already have suggested, the early Gothic heroine was not only weak-willed but also sometimes weak-minded, although in this respect she grows in stature as the nineteenth century approaches. Isabella's mind is never assessed by Walpole and Lewis' Antonia is not even allowed to read an unexpurgated Bible for fear her mind will be tainted. Radcliffe's heroines, although they seem schooled most in the useful and fine arts of sewing, drawing, versifying, painting, and singing, sometimes also receive more rigorous intellectual training. Emily St. Aubert's father insists that she study Latin, English, and science: "'A well-informed mind,' he would say, 'is the best security against the contagion of folly and vice.'"8 Maturin's Immalee-Isidora has the most formidable mind of all; her thoughts are often intelligent and boldly heterodox. She bewilders her Roman Catholic mother, for instance, by insisting on the precedence of piety over ceremony. Nor does Isidora easily accept the suppression of her naturally exuberant emotions by her mother, who brands them "violent" and "unmannerly."
Such signs of intellect, however, most not be overrated. The scanty training these girls receive cannot give them sufficient strength to cope independently with the perplexities they encounter without and within, and they are easy prey not only for fortune hunters but for themselves. Lacking constructive ways of occupying their minds, they frequently suffer from excess sensibility, a painfully exaggerated state of emotional awareness, bringing with it acute sensitivity to external stimuli and a tendency to fall victim to the paralyzing, diffuse emotions of sentiment and anxiety. Just as nameless wishes and fears will invade the idle mind, so dark imaginings often usurp the ill-informed mind. These heroines have overly vivid imaginations, a propensity to invent dangers where none exist. Emily is repeatedly warned by her father about the dangers of overly fine feelings, but when Montoni shuts her in his remote castle, she is much more the victim of the terrors she invents than she is of him. Even if these heroines survive the tests of sensibility and fancy, they are sure to capitulate intellectually dur-ing the ordeal of love. The minds of Emily and Immalee, both relatively perceptive young women, turn to butter when they are with their lovers. They lose all ability to think or act on their own.
Physically slight, emotionally passive, and intellectually ill-trained—wherein lies such a heroine's stature? Primarily in her moral impeccability. The Gothic heroine is morally flawless; hers is a purity of mind which becomes more pronounced as the turn of the century approaches. She never has a vindictive thought, even in the wake of abuses. She never dreams an unacceptable dream. Her innocence is so thorough in some cases that she has virtually no knowledge at all of evil. Antonia must learn only too late what the special glint in the friar Ambrosio's eye means. Immalee listens incredulously to Melmoth's tales of man's cruelty to his fellow creatures: "'In the world that thinks!' repeated Immalee, 'Impossible!'" These heroines are Eves before the fall, invested with mythical perfection which first becomes explicit in Maturin's portrayal of Immalee. Of sexuality and physical passion these mythical creatures are equally ignorant, a clue to us that their creators equated passion with evil. Antonia "knows not in what consists the difference of Man and Woman." "Of passion," Immalee said "she knew nothing, and could propose no remedy for an evil she was unconscious of"
Balancing the frail, submissive paragon in early Gothic fiction is the dark, imperious, passion-ridden one, the femme fatale. She has the independence of spirit, the emotional vibrancy, the ingenuity, and the moral fallibility the heroine often lacks, but she pays a price for these strengths. She is their victim. In her youth, the dark woman is often loving but of a "warm and voluptuous character" as was Beatrice de las Cisternas in The Monk. As she ages, if her wishes are in any way thwarted, and they invariably are, she grows insatiable, ungovernable, and even deliberately wicked. She becomes then an exacting and jealous competitor for a young man's affections, as is the Baroness Lindenberg in The Monk; or a "vindictive, yet crafty and deceitful" mother, as is the Marchesa de Vivaldi in The Italian;9 or a mercilessly punitive Mother Superior as are the abbesses in The Italian and The Monk. Her last days and her death may be unquiet. Her conscience may weigh heavily enough with crimes to drive her into temporary insanity and delirium, as it does Signora Laurentini in The Mysteries of Udolpho; and just as she is a conscience-plagued woman in life, so she may be transformed after death into a restless ghost, as Beatrice becomes the "Bleeding Nun" of The Monk.; At her most extreme, the femme fatale has struck an alliance with the devil, as has Matilda in The Monk in this case her kiss damns as well as fires the soul of her lover, Ambrosio.
The woman reading this fiction in the eighteenth century is hardly to be envied. The price she paid for the privilege of emotional release was high; she was most cruelly reduced and divided against herself. She might temporarily enjoy reading of the villain's lust or the hero's sentimental adoration, but she was quietly being instructed at the same time to choose between two equally impossible feminine models. Did she yearn only to be virtuous? Then she must strive for a body "light and airy" and a mind equally so; she must be utterly compliant, selfless, dependent, and pure. Did she pine instead for an all-subsuming, passionate love affair? Then she must expect to be soundly punished, even damned, or become vicious, subject to criminal impulses and madness. The choice is rather obviously unsatisfactory, at the very least encouraging the female reader to repress any urges to express or please herself, and—perhaps even more dangerously in the long run—perpetuating the myth that she was fated, whether good or bad, to be a victim of passions beyond her control, if not of her own, then those of others. Little wonder that Mary Wollstonecraft repudiated such fiction in Maria, or, The Wrongs of Women (1798) and such feminine models in A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792): "I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body."10 In such fiction the bounds of femininity were painfully narrow.
In the first few episodes of Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë studiously avoids recreating such stereotyped Gothic heroines. The reader meets no gentle maiden or femme fatale in these early scenes; instead Brontë offers two Catherines, one far too sullen to qualify as the angelically compliant Gothic heroine, and the other far too complex. The younger Catherine is fair and pretty but unpardonably rude to Lockwood when he comes to tea, a rudeness which is easily traceable in the personality of her mother, the elder Catherine, as it emerges from her childish scrawl and Lockwood's dream. This elder Catherine as a child is at once naughty and loving, disobedient and loyal, and a childish specter both terrifying and pitiful. From the outset, then, she is clearly a new composite heroine, combining positive and negative attributes of earlier feminine characters of the Gothic tradition.
