Gothic Romance: Cathy and Heathcliff
Tragedy in the Classroom
In the seventh grade, Honors English class was divided into parts, one part assigned to read an interesting adventure novel and another part, a sixth-grade level romance novel.
The romance novel was of the mediocre type sold in grocery stores and written at the usual boring pitch of low-end sixth grade mastery. We all hoped we would not be assigned this book.
Many of us were reading at grade 14 (college sophomore) and studying the Russian language. The romance book was an insult to us, in our minds. A few students cut class rather than read the book. One young woman threw it down and said it was the stupidest thing she had ever read.
After surviving that first romance novel, I saw Dracula with Bela Lugosi for the first time and decided that Gothic romance was much better than the pulp of seventh grade.
Tragic romance grabbed many girls in junior and senior high school classes. Today, it is to see the attraction of middle- and high-school youth to the Twilight and New Moon series. These stories are dark, but not overly so, full of fantasy and lovely people.
Dracula itself led me to other Gothic stories and Wuthering Heights was one of them. It is far more engaging and exciting than the massed-produced grocery store romance novel. And it is tragic.
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.— Catherine, Wuthering Heights, Ch 9
Non-relationships and Dysfunction
Emily Bronte offers in Wuthering Heights a fresh perspective on the concept of romantic love in her time, with psychological complications and cruel actions that can destroy the human heart. It was quite successfully dark and intriguing and several period critics did not like the physical and emotional cruelty it described.
First published in 1847, Ms. Bronte used a male pen name for it - Ellis Bell, a tragedy itself that several women of this era were not accepted as able to write and publish. After Emily's death, her sister Charlotte edited the book and published a new edition of the story.
The book contains many supernatural elements and is violent in parts, woven with lesser desirable human qualities. It is not about self-sacrificing love. Main characters Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff (adopted into the Earnshaw family as a child) are not able to function in an adult relationship and this dysfunction may be highly recognizable in 21st century societies.
As long as we recognize it as dysfunction and not the ideal, we readers can enjoy the story and the range of emotions and horror the novel elicits.
The stars of Wuthering Heights are protagonists, rather than heroes; they’re anti-heroes and this makes them flawed and interesting. Catherine (Cathy) and Heathcliff seem to be self-centered and really rather petty overall, having known one another and bonded after a fashion in childhood after an inauspicious start. Social status, duty, and “marrying well” were major considerations of the time, rather than love, and as an adult, Cathy could not marry Heathcliff.
Further, Cathy's brother Linton always hated Healthcliff and abused him in childhood and as a hired hand after the death of their father.
Interestingly, Healthcliff left home and became rich, using his riches to turn abuse onto the next generation in revenge, because he had been abused by Linton. This is classic inter-generational abuse, perhaps not much considered in the early to middle 1800s.
In the story, Cathy does not marry Heathcliff, breaking his heart. He and she both, in fact marry other people without much joy resulting. Heathcliff and Cathy never admit that they are in love with one another, a tragedy with which many readers can identify. As unconfessed lovers they fight tooth and nail to the end in order to maintain contact, even though they are married to others.
At least they are buried side by side - a romance in itself.
...Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you--haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts HAVE wandered on earth. Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!— Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights, Ch 16
The unknown usually becomes romantic in some way and Healthcliff is an unknown from the beginning of the story. He is described as a gypsy in appearance, probably to portray darkness and romantic mystery with dark eyes, hair, and skin coloring; and his parents were never revealed.
Perhaps he was left by the side of the road or perhaps he is magic. Later in the story, detractors claim that he is related to Satan and the appearance of ghosts in the story adds another dimension of the supernatural. An aura of sinister mysticism surrounds Healthcliff, making him romantic to readers. One film version fo the story, released in 1970, suggested that Healthcliff may be Cathy's illegitimate half-brother. This is an other element of mystery and romance.
Healthcliff is the dark, mysterious hero that is not a hero - rather an opposite of the Spanish hero, Zorro. Both are equally as romantic.
- Masterpiece Theater Productions of Wuthering Heights; 1950s
- Wuthering Heights - A Musical Adaptation Based On The Novel By Emily Bronte
- Wuthering Heights (1939)
Directed by William Wyler. With Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven. V
- Wuthering Heights (1970)
Directed by Robert Fuest. With Anna Calder-Marshall, Timothy Dalton, Harry Andrews.
- Wuthering Heights (1992)
Directed by Peter Kosminsky. With Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer.
- Wuthering Heights (2009) (TV)
Directed by Coky Giedroyc. With Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln. Foundling Heathcliff is raised by the wealthy Earnshaws in Yorkshire but in later life launches a vendetta against the family.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS