Here I give an honest reaction to my second reading of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Oh, Emily, your imagination must have run wild with that wind on the English moors. And perhaps you read Frankenstein, one too many times, because it seems to me that Cathy, and her family, create a monster in Heathcliff.
I last read it 10 years ago in 12th grade, in Mrs. Joyner’s AP Lit class. I especially had no patience for all the people dying for reasons that weren’t clear to me. I, being different now, was able to see things in the story I didn’t see when I was 18 and naïve, just like young Cathy Linton. Both horrified and fascinated, I enjoyed reading it again, and couldn’t put it down.
Wuthering Heights is an enigma. It’s like a tragedy, except you don’t sympathize with the main two characters themselves, but instead with their victims. I think everyone is so interested in the story because it’s one of those “can’t look away” things, like a car wreak.
In the beginning I see a picture of two families living a secluded, but genteel life in the moors of northern England. Sure they are a bit quirky, but it starts off kind of normal. Initially you do sympathize with Heathcliff, and yell out loud at Cathy for being so two-sided and mean with him-and everyone else for that matter. Then as I read on, I began to feel somewhat like Mr. Lockwood when he enters the Bizarro World of Wuthering Heights. And oh my, by the end, my heart was racing with anger at Heathcliff. But I couldn’t look away. I just had to keep reading to see if there was not some justice in the end.
In Heathcliff I saw someone who, because of mistreatment in his youth became the embodiment of exacting, manipulating, lying, cruel revenge, like the devil himself. He was all consumed with love for Cathy but that love was obsessive and became inseparable from a sickening and violent vengeance making Heathcliff seem inhuman. It’s no wonder Nelly starts to think he might be a vampire.
The narrators Nelly and Mr. Lockwood kept me from becoming too used to the crazy. They continued to give me a perspective of reality so that Wuthering Heights always felt sick and demented.
Towards the end, when Mr. Lockwood visits and sees how young Cathy has become cruel herself, at the hands of her Frankenstienian captor, and can’t bring himself to marry her, not even to save her, I despair. But when Heathcliff becomes so tortured with Cathy’s ghost that his vengeance fades, and his obsession grows, the hope that he might die gives hope for the rest.
While this change in Heathcliff occurs, a change occurs in young Cathy, and despite Heathcliff’s previous attempts to break her down and make her bitter, she begins to show kindness to Hareton, and her soul, and life are rescued by this. And Hareton, despite Heathcliff’s attempts to bring him up as a rough un-educated brute, has a naturally gentle spirit that willingly responds to Cathy’s. The two together shed the twisted fates and sickness of their previous generation, and almost instantly make things new in each other, in Wuthering Heights, and in the moors. So Heathcliff’s tortured cruelty dies with him.
I’m not sure in the end if Emily Bronte meant for us to, like Nelly, feel that Heathcliff’s last wishes to be buried with Cathy were just the icing on the cake of Heathcliff’s demented life, or if she meant for us to be in awe of the morbid reunion of the two star-crossed lovers in the ground. Either way, I was glad he died.
Illustration by Lizzy Stewart