This is not to deny a family resemblance between Catherine and the Gothic heroines before her. She is, for example, as easily tyrannized by emotions and unrealistic fantasies as Emily St. Aubert. She grieves at Heathcliff's disappearance until she makes herself physically ill, even as a strong young woman. Then, when a second bout of illness proves fatal during her first pregnancy, violent emotions are again the primary underlying cause, something Nelly recognizes but cannot understand or help. Her fantasies, though a comforting refuge against a hostile environment for Catherine the child (the fantasy of her father in heaven, for example), are sadly self-defeating and delusive for Catherine the adult. She should see that her marriage to Edgar cannot "aid Heathcliff to rise" when the two men despise each other. She should see that even if her wealth could in some way aid Heathcliff, she could still never marry him so long as Edgar remained alive. She should, after Isabella's elopement, work to reconcile herself to the inevitable rift between Edgar and Heathcliff instead of withdrawing to a world of unrecoverable childhood fantasies: "Oh, if I were but in my own bed in the old house!" Sometimes the fantasies cause positive harm. Her delusory accusations of Nelly only harden her nurse against her; and her fantasy-inspired wish to catch a breath of night air from the moors does little to cure her fever.
The family resemblance is strongest between Radcliffe's and Maturin's heroines and Catherine. Like them, she is drawn to nature, though for her it is not an emblematic reminder of God's Providence, as they believe, but rather is itself divine. Catherine's heaven is the heath: "… heaven did not seem to be my home," Catherine admits to Nelly as she shares a dream she's had of dying, "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." Catherine also shares with Emily, Ellena, and Immalee a propensity to almost deify her lovers, to over-idealize love bonds. The passages which illustrate this are often quoted, but they are so central to this point and a number of others to follow that they are included here in their entirety:
I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire…. I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff—he's always, always in my mind….
This speech has been heralded as the articulation of a new love ethos, one with metaphysical dimensions: the identification of love as a natural, hence amoral, impulse which cannot be judged by sublunary standards.11 Such assumptions, viewed from the perspective of the Gothic tradition, however, are actually not new at all. Catherine's words echo sentimental love declarations in the pages of Radcliffe and Maturin. Strikingly similar in diction and tone to the words above, for example, are Immalee's words mourning and idealizing her love for the absent Melmoth: "The lightnings are glancing round…. I lived but in the light of his presence—why should I not die when that light is withdrawn?" Immalee even reaches out for the same metaphors and absolute expressions in her attempt to express what seems to her inexpressible: "Roar on, terrible ocean! thy waves … can never wash his image from my soul,—thou dashest a thousand waves against a rock, but the rock is unmoved—and so would be my heart." Catherine's uniqueness, critical opinion to the contrary, does not reside in how she loves.
Catherine and Immalee have in common not only how they love but whom they love. Both prefer their demon lovers, rebels against the human and the divine, a preference which at first seems to identify both heroines as notably nonconformist. Yet Melmoth the Wanderer and Wuthering Heights exist on very different levels of abstraction, and parallels between the two must be drawn carefully. Melmoth's rebellion is one of mind and soul; he himself is a preternatural Faustian character whose function in the novel is mythical—repeated reenactment of Satan's temptation. The story of his temptation of Immalee, consequently, has few social implications; it is primarily spiritual allegory.12 Heathcliff, on the other hand, is a flesh and blood landlord whose crimes are primarily social ones—alienation of a father's affections, usurpation, seduction, tyranny over wife and child—and the story of Catherine's love for him abounds in social and psychological implications. Seen in these terms, Catherine is by far the more radical of the two heroines, for she chooses a social outcast, one who pits himself against economic and conjugal privilege and one whose implicit democratic and romantic values could alter the fabric of society.13
Still another important distinction between Immalee and Catherine should be drawn. Although Immalee loves a damned soul, her love for him is conventional, in terms of Gothic fiction, insofar as it is faultlessly pure. She loves him for awakening her emotionally and intellectually, and she is blinded until the very end of her life to the malicious side of his nature. Catherine's love for Heathcliff is far less immaculate. Far from being blind to his fiendish qualities, she sees them with unerring clarity: "… he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man." Catherine's attachment to this "wolfish man," although sometimes expressing itself in terms of compassion or affection, is more often disturbing in its admixture of antagonism, pathological loyalty, arrogance, monomania, narcissism, and incest. In fact, there is a touch of the pathological about Catherine in other attitudes she shares with her prototypes: she is not simply the occasional victim of whim or imagined terror but her passions' willing slave; she is not simply appreciative of nature but a nature worshipper, a near pagan; and she is not simply the unwitting prey of a rebel lover but embraces her lover's anarchic values. In depicting such a rebel heroine as Catherine, Brontë not only goes beyond Gothic conventions, she hovers visibly close to the limits of the socially acceptable. Nevertheless, her readers are not quite free to reject Catherine, as they could villains like Manfred or Ambrosio, unless they are willing to reject a heroine. Instead, they must entertain the possibility that a woman need not be angelically pure to be worthy of attention. Clearly, even when Catherine seems most like her prototypes, she is very different from them. It is time to examine those differences.
What distinguishes Catherine above all is the unique complexity and energy of her personality. Catherine's mind is complicated, analytical, and uninhibited, all qualities never before granted a Gothic heroine. Catherine's complexity is more than amply illustrated by her central conflict, the seeds of which lie buried in her childhood memories of a benevolent father, a fire and brimstone servant, and a selfish, tyrannical brother. These adult models produce in Catherine a love of gentle kindness, a well-informed aversion to cruelty, and a keen sense of injustice. At the same time they encourage in her a sympathetic admiration and love for her stoic fellow sufferer, the gypsy child Heathcliff—her father inspires her to it, Hindley drives her to it. Heathcliff becomes increasingly cruel himself as a young man, but Catherine's love for him persists, eventually, according to Nelly, growing immoderate.
Catherine's conflict first takes form after she unexpectedly finds herself a guest in the home of the Lintons after a midnight ramble with Heathcliff on the moors. Although she at first expresses disdain for the spoiled, rich children, she returns home from her stay metamorphosed. Now Heathcliff's angry and uncouth appearance repels her and she rebukes him. Subsequently she suffers acutely when he is banished for a fight with the haughty Edgar, and she finds her feelings reversed. She becomes impatient with the whining Edgar and longs for Heathcliff. Her unresolved feelings for the two young men cause a crisis, of course, when Edgar proposes. She isn't certain—should she bow to the love-hate she feels for the savage but oppressed Heathcliff, or should she acquiesce to Edgar, refined and gentle like her father, but somewhat distant and cowardly? Which one does she admire the most and dislike the least? When Catherine tries to explain her indecision to the exasperated Nelly, she represents it not as a battle between head and heart but as a disturbance of soul. In reply to Nelly's question, "Where is the obstacle?" Catherine replies "'Here! and here!'… striking one hand on her forehead, and the other on her breast. 'In whichever place the soul lives.'" This is a conflict which engages, in a manner unprecedented in Gothic heroines, ambiguous desire against ambiguous desire, complex against complex, ego against alter-ego ("Nelly, I am Heathcliff").
