Wuthering Heights was written in the first quarter of the 19th Century by Emily Bronte. It has long been hailed as one of the first in the genre of Gothic Romance. The following interview was conducted on January 8, 2013, between historical literature enthusiasts MadaLin Peeler and Nicole Kirkman. These are opinions, not facts. Please feel free to continue discussion and ask any questions in the comment section.
> Q (MadaLin): What first inspired you to read the book, “Wuthering Heights”?
> A (Nicole): When I first saw Wuthering Heights (the film in which Tom Hardy plays Heathcliff) in 2011, I was instantly mesmerized by this tragically gothic romance. So much so that I went out and purchased the book! I enjoyed it even more than the film. It has since become my favorite work from this era. (For those curious, the book to come in second is “Frankenstein”, by Mary Shelley.)
Q: What character(s) do you most identify with or enjoy? Which characters would you like to see more of in movies?
> A: In reading this book I was drawn to steadfast, level-headed narrator Ellen Dean. She is the nursemaid to HeathCliff and Catherine during their childhood at Wuthering Heights, and goes with Cathy to the Grange [ThrushCross Grange, the neighboring estate] upon Cathy’s marriage to the master Edgar Linton. She serves Cathy until her death, whereupon she is nursemaid to Catherine’s namesake daughter. I enjoyed her character because she was so steadfast, in spite of the chaos around her. She in fact is the one who (in the book) is telling this tragic tale to Mr. Lockwood, a character that always seems to be missing from film adaptations! This baffles me: even though he is obviously a literary tool, he is a good one. By cutting him out, the audience also misses his terrifying dream in which the ghost of Catherine attempts to invade Wuthering Heights by way of Lockwood’s bedroom window. It is a fabulous foreshadow, I think, it gives a great picture of the torture in which we will be immersed.
The character whom I most enjoyed was Hindley. He was so erratic! But more on him later, I’m sure.
Q. Tell me about the famous love triangle.
A. Where to begin! Love maelstrom, more like. Well, in the most basic sense, Heathcliff is the adopted son of the Earnshaw family. Catherine the biological daughter in the house, Hindley is the biological son. Upon reaching adulthood, Heathcliff, Catherine, and neighbor Edgar Linton form the love triangle that is the major plot of the book. Heathcliff and Catherine had an incredibly close relationship in childhood (partners in crime is really not too strong an expression), but as they matured, it grows into something of a doomed love. It was, in my opinion, built between two people who were too passionate (?) ever to live a normal life. They were doomed to combust. It was perhaps a personification of the Beatles’ song, “You Really Got a hold on me”! Only perhaps a little less apathetic, and a little more overdramatic.
Q. Before we get in over our heads talking about these characters, tell me about Hindley, why you enjoyed him so much, and why his part in the story is so significant.
Of course! As I previously stated, Hindley is Catherine’s older brother. When Heathcliff and Catherine are perhaps preteens, Hindley leaves the estate to get a higher education. As Hindley’s hatred of adopted brother Heathcliff has never been very well masked, everyone is rather glad to have him gone. Upon the death of their father about five years later, Hindley returns to arrange the funeral and take ownership of the estate. Unbeknownst to the family, he has married, and arrives with his rather ditzy wife in tow. He seems to honestly love her; the fact that she makes no attempt to “mother” his younger siblings (in fact she treats them rather badly) doesn’t vex him any. Heathcliff and Catherine are hardly bothered, they find sufficient solace in each other. It is, perhaps, his own fault that Catherine and Heathcliff turned out as such emotionally unstable adults.
Why I enjoyed him? I suppose that’s my inner Moffat asserting itself. (*laughs*) You feel so much sympathy for him. He had plenty of oppurtinites to turn himself around, and you keep expecting him to, though it never happens. In a morbid way, I enjoyed watching his character develop. He is so unashamedly selfish. Doesn’t even care for himself. He is completely depraved. No redeeming qualities. He doesn’t even draw our pity as a victim of circumstances, like Heathcliff. He is what happens when people no longer mind sin.
