I apologize for not posting this much earlier in the week. The past five days have been rather taxing on me, both mentally and emotionally, and I have been trying to keep up with all of my responsibilities as best as I can. Heureusement (as the French say), the only thing I didn’t manage to complete this week was my Wuthering Heights post, but here it is now!
[Spoilers for the first half of Wuthering Heights]
I was really immersed in this week’s chapters for some reason, and I even stayed up rather late on Saturday reading through the end of Chapter 17. For those of you who are reading along with me, or if you are very familiar with Wuthering Heights, you may be asking, “What did you find so enjoyable about all of that?” And I will borrow the words of Cleo at Classical Carousel and say that the drama in this novel is very much like a car wreck you cannot look away from.
Nelly Dean’s story continues with Heathcliff’s return. She discloses that she does not know how he spent those three years away, nor how he made his wealth, but one thing is for sure: Heathcliff and Catherine are still infatuated with each other, and they seem to take some type of sadistic pleasure in how their outwardly affections distress Catherine’s husband, Edgar.
Heathcliff, who seems to have become a gentleman in his absence, begins spending a good amount of time with Catherine and her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. Isabella–poor, naive Isabella. Don’t we all just pity her? Blindly, she “falls in love” with Heathcliff, and is then harshly teased about it by Catherine and even Heathcliff himself (but does this change Isabella’s heart? Nope. She runs off and marries Heathcliff later on…). That teasing scene is probably my least favorite involving Catherine Linton. The only thing more cruelly selfish than exposing Isabella like that is when she maliciously decides to break her own heart in order to break Edgar and Heathcliff’s hearts. Honestly, what does Edgar see in her? Heathcliff’s obsession with her is more understandable, but why, Edgar? Why? This comic from Hark! A Vagrant sums it up perfectly:
And Heathcliff is just as violent as Catherine, although he has the “tortured Byronic hero” thing going for him (but I have yet to discover any redeeming qualities about him–are there any?). It is clear during this entire section of the novel that Heathcliff has developed a consuming desire for revenge. All of his actions are governed by the same thought: “How can this hurt those who have hurt me?” And he doesn’t just want to hurt his former oppressors once; no, he wants to control everything about them, basically putting them in the place that adolescent Heathcliff was forced in by Hindley. This is why he marries Isabella, so he can become Edgar’s heir, and it’s clearly why he wants guardianship of Hareton. He says so himself at the end of Chapter 17, when Nelly comes to collect Hareton back to Thrushcross Grange:
“Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!” (172)
Nelly, who views Heathcliff as a nightmare, described his presence perfectly back in Chapter 10:
“His visits were a continual nightmare to me; and, I suspected, to my master also. His abode at the Heights was an oppression past explaining. I felt that God had forsaken the stray sheep there to its own wicked wanderings, and an evil beast prowled between it and the fold, waiting his time to spring and destroy” (98)
‘Evil Beast’ and ‘Heathcliff’ are names I should use interchangeably from now on.
So, by the end of Chapter 17 Heathcliff has returned for a year, and in that time he ran off and eloped with Isabella, whom he then tormented until she finally flees, he fights with Edgar, which causes Catherine to became ill and later die during childbirth, and if that’s not enough, it also appears that Heathcliff is responsible for Hindley finally drinking himself to death sooner rather than later.
But this section isn’t all bad. Heathcliff speaks some of those heart-wrenching romantic lines I enjoy for some reason, like when he discloses to Nelly that he would never have harmed Edgar or “touched a single hair of his head” (136) because it would cause Catherine to suffer. Although Heathcliff would have killed Edgar the moment Catherine stopped caring for him, the fact is that Edgar physically assaulted Heathcliff, and not the other way around. Maybe this is supposed to convince us that Heathcliff genuinely and selflessly loves Catherine? I’m not going to agree with that until I finish this novel–nothing is for certain at this point except that Heathcliff is still seeking revenge!
What do you think of Heathcliff’s revenge thus far? Do you sympathize with him or do you want to chuck your book at his head? And whose story is the saddest so far: Hindley’s, Isabella’s, Edgar’s, or Catherine & Heathcliff’s?
[Also, if your edition does not include a translation for Joseph’s speeches (which I’ve stopped trying to decipher on my own), this is a great site to refer to: http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/josephs-speech.php It also has a lot of other interesting resources to check out.]