Gothic heroines were traditionally placed in a conflict situation between a dark seducer and a fair lover, but theirs was an external conflict;14 they never felt—or admitted they felt—a pull in two directions. Catherine is the first important exception to that pattern, for she internalizes her conflict completely. She is not simply placed between two lovers; she feels divided between two lovers. From this Brontë's story derives at least two important advantages. First, the symbolic resonance of the traditional Gothic triad of characters is enhanced. Now both villain and lover can be seen as extensions of the heroine's mind and can represent her own conflicting social and emotional needs. Catherine wishes to marry wisely, to enhance her uncertain social status, but she has also contemplated marrying unwisely—for love alone—and living a beggarly existence with Heathcliff. She needs an environment which can shield her from emotions of ravaging intensity, and yet she isn't content without the childhood companion who is most apt to inspire such emotions. She longs for the near pathological attachment of Heathcliff as much as for the gentle, more rational adoration of Edgar. Second, this internalization, since it obviously increases the psychological complexity of the Gothic heroine, broadens immeasurably the bounds within which femininity may move. A heroine's mind, Brontë is insisting here, need not be a blank tablet. It may sometimes be plagued by contradictory or self-defeating desires.
Nor is Catherine's mind passive, dependent, or inhibited. She seems to have been born with an energetic need to analyze, articulate, and conquer what she sees around and within herself. This is plain from the very beginning of the novel in her Testament diary (which covers, as Lockwood reports, "every morsel of blank that the printer had left." She compares and judges Hindley incisively as a father figure: "Hindley is a detestable substitute." Notice that she is keenly aware of injustice and expresses that insight by artfully juxtaposing the self-indulgent comfort Hindley allows himself and the pain he inflicts on others: "While Hindley and his wife basked downstairs before a comfortable fire … we were … groaning and shivering …," or, "Frances pulled his [Heathcliff's] hair heartily; and then went and seated herself on her husband's knee, and there they were, like two babies, kissing and talking nonsense by the hour…."
Catherine is also willing to subject herself publicly to unflinching analysis, although she is not entirely free of subtle self-deceptions. As a young woman, she convinces herself mistakenly that Heathcliff will not care if she marries Edgar. Later she nearly convinces herself that Edgar and Heathcliff have killed her when, as Heathcliff reminds her, she has actually broken her own heart. Despite such delusions, Catherine is vastly superior in self-understanding to the previous Gothic heroines who were, for the most part, passive and impassive receptors; and she shares her understanding without affectation or scruple. Earlier heroines had internalized the laws of propriety too fully ever to air the contents of their minds publicly, nor did they always fully know their own minds. Ellena's response to Vivaldi's urgent pleas to marry him rather than seek retirement is all too typical. The situation begs for honest emotional response and an intelligent reassessment of plans, but Ellena refuses to change her answer. She "gently reproached him for doubting the continuance of her regard … but would not listen…. She represented … that respect to the memory of her aunt demanded it." After Vivaldi departs, Ellena is left to disperse encroaching depression, a sign of unexamined and unresolved concerns.
In contrast, Catherine rarely hides or fails to scrutinize her own thoughts, sometimes with breathtaking honesty. Her character gains breadth and depth and credibility as she shares not only surface responses, but unrecoverable dreams of the past, impossible dreams for the future, sentiments from the dark, not so respectable corners of her mind, and misgivings about those sentiments. "I want to cheat my uncomfortable conscience …"; "Nelly, I see now, you think me a selfish wretch …"; "What did I say, Nelly? I've forgot-ten. Was he vexed at my bad humour this afternoon?"; "Why am I so changed? Why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I'm sure I should be myself were I once among the heather." Catherine may seem narcissistic and unrestrained, but she is nonetheless a valuable corrective to unreflective and unresponsive Gothic heroines that preceded her. The same concerns which impel Walpole's heroine to flight, Lewis' to prayer, Radcliffe's to diversions, and Maturin's to daydreams, compel Catherine to examine her own heart. She is the first fully introspective Gothic heroine.
These strengths, however much they may win Catherine grudging admiration, do not make her easier to live with. Her list of human imperfections is so long one wonders that she is a heroine at all. It should come as no surprise that Brontë has created in Catherine a heroine whose faults often closely resemble those of the traditional femme fatale of Gothic fiction. She is sometimes a raving fury; and, before her, such fury is displayed only by the scheming, ambitious Signora Laurentini, Beatrice, and the Baroness Lindenberg. Also like these wicked women, Catherine is often proud, self-centered, imperious, manipulative, and cruel. She coerces those around her into obedience by command, humiliation or self-punishment (Brontë's depiction of the little Catherine as a girl whose heart's desire is a riding whip is far from gratuitous). Her love is literally fatal both to her and to Heathcliff. Most important and emblematic of all these darker characteristics, however, is Catherine's introduction into the story as a ghost. Despite her appearance as a defenseless child-specter who has lost her way on the moors, Lockwood's response to her in his nightmare is horror, and rightly so. The experience has the earmarks of the classic ghost story: the scratching sound on the windowpane, the ice-cold hand, the melancholy voice, the seductive pleading, and the bleeding. This scene firmly allies Wuthering Heights with the Gothic tradition, of course. However, another more important alliance is also struck here—an intimate alliance between the Gothic heroine and the demonic or supernatural realm.
In earlier novels, the heroine moves apart from this world, terrorized or occasionally helped by it, and indeed sometimes helping to create it in her own frightened imagination, but never actively participating in it. She is a creature of the diurnal sphere, estranged from nocturnal desires and terrors, perceiving them as outside threats, as totally "other," and as uncanny. Only the villainesses ally themselves with the dark powers. Catherine, by contrast, is introduced by Brontë as an uncanny, nocturnal creature, an identity she never completely sheds. For a short time she has a promisingly happy life as Edgar's wife in the "sunshine" at Thrushcross Grange, but she emerges from and returns to a nightmare world of "wuthering" self-destructive passions: greed, revenge, lovehate. In a most telling moment during her final illness, Catherine feels herself haunted and Nelly forces her to realize that the ghost she thinks she sees is her own mirrored reflection: "'Myself,' she gasped, 'and the clock is striking twelve! It's true, then; that's dreadful!'" This poignant scene at once recalls the earlier scene in which Catherine is a child-ghost and refines the sense in which we should see her as an adult. She is self-tortured, haunted by her own unfulfillable, child-like desires. Since Heathcliff is equally plagued by such hopeless desires, it is only too appropriate that she should haunt him, too, after her death. Brontë has naturalized the supernatural in a most convincing way through Catherine, but beyond that she has also given her readers a heroine more complete and more truly pitiful than earlier ones. Catherine finally experiences what is the most somber insight a Gothic character can have or inspire: that the demonic springs from her own imagination. Catherine is the first Gothic heroine to acknowledge the dark side of her soul.
