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November 15th, 2008

12:44 PM

Wuthering Heights


To steel myself for the upcoming viewing of Twilight (it's mostly because I'm going with a daughter who loves the books - go figure - and because I have a morbid curiosity about how the movie will turn out), I have been re-reading Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, the book that Stephenie Meyer claimed to have inspired Bella and Edward. Please, Bella and Edward could only dream that they are as gloriously insane and self-destructive as Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. I have an insane love affair with that book that defies reason ever since I first read that book in my teenage years. I'd probably say that it was that book that had me realizing that boys weren't icky as much as they could be fascinating.

Unlike the wimp Edward, Heathcliff is genuinely evil and insane. I don't know how the author did it, but as depraved as Heathcliff was in this story, I would still go, "Ooh, love has driven him insane and evil because he couldn't have his other half of his soul. That's so sweet!" I still say that this book works because, unlike some other later authors who attempt to recreate Heathcliff in their books, this author doesn't sugarcoat Heathcliff's depravity. As a result, Heathcliff is a Byronic hero whose appeal transcends labels like good or evil. A beautiful dark package of reprehensible depravity, tragic pathos, and emo-gone-overboard, Heathcliff is still one of the ultimate bad boy heroes in my opinion. Here are two of my favorite scenes from the book.

This one is a confrontation between Heathcliff and a very ill Cathy. The "I" in this story is Nelly, the housekeeper that witnessed all that drama between those two and served as the narrator in this story.

‘Oh, Cathy!  Oh, my life! how can I bear it?’ was the first sentence he uttered, in a tone that did not seek to disguise his despair.  And now he stared at her so earnestly that I thought the very intensity of his gaze would bring tears into his eyes; but they burned with anguish: they did not melt.

‘What now?’ said Catherine, leaning back, and returning his look with a suddenly clouded brow: her humour was a mere vane for constantly varying caprices.  ‘You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff!  And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied!  I shall not pity you, not I.  You have killed me—and thriven on it, I think.  How strong you are!  How many years do you mean to live after I am gone?’

Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to embrace her; he attempted to rise, but she seized his hair, and kept him down.

‘I wish I could hold you,’ she continued, bitterly, ‘till we were both dead!  I shouldn’t care what you suffered.  I care nothing for your sufferings.  Why shouldn’t you suffer?  I do!  Will you forget me?  Will you be happy when I am in the earth?  Will you say twenty years hence, “That’s the grave of Catherine Earnshaw?  I loved her long ago, and was wretched to lose her; but it is past.  I’ve loved many others since: my children are dearer to me than she was; and, at death, I shall not rejoice that I are going to her: I shall be sorry that I must leave them!”  Will you say so, Heathcliff?’

‘Don’t torture me till I’m as mad as yourself,’ cried he, wrenching his head free, and grinding his teeth.

The two, to a cool spectator, made a strange and fearful picture.  Well might Catherine deem that heaven would be a land of exile to her, unless with her mortal body she cast away her moral character also.  Her present countenance had a wild vindictiveness in its white cheek, and a bloodless lip and scintillating eye; and she retained in her closed fingers a portion of the locks she had been grasping.  As to her companion, while raising himself with one hand, he had taken her arm with the other; and so inadequate was his stock of gentleness to the requirements of her condition, that on his letting go I saw four distinct impressions left blue in the colourless skin.

‘Are you possessed with a devil,’ he pursued, savagely, ‘to talk in that manner to me when you are dying?  Do you reflect that all those words will be branded in my memory, and eating deeper eternally after you have left me?  You know you lie to say I have killed you: and, Catherine, you know that I could as soon forget you as my existence!  Is it not sufficient for your infernal selfishness, that while you are at peace I shall writhe in the torments of hell?’

‘I shall not be at peace,’ moaned Catherine, recalled to a sense of physical weakness by the violent, unequal throbbing of her heart, which beat visibly and audibly under this excess of agitation.  She said nothing further till the paroxysm was over; then she continued, more kindly—

‘I’m not wishing you greater torment than I have, Heathcliff.  I only wish us never to be parted: and should a word of mine distress you hereafter, think I feel the same distress underground, and for my own sake, forgive me!  Come here and kneel down again!  You never harmed me in your life.  Nay, if you nurse anger, that will be worse to remember than my harsh words!  Won’t you come here again?  Do!’

Heathcliff went to the back of her chair, and leant over, but not so far as to let her see his face, which was livid with emotion.  She bent round to look at him; he would not permit it: turning abruptly, he walked to the fireplace, where he stood, silent, with his back towards us.  Mrs. Linton’s glance followed him suspiciously: every movement woke a new sentiment in her.  After a pause and a prolonged gaze, she resumed; addressing me in accents of indignant disappointment:—

‘Oh, you see, Nelly, he would not relent a moment to keep me out of the grave.  That is how I’m loved!  Well, never mind.  That is not my Heathcliff.  I shall love mine yet; and take him with me: he’s in my soul.  And,’ added she musingly, ‘the thing that irks me most is this shattered prison, after all.  I’m tired of being enclosed here.  I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart: but really with it, and in it.  Nelly, you think you are better and more fortunate than I; in full health and strength: you are sorry for me—very soon that will be altered.  I shall be sorry for you.  I shall be incomparably beyond and above you all.  I wonder he won’t be near me!’  She went on to herself.  ‘I thought he wished it.  Heathcliff, dear! you should not be sullen now.  Do come to me, Heathcliff.’

