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Gothic Romance - Cathy and Heathcliff

Updated on January 13, 2010
(Photos this page, public domain.)
(Photos this page, public domain.)
Yorkshire moors, a romantic setting for Wuthering Heights.
Yorkshire moors, a romantic setting for Wuthering Heights.

Tragedy in the Classroom

In the first year of middle school, one of my English classes was divided into parts, one part assigned to read an interesting adventure novel and another part, a romance novel. Unfortunately, the romance novel was of the mediocre type sold in grocery stores and written at the usual romance-novel pitch of 6th grade reading level, while I and several others were reading a grade 14 and studying Russian language as well. I was highly insulted and would rather have had a superhero comic book - it would have been written on a higher grade level, at any rate. Aquaman, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, and a few others were much more interesting and fun. No wonder people quit school.

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 we had been forced to read in school. WHile I review romance novels occassionally and have found some that are very much superior to the usual genre - even witty - I prefer tragic romance. It is easy to see the attraction of middle- and high-school young women to the Twilight and New Moon series. These stories are dark, but not too dark, and full of fantasy and lovely people. The darker side likely has more powerful energy as well. At any rate, Bela Lugosi made this all possible about 100 years ago with his dramatic performance. He was extremely handsome in his youth, with a magnetism that was hard to ignore.

Dracula led me to be attracted to other gothic sorts of stories and Wuthering Heights was one of them. It was far more engaging and exciting than the grocery store romance novel. And it was tragic.

Dusk on the moors.
Dusk on the moors.

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

Wuthering Heights On Fillm


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 - 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 story contains many supernatural elements and is violent in parts, woven with lesser desirable human qualities. it is not about self-sacrificing love (which bored me in middle school). Main characters Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff (adopted into the Earnshaw family as a child) are not able to function in an adult romantic relationship together and this dysfunction may be highly recognizable in 21stCentury society. As long as we recognize it as dysfunction and not the ideal for relationships, we readers can enjoy the story and the range of emotions and horror the novel is likely to elicit.


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 resultantly 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 intergenerational 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, even though married to others. At least they are buried side by side and that's romantic 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

Unknown Origins

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.

Painting of children stolen by gypsies, a widespread legend.
Painting of children stolen by gypsies, a widespread legend.


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    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      One of my all time favorite books! Every time I read it, I gain a new perspective. The characters are fascinating and so complex, as is the plot and the back drop of the English moors. As old as the book is, the psychological themes are totally modern. While Emily may have been a near recluse, she certainly had an excellent grasp of the human psyche.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      @Dolores Monet - I surely agree with you on all that. I wonder what she saw at home and among visitors? The book is actually riveting, I think.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 7 years ago from Great Britain

      Great insight to a classic. Thanks.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 7 years ago from Georgia

      Though I did not read the book, the 1992 movie rendition was really good. Hands down, this is my all-time favorite drama/romance.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

      I, too, write reviews at times. But this - this was a staggeringly difficult and complex book to take on, and you did a great job, Patty. I can only applaud you for your great versatility and ability to grasp difficult personal relationships and concepts. Thanks for doing so, Don White

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I haven't given much thought to Gothic novels in many years, since my English Literature course in the about 1960. I remember that along with classics like "Wuthering Heights" we also read a small collection of the "pop" literature of the times. It made me aware of the influence on some modern day writers. One such, if I remeber correctly was Daphne du Maurier, who ifI recall correctly wrote a short story "the Birds" on which Alfred Hitchcock made a successful movie.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      It is such a masterpiece and because it is still relating to today's life it makes it even more grant.

    • rmcrayne profile image

      rmcrayne 7 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      Our middle school teacher opted for Charlotte instead of Emily. I was a good student, but it was way too dry for my ADD I'm afraid.

    • profile image

      Ocean 7 years ago

      I'm surprised to see that you don't have THE "Wuthering Heights" film on your films list!

      It's the only one that has any excellence in its' casting, acting, settings, and interpretation of Bronte's novel into a moving screenplay.

      Starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall, (the absolutely perfect Heahcliff and Cathy!), it is the movie released in 1970.

      As someone who loved the book as a preteen, and who also writes books in this vein, I urge everyone to see it.

      By the way, the score by the genius, Michel LeGrand, is the most beautiful one ever composed for Emily Brotne's classic by far.

    • lifewellspoken profile image

      lifewellspoken 6 years ago from Vancouver BC

      What a very interesting hub. Thank you very much for showing me a true smile.

    • JasonPLittleton profile image

      JasonPLittleton 5 years ago

      Wonderful hub! You have great insights here. Thanks.

    • Silent hurricane profile image

      Silent hurricane 5 years ago from Israel


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