Catherine's dark side and her recognition of that dark side represent a change of major importance in the depiction of heroines in the Gothic. Such self-recognition—that "of the enlightened person feeling haunted by some demonic self"—is believed by Francis Russell Hart to lie at the center of the Gothic experience. His description of that experience reads like a commentary on Catherine's mirror scene:
What gives the point its full and terrifying truth in an enlightenment context is that the demonic is no myth, no superstition, but a reality in human character or relationship, a novelistic reality…. Are there really ghosts? asks Carlyle-Teufelsdröckh. We are ghosts.15
What Hart says is particularly true for male characters in the Gothic, who are granted some degree of imperfection and self-awareness from the beginning. Manfred is made to see fully the wickedness of his lust for power; Ambrosio finally recognizes himself as a willing devil's accomplice; and after William Frankenstein's murder, Victor admits his own complicity in this diabolic deed: "Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit." Not until Brontë, however, does the Gothic heroine come to a comparable level of wholeness and self-awareness. Catherine's self-recognition is not without pain, but it is a pain that heals, one which allows sympathetic readers to cease utterly denying their own negative impulses. The split in the feminine psyche implicitly encouraged by earlier Gothic fiction is, through Catherine, questioned. Further, the Gothic heroine has been freed from what was always the worst of the tyrannies inflicted on her: that of the ideal of moral perfection.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that Brontë has given us a completely mature heroine, it can certainly be said that she has offered us a more mature vision of woman's character than did authors from Walpole to Maturin, one much more integrated and less restricted physically, emotionally, and intellectually.16 By way of final illustration and summary, I would like to focus briefly on heroines' death scenes, partly because they have been slighted, but mostly because Catherine's death scene is pivotal in the realigning of reader sympathies. Only if Brontë allows Catherine to face death admirably can we be sure that she is being recommended to us as a heroine.
Walpole's Matilda dies a perfectly exemplary death. Killed by her father in their chapel, she is selfless, pious, and forgiving as her life ebbs slowly away. Her only thoughts are for her parents: "… as soon as Hippolita was brought to herself, she [Matilda] asked for her father … seizing his hand and her mother's, locked them in her own, and then clasped them to her heart. Manfred could not support this … pathetic piety."17 Radcliffe consistently paints two pictures of female death, both in the exemplary mode, one offering a positive, the other a negative, model. Emily's mother dies with perfect composure born of lifelong self-control and piety, and she is surrounded by solicitous loved ones when she dies. Signora Laurentini and Madame Cheron, on the other hand, die disquieted and abandoned, the one tortured by memories of her wickedness, the other by the greed of her hastily-chosen husband. The final hours of Lewis' heroine are horrific, yet she dies with as much serentiy as Emily's mother. Antonia is drugged, then entombed, and finally raped and stabbed to death by Ambrosio in a corpse-filled vault; she nevertheless surrenders her life with gentle resignation, selflessly spending her last minutes convincing Lorenzo that he should not despair. Maturin's angelic Isidora also dies in a dungeon, a prison of the Inquisition where she has been placed because of her liaison with Melmoth, but she nonetheless dies without resentment and with his name on her lips: "Paradise!… Will he be there!"
Catherine's death is not nearly so exemplary and edifying. Death and suffering are not really the result of someone else's malice but of her own headstrong refusal to relinquish Heathcliff's friendship to save her marriage. She throws a tantrum after Edgar requires her to choose between him and Heathcliff. Then she lives for a week on nothing, in the words of Nelly, but "cold water and ill-temper," a form of self-abuse which weakens her already fragile constitution. Nor does Catherine have much composure during the last months of her life. Rather, she suffers agonies as extreme as those of the most wicked femme fatale: melancholy, regression, temporary disorientation, helpless fury, self-pity, and the terrors of paranoia and delusion. Like other heroines, Catherine is allowed the comfort of having her loved one with her during her last conscious moments, but again these moments are markedly different from those of Matilda's, Antonia's or Isidora's. Her concern is not to comfort Heathcliff but to punish him for what she believes is his heartlessness. She refuses to pity him, accuses him of being the death of her, and expresses the vindictive wish that he could be made to suffer as much as she has: "I wish I could hold you … till we were both dead! I shouldn't care what you suffered. I care nothing for your sufferings. Why shouldn't you suffer? I do!" His own frenzy at being thus accused checks her anger, however, and she suddenly modifies her wish: "I only wish us never to be parted…." Then she relents even more, asking him to embrace and forgive her as she has forgiven him, and his embrace conveys the love he cannot articulate.
In death, as in life, Brontë allows Catherine to be a whole and credible person, one with negative and positive characteristics. The noble martyr-like stances of Matilda, Antonia, and Immalee on the edge of the grave are not to be scoffed at; but from the reader's perspective, these saintly images are apt to create anxiety or guilt. The authors have made idols of their heroines, unattainable ideals to emulate. Women are to die selflessly, sweetly, obediently, and without any regrets or anger, even in death to be denied the privilege of swerving for a moment from the path of perfection. Catherine's death, in contrast, is not one to recommend for imitation; much of the time Catherine is at her vindictive worse. Still, despite her childish behavior, she manages in her last moments to achieve forgiveness and an open expression of her love. Nor should we forget the "unearthly beauty" Brontë gives her dying heroine. Brontë's implicit lesson to her female readers was clearly that they could, even if they were overwhelmed momentarily by cruel or selfish thoughts, hope to die with some dignity and some small measure of comfort.
