I was somewhat doubtful at my ability to get this post up tonight, but fortunately I got really immersed into the last few chapters of this week’s reading and was able to speed through it on my way home from Philadelphia tonight! I was in Philly today visiting my uncle and his family (whom I haven’t seen since my wedding two years ago!), and the frigid, dreary weather set the perfect atmosphere for Wuthering Heights. January’s are known to be wet and cold, and that is why I chose this month to schedule a read-along; I love seasonal reading! So, let’s get down to discussing all of the perturbing details of Wuthering Heights! [Spoiler Alert for Chapters 1-9 of Wuthering Heights]
I did not look at where Chapter 9 would leave us plot wise before I set the weekly chapter numbers; I just divided the book up equally between four weeks. But after finishing Chapter 9 I realized this was a perfect resting place. But let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? I mentioned in an earlier post that the first and last time I read Wuthering Heights was ten and a half years ago, and even though I liked the novel at the time, I could not make myself relate to, sympathize with, or even like our two tragically selfish characters, Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Delving into this reread, I’ve realized that, even though the characters are still unlikable for me (especially Cathy), I am actually very into the novel so far!
We follow the diary entries of a Mr. Lockwood, who just became the tenant of Heathcliff, our Byronic hero. Right away we get to meet Heathcliff and the rest of his household, and Emily Brontë immediately introduces this motif of chaos, specifically with character confusion. If you don’t pay close attention, it can be tricky figuring out who is who as well as how everyone is related to each other. If my memory serves me correctly, it will get harder later on when we have two Catherines and two Heathcliffs, on top of all the Lintons and Earnshaws that are involved. If you are already familiar with this novel, or if you don’t mind some spoiling, you can check out this character map to aid any confusion you may have :)
We take on the point of view of Mr. Lockwood as we become acquainted with Heathcliff, his daughter-in-law Catherine Heathcliff, Hareton Earnshaw (later revealed to be Catherine H.’s cousin), and the…interesting…servants. Between the hostile dogs and the eerie ghost dreams, I found myself wanting to flee Wuthering Heights nearly as much as Mr. Lockwood did.
I was much more into the next several chapters, when Ellen ‘Nelly’ Dean begins her narration of Heathcliff’s upbringing. This is the part that helps me sympathize with Heathcliff. It helps me reconcile the harsh and unfeeling land lord with the abused and ridiculed orphan boy who needs a hug at one moment and a slap the next. The only person who seems to understand or connect with him is Cathy Earnshaw, but their relationship is no picnic. It is tortured and strongly corrupted by the pitfalls of human nature. One thing I do appreciate about their relationship, however, is that it seems to be sadly realistic–something that could happen to some unfortunate couple. This is no fairy tale.
The most fundamental section of this week’s reading for me was Chapter 9, when Cathy E. reveals to Nelly her recent engagement to Edgar Linton before bluntly confessing her love for Heathcliff. Here we see an honest part of Cathy. She is a complex character: at home she acts in a mischievous and immature manner which she quickly covers up with a charming and attractive façade whenever in company with the Lintons. During this confession scene, we get to see an honest part of Cathy’s character. Unfortunately, due to her harsh delivery of words and the fact that she is unaware that Heathcliff is within earshot, she declares that it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff. At this insult, Heathcliff flees Wuthering Heights, and the most tragic part is that it is just before Cathy makes this beautifully heartfelt speech, which I will quote bits and pieces of here:
“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…My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: 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.”
I know that’s a long passage, but how beautiful and moving it is! And just after it we find that Heathcliff has disappeared and Cathy immediately goes into despair. Three years pass, Cathy marries Edgar, and Nelly’s narration comes to a pause as Chapter 9 draws to a close. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?? I honestly can’t remember, and I really want to know!
So, to wrap up this long post, let me ask you all some questions:
- What do you think about Cathy’s engagement to Edgar? Do you think her reasons for marrying him are naive, immature/shallow, or unselfish?
- I talked about how confusing this novel can be at times. Are there any areas that have confused you thus far?
- What are your feelings regarding our seemingly doomed lovers, Cathy and Heathcliff?
If you are reading along with us or if you have already read Wuthering Heights, post your thoughts/blog link in the comments below! And check back in a week for my thoughts on Chapters 10-17 :)