Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Emily Brontë was born 1818, two years after Charlotte. In 1821 their mother died, when Charlotte was at a perfect age for the onset of lifelong guilt, trauma, and weirdness. In 1824, Emily joined her sisters at Cowan Bridge school where the next year typhus broke out. In 1826 the fictions begin, and after more schooling for the sisters and governess jobs, publishing begins in 1846-47. Brother Branwell died at age 31 in September 1848. Two months later, Emily at age 30 died of consumption.
Unlike Charlotte, an ideal subject for psychoanalytic criticism, Emily seems not to have had the resentments, frustrations, or inferiority anxieties at having been born a woman and into this family. Though Wuthering Heights was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847, she either ignored constraints or they did not exist for her.
Wuthering Heights presents a convoluted narrative situation with shifting first-person “I”s. Who “I” is depends: sometimes it’s Lockwood, or Nelly (Ellen) Dean, but we also have Heathcliff’s testimony regarding the Grange incident, and Isabella’s letter. So there’s no omniscient narrator but rather a sequence of limited scopes by characters in the story too absorbed in their own lives and too unconcerned with others’ judgments and perspectives, these scopes themselves often based on hearsay or colored by bias or told at cross-purposes. We readers see more of the picture than any of the individual narrators and so are kept searching for meaning. And that distance is necessary (and tends to have to take place at Thrushcroft Grange). Narration is essentially a calm act of perspective; no characters here qualify. So there’s no final narrative authority here, just a play of perspectives. In that sense, “Does Cathy’s wrist bleed?” is a fundamental question of the book.
Nelly Dean is the primary narrator of the story inside the Lockwood frame (and interesting name for him in this regard), but not entirely: the story will escape her bounds. Initially she is starchy, staunch, a bit nasty and uncompassionate; she reports crying but just decides others are spoiled or wild and is dismissive. On the spectrum of nature vs. civilization, Nelly seems to lie about halfway. The “deadpan” telling contributes to the tension and force of the work by contrasting or trying to tame the monstrous conflicts and passions contained in the matter-of-fact precision. Nelly and the book form “civilizes” the story, but the story will escape.
Lockwood is convinced of his own renegade loner status, but this is romanticized rubbish. He’s often off-base entirely. He thinks Heathcliff is of his own kind, just exaggeratedly reserved; he tries to pet a feral dog; he tries to see “Mrs. Heathcliff,” whom he misidentifies as Heathcliff’s wife at first, as a magical woman (while she tends to shriek and wield frying pans); he has idiotic romantic notions of Heathcliff’s absence. Obviously Heathcliff is no diamond in the rough; and Heathcliff himself is aware of the stupidity of sentimental notions. Initially this seems to be Lockwood’s story, but he is usurped as narrator and then serves only as an occasional commercial break; and we resent the interruptions which serve to relocate the story as story.
“I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself” (45).
“‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather” (46).
“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” (46).
“I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter” (46).
“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 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” (47).
Lockwood’s love affair that never was (48).
“relaxed, a little, in the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns, and auxiliary verbs” (50).
“Wretched inmates! … you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality” (51).
“Here is the consequence of being buried alive: she has thrown herself away upon that boor, from sheer ignorance that better individuals existed! A sad pity — I must beware how I cause her to regret her choice” (55).
“The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small — Catherine Earnshaw; here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.
In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw — Heathcliff — Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres — the air swarmed with Catherines” (61).
“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 — foolish palaver that we should be ashamed of” (63).
Lockwood’s dream: “We came to the chapel — I have passed it really in my walks, twice or thrice: it lies in a hollow, between two hills — an elevated hollow — near a swamp, whose peaty moisture is said to answer all the purposes of embalming on the few corpses deposited there” (65).
“The First of the Seventy-First” presents a crisis moment because of its exceeding the defined limit set on discourse.
“Let me in — let me in…. I’m come home, I’d lost my way on the moor!” (67).
“The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer” (67). Books block out, physically here, ghosts and gore — the supernatural. Does it work? Is the image of the “pyramid” significant?
Mrs. Dean’s narration begins. Notice how, contrary to Lockwood’s over-romanticizing tendencies, she exerts her efforts in de-romanticizing the story.
“when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand” (77).
“Not a soul knew to whom it belonged, he said, and his money and time, being both limited, he thought it better to take it home with him, at once, than run into vain expenses there; because he was determined he would not leave it as he found it” (78).
“I found they had christened him ‘Heathcliff’: it was the name of a son who had died in childhood” (78).
“Hindley hated him, and to say the truth I did the same” (78).
“I believe she meant no harm; for when once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company; and oblige you to be quiet that you might comfort her” (83).
Mr. Earnshaw dies.