As no attempt was made here to prove a direct influence of specific Gothic novels on Wuthering Heights, no time was spent on works identified as important in molding either Brontë's mind or her work. Of all the literary influences on the Brontës—and those include the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Richardson, Radcliffe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Scott, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and George Sand18—Helene Moglen believes the single most important figure was Lord Byron. The rebellion that was Byron's life, including his flagrant violations of propriety in matters of love, and especially his scandalous affair with his half-sister, apparently left a deep impression on the young Brontës. Their juvenalia include transparently Byronic values and characters.19 Moglen's emphasis on Byron serves well as a reminder that a literary event just as crucial to the making of Wuthering Heights as the Gothic novel was the Romantic revolution. Its spirited affirmation of the value of individual subjective experience, and its tentative dream of woman as intellectual companion as well as lover, no doubt encouraged Brontë in her efforts to create a new, intelligent, imaginative, and passionate heroine. Brontë could also draw inspiration from the turn-of-the-century Wollstonecraft who, in fact, was more the radical, pleading for the outright rejection of the myth of romantic passion in her Vindication.20 Like her sister Charlotte, Emily could never quite give up this myth,21 but this very refusal may finally account for the extraordinary success of Wuthering Heights. Brontë was finally a more successful iconoclast than Wollstonecraft. With none of the self-conscious irritation of Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey (1818) but with just as much persuasiveness, Brontë deconstructed Walpole's feminine ideal and replaced it with her own. The alluring surface romance of Wuthering Heights and its initial evocation of Gothic convention are the sugar coating which apparently made the feminist pill quite palatable. At least for the duration of Brontë's "Gothic thriller," readers tacitly accept a number of irreverently non-Victorian notions about women: a woman should be assumed to have physical and intellectual as well as emotional needs and strengths; a woman has the right to physical, emotional, and intellectual autonomy both before and after marriage; a woman has the right to be imperfect—to be mistaken, passionate, inquisitive, angry, confused, and even selfish or cruel, and still command respect as a human being; a woman has the right to be outstanding, to be openly intelligent and complex, and still command affection.
These ideas are tempered in the latter half of the novel, but the statement Brontë makes through Catherine and Heathcliff, as so many modern readers continue to acknowledge, is the one that haunts the mind. Although there are disgruntled censors of the ilk of John Beversluis, who insists that Catherine is simply a petulant, indecisive woman,22 the admirers drown them out. Catherine is named Brontë's "supreme and original creation,"23 and her love for Heathcliff is "what … D. H. Lawrence called true humanity."24 Through it Brontë is "positing … natural human values, especially, love and integrity, against a corrupt and deadened society"25 and "affirming … man and woman's more primary needs."26 Part of this praise no doubt springs from our own continuing reluctance to relinquish the myth of romantic love unto death which Brontë dramatizes, but it nevertheless demonstrates the power Catherine continues to exert on the modern imagination. Brontë's rescue of the languishing maiden from the Gothic bastille began no revolutions; but it has unquestionably helped to save both heroine and genre from oblivion and to free the woman from the persistent fetters of the eighteenth-century ideal, which were, according to Wollstonecraft, "worse than Egyptian bondage."27
1. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, ed. Hilda Marsden and Ian Jack (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976).
2. Early discussion of the Gothic novel by Ernest Baker, Edith Birkhead, K.K. Mehrota, Eino Railo, Montague Summers, and Devendra Varma tend to dwell on Gothic "devices" and their sources and to slight important questions about the structure and psychological function of the novels. In the last fifteen years, however, new theoretical ground has been broken on these questions by such studies as: Gerhard Bierwirth, "Die Problematik des englischen Schauerromans: Ein kritisches Modell zur Behandlung diskriminierter Literatur," Diss. Frankfurt/M., 1970; Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk," ELH, 40, 2 (1973), 249-63; Francis Russel Hart, "The Experience of Character in the English Gothic Novel," in Experience in the Novel, Selected Papers from the English Institute, ed. Roy Harvey Pearce (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1968); Robert D. Hume, "Gothic Versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA, 84 (1969), 282-90; Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic," in Literary Women (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1963); and Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, tr. Richard Howard (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1975). Moers' study is the best available discussion of Brontë in the context of the Female Gothic tradition.
3. I am indebted to Helene Moglen's most lucid discussion of the Brontës and Romanticism in Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976), pp. 19-78, 230-42, and also to her interpretation of Wuthering Heights as an "account of the development of a human personality, the specifically female personality," in "The Double Vision of Wuthering Heights: A Clarifying View of Female Development," The Centennial Review of Arts and Sciences, 15 (1971), 391-405.
4. Matthew Lewis, The Monk: A Romance, ed. Howard Anderson (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), p. 9.
5. Patricia Meyer Spacks, "The Dangerous Age," Eighteenth-Century Studies, 11, 4 (Summer, 1978), 417-38, emphasizes the importance of submissiveness (p. 432) as does Katharine M. Rogers, The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1966).
6. Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, ed. William F. Axton (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1961), p. 253.
7. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (The 1818 Text), ed. with variant readings, James Rieger (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1974), p. 30.
8. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance Interspersed with some Pieces of Poetry, eds. Bonamy Dobrée and Frederick Garber (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), p. 6.
9. Ann Radcliffe, The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents: A Romance, ed. Frederick Garber (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), p. 7.
10. Mary Wollstonecraft, "An Introduction to the First Edition," of A Vindication of the Rights of Women with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, ed. Charles W. Hagelman, Jr. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1967), p. 34. Helen Mews, Frail Vessels: Woman's Role in Women's Novels from Fanny Burney to George Eliot (Univ. of London: The Athlone Press, 1969), believes that "society's two different images of women, inherited from the long past," caused "perplexity" and "tension" for women between 1750 and 1850 (p. 5).
11. Two recent reaffirmations of this romantic interpretation are H.P. Sucksmith's "The Theme of Wuthering Heights Reconsidered," Dalhousie Review, 54, 3 (Autumn, 1974), 418-28; and Peter Widdowson's "Emily Brontë: The Romantic Novelist," Moderna Sprak, 56, 1 (1972), 1-19.
12. "… a tragic allegory of Christian history," Axton's introduction to Melmoth the Wanderer, p. xvii. Contrasting Melmoth and Wuthering Heights reveals the weakness in Mews' contention that Brontë's message is "poetic," not "social" (p. 80).
13. See Arnold Kettle, "Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights," in Vol. I of An Introduction to the English Novel (Evanston: Harper & Row, 1960).
14. An insightful Freudian analysis of the Gothic heroine's situational conflict has been done by Cynthia Griffin Wolff entitled "The Gothic Hero-Villain: An Attractive Nuisance." (See Wolff's essay in this anthology.)
15. Hart, pp. 94, 99.
16. Moglen, "The Double Vision," pp. 391-93.
17. Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, ed. W.S. Lewis (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964), p. 106.