As for his significance to the story, I have to go back to my narrative: After the death of his father, He lives at Wuthering Heights with his new wife, letting his younger siblings have the run of the place. His wife (whose name I cannot recall to save my life) gives birth to a son (whom they dub Hareton Earnshaw), and never regains her health. She contracts a respiratory disease, and in a truly heart-wrenching scene she dies in Hindley’s arms. (This was perhaps inspired by Bronte’s own family traumas; she had a mother and two sisters who died of tuberculosis before succumbing to it herself). This is the last time we see Hindley express concern for anyone. Afterward he becomes a listless, paranoid individual who ruins his health, reputation and fortune with drinking and gambling. In defiance of all odds, his son Hareton grows up with a strong will and a strong back, and with an intelligent (though highly uncultivated) mind.
Q. The million dollar question: who does Catherine marry?
So there comes a point (I will refrain from detailing every scene leading up to this point) where Catherine becomes engaged to Edgar. Personally, I think to be very unwise in his choices; he was no stranger to Catherine’s selfish outbursts when they were children, even. And there was no reason given him to believe she had changed. But for reasons we cannot completely know, he loved her with impressive devotion.
Q. Were Edgar’s feeling honest, do you think?
He loved her, absolutely. But I cannot think they were well suited. He loved her enough to justify her behavior in gross proportions, but not enough to tell her the truth about the effects of her own selfishness. If he had… maybe she would have vowed never to speak to him again. But maybe she would have curbed her habits. We will never know!
Q. Heathcliff being a volatile character, to say the least, what was his reaction to her accepting the engagement?
Volatile! that’s a fitting word. Shortly after learning about the engagement, he takes it into his mind to leave without a word of warning. NO, this isn’t one of those heart-warming situations where the snubbed guy decides to leave the picture with grace. No, indeed, though the scene is not recorded, I can almost assure you he left with angry tears in his eyes!
Q. What could have possibly motivated him to leave the girl he loved so much?
I have a few theories about his motivations: One is one is for a slightly good-hearted reasons. He was fed up with life, angry at everyone, and needed to leave to keep from clawing someone’s eyes out. Placing Catherine’s happiness above his own, he leaves.
But the other more-likely theory (“and my favorite”, MadaLin chimes in) is that in leaving, Heathcliff hopes to secure a fortune and good name (though what ironically deceitful means he will use to do so we are never told) and return to Catherine’s waiting arms.
But the fact that he was gone for such a long time (much longer than impatient Catherine would have waited, even for him) suggests that in his mind their relationship had been severed to the point that he no longer wanted it to manifest in marriage, though he would never be able to mentally leave her behind.
Q. He’s gone for quite a long time, yes? And there is a new subplot that begins to brew.
Oh, yes, three years, I believe. And we most definitely see a bit of a subplot. I have never been able to decide if it really is a true subplot, as the developments have such far-reaching effects. If you thought there was whip-lash inducing drama present before, you haven’t seen the least of it.
Three years after having heard of Edgar Linton and Catherine becoming engaged, Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights. Of course, he finds that Catherine no longer resides there, having naturally taken up residence at The Grange upon marrying Edgar. He puts in to action his plan to slowly buy over Wuthering Heights from Hindley. In effect, he is stealing it from young Hareton, who is the rightful successor, and “the last of the good old Earnshaw blood”, in the words of servant Joseph.
Absence has made Heathcliff more brazen than ever, and he sees nothing wrong with inviting himself over to Thrushcross Grange for tea. The reactions among those at the Grange are painfully easy to guess: Catherine is overjoyed, Edgar is jealous and embarrassed by Catherine’s lack of good sense, but Edgar’s younger sister Isobella is the one who throws a wild card.
For reasons no one but herself can ascertain, she falls fast and hard for the brooding, melancholy Heathcliff.
Q. It seems you think Catherine didn’t love Edgar?
Incredibly difficult question. I think that Catherine liked Edgar. She found Edgar pleasant, but it was Heathcliff that she needed to survive. The following is one of my favorite scenes, so I shall let Catherine, in her own words put it more eloquently:
“If all else perished, and [Heathcliff] remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and [Heathcliff] were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. My love for [Edgar] 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…I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven and if …Heathcliff had not been brought so low [financially] 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 moon beam from lightning or frost from fire.”
PART TWO COMING SOON