“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 everything the minute they were together again, at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge”(87). Love is shared misery.
Heathcliff reports of Thrushcroft Grange: “The light came from thence; they had not put up the shutters, and the curtains were only half closed. Both of us were able to look in by standing on the basement, and clinging to the ledge, and we saw — ah! it was beautiful” (89).
“The idiots! That was their pleasure! to quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair, and each begin to cry…. We laughed outright at the petted things, we did despise them! When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine wanted? … I’d not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange — not if I might have the privilege of … painting the housefront with Hindley’s blood!” (89).
“if Catherine had wished to return, I intended shattering their great glass panes to a million fragments, unless they let her out” (91).
“‘Is Heathcliff not here?’ she demanded, pulling off her gloves, and displaying fingers wonderfully whitened with doing nothing, and staying indoors” (94).
“Were I in your place, 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!” (98).
Narrative interrupted self-consciously (101). Resumed “the summer of 1778, that is, nearly twenty-three years ago” (103).
Hareton born; Frances dies (104-105).
“The crosses are for the evenings you have spent with the Lintons, the dots for those spent with me. Do you see? I’ve marked every day” (109).
“No … not yet, Edgar Linton — sit down, you shall not leave me in that temper. I should be miserable all night, and I won’t be miserable for you!” (112).
“The soft thing looked askance through the window — he possessed the power to depart, as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten” (112).
Hareton violent when drunk: “his ordinary frame of mind in that condition” (113).
“He held the knife in his hand, and pushed its point between my teeth: but, for my part, I was never much afraid of his vagaries” (114).
Heathcliff accidentally saves Hareton (115).
Catherine’s dream: “I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy” (120-121).
“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” (121).
“whereas if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother’s power” (122).
“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 beginnning; 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 — 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; and — ” (122).
“Ellen, shut the window. I’m starving!” (126; cp. 327)
“Edgar Linton, as multitudes have been before and will be after him, was infatuated; and believed himself the happiest man alive on the day he led her to Gimmerton Chapel, three years subsequent to his father’s death” (129).
Much time passes before Lockwood has a chance to hear the story continued: “Yes, I remember her hero had run off, and never been heard of for three years: and the heroine was married” (130).
“Did he finish his education on the Continent, and come back a gentleman? or did he get a sizar’s place at college? or escape to America, and earn honours by drawing blood from his foster country? or make a fortune more promptly, on the English highways?” (130-131).
“The whole household need not witness the sight of your welcoming a runaway servant as a brother” (134-135).
“The event of this evening has reconciled me to God, and humanity! … I’ll go make my peace with Edgar instantly — Good night — I’m an angel!” (139).
“Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is — an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day as recommend you to bestow your heart on him! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond — a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” (141).
“All, all is against me; she has blighted my single consolation. But she uttered falsehoods, didn’t she? Mr. Heathcliff is not a fiend; he has an honourable soul, and a true one, or how could he remember her?” (142).
Nelly remembers Hindley as young and has an encounter with the savage young Hareton: “The stone struck my bonnet, and then ensued, from the stammering lips of the little fellow, a string of curses which, whether he comprehended them or not, were delivered with a practised emphasis, and distorted his baby features into a shocking expression of malignity” (148).
“And the curate does not teach you to read and write, then?” (149).
Catherine to Nelly: “To hear you, people might think you were the mistress! … You want setting down in your right place!” (150).
“‘He is not coming,’ I interposed, framing a bit of a lie” (154).
Nelly reports on Linton: “He’s tolerably well, I think, though his studies occupy him rather more tha they ought; he is continually among his books, since he has no other society” (159).
“I took her hand in mine, and bid her to be composed, for a succession of shudders convulsed her frame, and she would keep straining her gaze towards the glass” (161).
Catherine’s delirium vision (163). The issue is loss of self, not loss of the love object.
Isabella elopes with Heathcliff.
“No mother could have nursed an only child more devotedly than Edgar tended her” (171).
A long letter from Isabella to Nelly (173-182).
Hereton to Isabella: “He replied in a jargon I did not comprehend…. An oath, and a threat to set Throttler on me if I did not ‘frame off’ rewarded my perseverance” (174).
“She abandoned them [Isabella’s former comforts] under a delusion … picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion. I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character, and acting on the false impressions she cherished” (187).
“It is a moral teething, and I grind with greater energy, in proportion to the increase of pain” (189).
“let me beware of the fascination that lurks in Catherine Heathcliff’s brilliant eyes. I should be in a curious taking if I surrendered my heart to that young person, and the daughter turned out a second edition of the mother!” (191).
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Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. NY: Penguin Books, 1986.
Daiches, David. Introduction. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. NY: Penguin Books, 1986. 7-29.