18. For discussion of Brontë's possible sources, see Mary Visick, The Genesis of Wuthering Heights (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958); Ruth M. Mackay, "Irish Heaths and German Cliffs: A Study of the Foreign Sources of Wuthering Heights," Brigham Young University Studies, 7 (1965), 28-39; Leicester Bradner, "The Growth of 'Wuthering Heights,'" in Wuthering Heights: An Anthology of Criticism, ed. Alastair Everitt (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967), pp. 14-38; J.V. Arnold, "George Sand's Mauprat and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights," Revue de la littérature comparée, 46 (1972), 209-18; Rolf R. Nicolai, "'Wuthering Heights': Emily Brontë's Kleistian Novel," South Atlantic Bulletin, 38, 2 (1973), 23-32; and Patrick Diskin, "Some Sources of 'Wuthering Heights,'" NQ (July/August, 1977), 354-61.
19. Moglen, Charlotte Brontë, esp. pp. 26-33.
20. Wollstonecraft, "that grand passion not proportioned to the puny enjoyments of life, is only true to the sentiment, and feeds on itself," p. 66. Cf. pp. 121-122.
21. Moglen speaks convincingly in concluding Charlotte Brontë of "her continuing inability to break free of that circle of romantic idealism which had bound her to life," p. 226.
22. John Beversluis, "Love and Self Knowledge: A Study of Wuthering Heights," English, 24, 120 (Autumn, 1975), 77-82.
23. Leicester Bradner, p. 38.
24. F.H. Langman, "Thoughts on Wuthering Heights," in Everitt, p. 76.
25. Widdowson, p. 17.
26. Sucksmith, p. 422.
27. Wollstonecraft, p. 179.
MARILYN HUME (ESSAY DATE FALL 2002)
SOURCE: Hume, Marilyn. "Who Is Heathcliff? The Shadow Knows." Victorian Newsletter 102 (fall 2002): 15-18.
In the following essay, Hume explores how Brontë uses the character of Heathcliff to reveal and represent the will of the unconscious or "shadow" side of humanity.
Charlotte Brontë asks in the preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights, "Whether it is right or advisable to create things like Heathcliff," and goes on to say that she scarcely thinks it is. She also suggests that the author has little control over this creative process once it has been set in motion, claiming that it has a life of its own (xxxvi). What is it in Heathcliff that so concerns Charlotte Brontë that she feels a need to question the wisdom of his existence? Is it pure evil in some demonic form? Is it wild unbridled passion, part of the nature of the moors? Is he more simply a tyrant, a cruel sadistic despot? Is he a romantic lover, slave to his own passions and victim of circumstance? In Heathcliff Emily Brontë gives us all of these characters and phenonena. He is not one to the exclusion of the others: he is all. In Heathcliff we have a man to stir our feelings, a man to enrage our senses, engage our passions and walk over our graves. He disturbs us so because he reflects our unconscious minds. He plays out our fantasies and our nightmares. Heathcliff is a man formed by the unconscious projections of the characters in the novel—the projection of all they find unacceptable in themselves. He is a man formed, particularly, by the unconscious projections of the narrators and Catherine Earnshaw. Everything rejected by the conscious sensibilities of Lockwood, Nelly Dean and Catherine finds unlimited freedom of expression in Heathcliff, where it surfaces to taunt and confuse its creators. These unconscious projections of unacceptable traits take the form of "The Shadow" as described by Carl G. Jung.
C. G. Jung sees shadow as manifesting in his own dreams and in the dreams of his analysands. Aspects of the shadow are also projected on to others:
The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly—for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies…. The shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious. If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.
Shadow is encountered either in our dreams or projected onto the world. In Wuthering Heights, others project their shadow side on to Heathcliff. In this essay we look specifically at how that occurs with the characters of Lockwood, Nelly Dean and Cathy.
Wuthering Heights is written with a framed narrative. The first narrator is Mr. Lockwood and the second is Nelly Dean. These two narrators see Heathcliff differently. Their perception of him is influenced by their own perception of themselves. In the case of Lockwood, he at first sees Heathcliff as similar to himself. This view is expressed by Lockwood in the following excerpt and is from the start a little hard for the reader to accept:
"Thrushcross Grange is my own, sir," he interrupted, wincing, "I should not allow anyone to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it—walk in!" The "walk in" was uttered with closed teeth and expressed the sentiment, "Go to the Deuce!" Even the gate over which he leant manifested no sympathising movement to the words, and I think that circumstances determined me to accept the invitation; I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CHARLOTTE BRONTË'S PREFACE TO THE 1850 EDITION OF WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Wuthering Heights was hewn in a wild workshop, with simple tools, out of homely materials. The statuary found a granite block on a solitary moor; gazing thereon, he saw how from the crag might be elicited a head, savage, swart, sinister; a form moulded with at least one element of grandeur—power. He wrought with a rude chisel, and from no model but the vision of his meditations. With time and labour, the crag took human shape; and there it stands colossal, dark, and frowning, half statue, half rock: in the former sense, terrible and goblin-like; in the latter, almost beautiful, for its colouring is of mellow grey, and moorland moss clothes it; and heath, with its blooming bells and balmy fragrance, grows faithfully close to the giant's foot.
SOURCE: Bell, Currer (psuedonym of Charlotte Brontë). "Preface to Wuthering Heights." In The Life and Works of the Sisters Brontë: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. Vol. 5, 1903. Reprint edition, pp. liii-lviii. AMS Press, Inc., 1973.
Lockwood wants to see in Heathcliff a man who is reserved, and more so than himself. He wants to see this level of reservation as admirable in Heathcliff and therefore fine in him too:
I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling—to manifestations of mutual kindness. He'll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again—No, I'm running on too fast—I bestow my own attributes over liberally on him.
By Lockwood's own admission, he consciously bestows his attributes on Heathcliff. Consciously he sees himself as reserved and finds this acceptable. Consciously he bestows that attribute on Heathcliff. The shadow, however, personifies everything the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself. What is it that Lockwood refuses to acknowledge about himself that he unconsciously projects onto Heathcliff? Emily Brontë soon gives us an example of Lockwood's unconscious self. Lockwood tells of an incident in which he met a young woman to whom he was attracted. He makes it plain to her that he is attracted to her but when she responds he shuns her. She is so overwhelmed with confusion at her supposed mistake that she leaves. He confesses that because of this he has gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness, a reputation he cannot accept (6). He cannot see himself as heartless, yet clearly he is.
Emily Brontë gives us another look at this true aspect of Lockwood's character in the episode when he sees Cathy's ghost:
The intense horror of nightmare came over me; I tried to draw back my arm, but, the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed,
"Let me in-let me in!"
"Who are you?" I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself.
"Catherine Linton," it replied, shiveringly…. "I'm come home, I'd lost my way on the moor!"
As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child's face looking through the window—Terror made me cruel; and finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro until the blood ran down and soaked the bed clothes.
Lockwood admits that in his dream he is cruel and deliberately heartless but these are aspects of his personality that he does not consciously accept. Lockwood cannot integrate cruelty as part of who he is, so he relegates cruelty to his shadow side. He projects this shadow onto Heathcliff. He is attracted to Heathcliff not for the reasons of his conscious mind but because Heathcliff personifies his forbidden self. Heathcliff is cruel and deliberately heartless.
Lockwood also has a strange Biblical dream which serves to illuminate his shadow. He dreams he is travelling with Joseph to hear the famous James Branderham preach from the text "Seventy Times Seven" (22). He dreams that Joseph, the preacher or himself has committed the "First of the Seventy First," and is to be publicly exposed and excommunicated. This refers to the story in Matthew known as "The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant." The sin referred to is that of unforgiveness: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' answered Jesus, 'but seventy times seven'" (Matt. 18: 21-22). In the dream Lockwood fights with the whole assembly. He has no weapon to use in self defense. Joseph and the others all have staves. In the language of symbols, the stave used as a weapon has punitive meaning (Tresidder 191). In Jungian psychology it is generally believed that when a person is in conflict with someone else in a dream that other person is a shadow figure representing qualities the dreamer refuses to admit as part of his personality (Robertson 130). Lockwood, not suprisingly, offers us no interpretation of this dream, other than to blame it on bad tea and bad temper. We are given no interpretation from any other source in the text and yet it would seem to have some meaning. Using the Jungian model, one may reasonably propose that Lockwood is repressing his desire to punish others and his inability to forgive them. In the dream he is going to be exposed and punished by the whole assembly and by Joseph, whom he refers to as his most ferocious assailant, and by Branderham. These figures all represent the repressed side of Lockwood in his dream. In his waking life Heathcliff represents this shadow side of Lockwood. Lockwood's repressed punitive side finds free expression in Heathcliff: Heathcliff is punitive, ferocious and unforgiving.
The second narrator, Nelly Dean, has a different part to play in forming Heathcliff. We have no dreams to give us a glimpse of Nelly's unconscious mind. Nelly does, however, fantasize about Heathcliff, particularly about the circumstances of his birth:
"You're fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows, but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week's income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors, and brought to England. Were I in your place, I would frame high notions of my birth; and the thoughts of what I was should give me courage and dignity to support the oppressions of a little farmer."
Heathcliff as far as we can learn from the text does not fantasize about his parentage. Nelly fantasizes about Heathcliff's parentage. Nelly, it appears, is not content with her own humble station in life, a station determined by parentage. Nelly is a servant, but she does not like to be treated as one. When she is treated as a servant she objects. When Catherine, for example, treats her as a servant she refers to Catherine as haughty and says, "she ceased to hold any communications with me except as a mere servant" (87). Nelly finds this form of communication unacceptable. Nelly has no mysterious background to fantasize about for herself. Indeed, such fantasies on her own behalf would be incompatible with Nelly's view of herself as, "a steady, reasonable kind of body" (62). Romantic thoughts and fancies are not part of Nelly's conscious thinking. It would not be acceptable for a country girl to be so fanciful. She must find some other outlet for these desirable but forbidden fantasies. Nelly relegates these desires and fantasies to her unconscious mind where they manifest in the romantic persona of Heathcliff.
Cathy, though not a narrator, is clearly crucial to the development of Heathcliff. Emily Brontë uses Cathy as the one character who understands Heathcliff, the only one who knows his true character. She knows him so well because he is, indeed, part of her. He is her shadow side.
Heathcliff comes into Cathy's life when they are children. They quickly become very close, recognizing in each other a common wildness, lack of convention and love of the moors:
But it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at. The curate might set as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached; they forgot every thing the minute they were together again, at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge; and many a time I've cried to myself to watch them growing more reckless daily, and I not daring to speak a syllable for fear of losing the small power I still retained over the unfriendly creatures.
Nelly describes two equally truculent children. Wild and defiant of any convention or guidance, they are described by her as "unfriendly" and as "creatures." As children they are a pair. Then, beginning with her visit to the Lintons, Cathy starts to repress this side of her nature. She consigns it to her unconscious shadow and lives it, as projection, through Heathcliff. From this point on the boundary between Cathy and Heathcliff blurs. When she returns from Thrushcross Grange she is dressed like a lady. She adopts the airs and graces of a lady and consciously cultivates her relationship with Edgar Linton. She decides over a very short period of time that she will marry him. Cathy feels that she is repressing part of herself but is powerless to stop. She cannot accept her own wild nature as an integral part of her personality and conform to the dictates of her society to be a lady. She chooses the latter. She rejects the wild part of herself in the form of Heathcliff. She tells Nelly that it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff now that he is so low. Cathy's inability to be true to her feelings and marry Heathcliff also serves as metaphor for her rejection of "the hatless little savage" (52) she can no longer allow herself to be. Cathy's savage nature is relegated to her unconscious shadow side where it immediately manifests in Heathcliff. Cathy, to comfirm this, dramatically declares that she is Heathcliff:
My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees—my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff—he's always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself—but as my own being—so, don't talk of our separation again—it is impracticable.
From this moment on, Heathcliff fully embodies Cathy's rejected self.
When Cathy returns from Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff is at first nowhere to be found. He continues to hide from Cathy and to sulk. Then, still at this point seeing himself as Cathy's partner, he starts to question his role. He hangs around Nelly for awhile and finally summons up the courage to say, "Nelly, make me decent, I'm going to be good" (55). Nelly takes this on as her project. She washes Heathcliff and dresses him up. She encourages him to frame high notions of his birth, suggesting that perhaps he may be a prince from some foreign land. She tells him that all he needs to be handsome as he wishes is to have a good heart. Heathcliff as a young boy wants to be fair and handsome and have a chance at being rich like Edgar Linton. In fact, he wants the same things Cathy wants, and at this point is willing to try to get them by following Cathy's lead and conforming. He is ready to be amiable. An amiable Heathcliff, however, is not acceptable to anyone. The Lintons are perfectly content to be amiable themselves. They don't need and won't accept that from Heathcliff. Hindley is determined to keep Heathcliff down and together they thwart Heathcliff's attempt to "be good." From Heathcliff's first appearance at Wuthering Heights as "a dirty, ragged, black-haired child" (36), he has a disruptive effect on all those around him. Cathy and Hindley are upset because the gifts their father has for them are broken. The household is thrown into confusion by his arrival. They refer to him as "it" and they reject him:
They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone by the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr Earnshaw's door and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house.
Heathcliff has spent only one night at Wuthering Heights at this point and already there is confusion and conflict. Not only is there external conflict between the children and Heathcliff, and the children and their father, and Mr. Earnshaw and Nelly, but there is also internal conflict in Nelly. Nelly refers to her actions as cowardly and inhuman. A peaceful domestic scene becomes one of confusion, chaos and conflict. Throughout the novel, Heathcliff causes chaos, confusion and conflict among others. He also causes the same emotions within others. It is fair to say that where Heathcliff is, there is no peace. What is it in Heathcliff that so disrupts others?
It is an aphorism that whatever most attracts or repels us in another is generated by something in ourselves: something of ourselves we see reflected back to us by the recipient of our attention. It is our unconscious shadow side that so disturbs and attracts us. It is this shadow that we find reflected back to us that so upsets our psyche. The characters in Wuthering Heights, especially, but not exclusively, Lockwood, Nelly Dean and Catherine, face their shadow in Heathcliff. In Heathcliff they are brought face to face with everything they refuse to acknowledge in themselves. When they are faced with this embodiment of their shadow, it is no wonder that chaos, confusion and conflict ensue. And when she is faced with this embodiment, it is no wonder that Charlotte Brontë questions the wisdom of the creation of Heathcliff. Heathcliff is, after all, unacceptable.
Brontë. Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. New York: Penguin Classics, 1995.
Good News Bible: Today's English Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1976.
Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffe; trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
Robertson, Robin. Beginners Guide to Jungian Psychology. York Bach, ME: Nicholas Hays, Inc., 1992.
Tresidder, Jack. Dictionary of Symbols. San Fransisco: Chronicle Books, 1998.
Barclay, Janet M. Emily Brontë Criticism 1900–1982: An Annotated Checklist. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1984, 162 p.
Provides an annotated list of writings on Emily Brontë.
Crump, Rebecca W. Charlotte and Emily Brontë: A Reference Guide. 3 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.
Provides critical sources from 1846–1983.
Grin, Winifred. Emily Brontë. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 290 p.
Offers a scholarly biography that attempts to clarify the myths about Brontë's personality.
Apter, T. E. "Romanticism and Romantic Love in Wuthering Heights." In The Art of Emily Brontë, edited by Anne Smith, pp. 205-22. London: Vision Press, 1976.
Discusses Brontë's treatment of Romantic love in Wuthering Heights, noting that Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship is presented as "suffering love," whereas Cathy and Hareton's bond serves as "an alternative to that destructive, Romantic love."
Brennan, Matthew C. "Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights." In The Gothic Psyche: Disintegration and Growth in Nineteenth-Century English Literature, pp. 77-96. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997.
Examines the impact of Gothic convention on Wuthering Heights.
Cottom, Daniel. "I Think; Therefore, I Am Heathcliff." ELH 70, no. 4 (winter 2003): 1067-88.
Examines Gothic novels, including Wuthering Heights, in light of the writings of philosopher René Descartes.
Davies, Cecil W. "A Reading of Wuthering Heights." Essays in Criticism 19, no. 3 (July 1969): 254-72.
Refers to Brontë's poetry and the Gondal stories in an examination of the mysticism of Wuthering Heights.
Dobell, Sydney. "Sydney Dobell's Article on Currer Bell, Contributed to the Palladium in 1850." Brontë Society Transactions 5, no. 28 (1918): 210-36.
Assumes that Wuthering Heights was written by Currer Bell (pseudonym of Charlotte Brontë) and approaches it as that author's first work, deeming it a novel of extraordinary power but uneven form.
"Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey." The Eclectic Review 1 (February 1851): 222-27.
Praises Brontë's depiction of scenery in Wuthering Heights, but asserts that the novel's characters are exaggerated and unsympathetic, and the situations unbelievable.
Haggerty, George E. "The Gothic Form of Wuthering Heights." Victorian Newsletter 74 (fall 1988): 1-6.
Argues that in Wuthering Heights Brontë "looks into the heart of Gothic fiction,… uncovers the most deeply rooted formal problems which Gothic novelists themselves were never able to resolve, and forges a solution to those problems out of the literary smithy of her own soul."
Knoepflmacher, U. C. Wuthering Heights: A Study. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994, 138 p.
An in-depth examination of Wuthering Heights that analyzes the novel's context, structure, meaning, and critical reception.
Lewes, George Henry. A review of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. The Leader 1, no. 30 (28 December 1850): 953.
Provides a qualified endorsement of Wuthering Heights, pronouncing it a powerful but coarse work.
Pykett, Lyn. "Gender and Genre in Wuthering Heights: Gothic Plot and Domestic Fiction." In Wuthering Heights: Emily Brontë, edited by Patsy Stoneman, pp. 86-99. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
Examines Wuthering Heights in the context of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature, studying in particular "the relationship of the woman writer to the history and tradition of fiction."
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Immediacy, Doubleness, and the Unspeakable: Wuthering Heights and Villette." In The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. 1976. Reprint edition, pp. 97-139. New York: Methuen, 1986.
Discusses both the direct and indirect modes of narration and communication in Wuthering Heights.
Stoneman, Patsy, ed. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, 208 p.
Selected commentary on Wuthering Heights, including essays by Q. D. Leavis, Terry Eagleton, and Sandra Gilbert.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. "Emily Brontë." The Athenaeum, no. 2903 (16 June 1883): 762-63.
Addresses several controversial aspects of Wuthering Heights, including the novel's unusual structure and depiction of cruelty and brutality.
Symons, Arthur. "Emily Brontë." The Nation 23, no. 21 (24 August 1918): 546-47.
Lauds the passion and intensity of Wuthering Heights, deeming it an unforgettable work.
Thomas, Ronald R. "Dreams and Disorders in Wuthering Heights."In Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious, pp. 112-35. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Explores the role of dreams in Wuthering Heights using the theories of Sigmund Freud.
Twitchell, James. "Heathcliff as Vampire." Southern Humanities Review 11 (1977): 355-62.
Surveys critical reactions to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, suggesting that the character is metaphorically akin to a vampire.
Vitte, Paulette. "Emily Brontë, Rimbaud, Poe and the Gothic." Brontë Society Transactions 24, no. 2 (October 1999): 182-85.
OTHER SOURCES FROM GALE:
Additional coverage of Brontë's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 17; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 1; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 3; British Writers, Vol. 5; British Writers: The Classics, Vol. 1; British Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1832–1890; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 21, 32, 199; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists, and Poets; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Novels; Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 16, 35; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 8; Twayne's English Authors; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; and World Literature Criticism.