In her eagerness she rose and supported herself on the arm of the chair.  At that earnest appeal he turned to her, looking absolutely desperate.  His eyes, wide and wet, at last flashed fiercely on her; his breast heaved convulsively.  An instant they held asunder, and then how they met I hardly saw, but Catherine made a spring, and he caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive: in fact, to my eyes, she seemed directly insensible.  He flung himself into the nearest seat, and on my approaching hurriedly to ascertain if she had fainted, he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy.  I did not feel as if I were in the company of a creature of my own species: it appeared that he would not understand, though I spoke to him; so I stood off, and held my tongue, in great perplexity.

A movement of Catherine’s relieved me a little presently: she put up her hand to clasp his neck, and bring her cheek to his as he held her; while he, in return, covering her with frantic caresses, said wildly—

‘You teach me now how cruel you’ve been—cruel and false.  Why did you despise me?  Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy?  I have not one word of comfort.  You deserve this.  You have killed yourself.  Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you—they’ll damn you.  You loved me—then what right had you to leave me?  What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton?  Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it.  I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.  So much the worse for me that I am strong.  Do I want to live?  What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?’

‘Let me alone.  Let me alone,’ sobbed Catherine.  ‘If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it.  It is enough!  You left me too: but I won’t upbraid you!  I forgive you.  Forgive me!’

‘It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,’ he answered.  ‘Kiss me again; and don’t let me see your eyes!  I forgive what you have done to me.  I love my murderer—but yours!  How can I?’

They were silent-their faces hid against each other, and washed by each other’s tears.  At least, I suppose the weeping was on both sides; as it seemed Heathcliff could weep on a great occasion like this.

And this is the scene where Nelly tells Heathcliff of Catherine's passing:

The servants thought me gone to shake off the drowsiness of my protracted watch; in reality, my chief motive was seeing Mr. Heathcliff.  If he had remained among the larches all night, he would have heard nothing of the stir at the Grange; unless, perhaps, he might catch the gallop of the messenger going to Gimmerton.  If he had come nearer, he would probably be aware, from the lights flitting to and fro, and the opening and shutting of the outer doors, that all was not right within.  I wished, yet feared, to find him.  I felt the terrible news must be told, and I longed to get it over; but how to do it I did not know.  He was there—at least, a few yards further in the park; leant against an old ash-tree, his hat off, and his hair soaked with the dew that had gathered on the budded branches, and fell pattering round him.  He had been standing a long time in that position, for I saw a pair of ousels passing and repassing scarcely three feet from him, busy in building their nest, and regarding his proximity no more than that of a piece of timber.  They flew off at my approach, and he raised his eyes and spoke:—‘She’s dead!’ he said; ‘I’ve not waited for you to learn that.  Put your handkerchief away—don’t snivel before me.  Damn you all! she wants none of your tears!’

I was weeping as much for him as her: we do sometimes pity creatures that have none of the feeling either for themselves or others.  When I first looked into his face, I perceived that he had got intelligence of the catastrophe; and a foolish notion struck me that his heart was quelled and he prayed, because his lips moved and his gaze was bent on the ground.

‘Yes, she’s dead!’ I answered, checking my sobs and drying my cheeks.  ‘Gone to heaven, I hope; where we may, every one, join her, if we take due warning and leave our evil ways to follow good!’

‘Did she take due warning, then?’ asked Heathcliff, attempting a sneer.  ‘Did she die like a saint?  Come, give me a true history of the event.  How did—?’

He endeavoured to pronounce the name, but could not manage it; and compressing his mouth he held a silent combat with his inward agony, defying, meanwhile, my sympathy with an unflinching, ferocious stare.  ‘How did she die?’ he resumed, at last—fain, notwithstanding his hardihood, to have a support behind him; for, after the struggle, he trembled, in spite of himself, to his very finger-ends.

‘Poor wretch!’ I thought; ‘you have a heart and nerves the same as your brother men!  Why should you be anxious to conceal them?  Your pride cannot blind God!  You tempt him to wring them, till he forces a cry of humiliation.’

‘Quietly as a lamb!’ I answered, aloud.  ‘She drew a sigh, and stretched herself, like a child reviving, and sinking again to sleep; and five minutes after I felt one little pulse at her heart, and nothing more!’

‘And—did she ever mention me?’ he asked, hesitating, as if he dreaded the answer to his question would introduce details that he could not bear to hear.

‘Her senses never returned: she recognised nobody from the time you left her,’ I said.  ‘She lies with a sweet smile on her face; and her latest ideas wandered back to pleasant early days.  Her life closed in a gentle dream—may she wake as kindly in the other world!’

‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion.  ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end!  Where is she?  Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where?  Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings!  And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—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!’

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears.  I observed several splashes of blood about the bark of the tree, and his hand and forehead were both stained; probably the scene I witnessed was a repetition of others acted during the night.  It hardly moved my compassion—it appalled me: still, I felt reluctant to quit him so.  But the moment he recollected himself enough to notice me watching, he thundered a command for me to go, and I obeyed.  He was beyond my skill to quiet or console!

It's all so melodramatic, over the top, and, to me, just too beautiful.

You can get a free electronic version of this book here. Let me warn you: this one isn't a romance novel despite all the dramatic emotions it contain, it was published first in 1847, and some of the main characters speak in a very thick West Yorkshire dialect that has since fallen out of use except in a few places in that area.

5 comment(s).

Posted by Gennita Low Jenn:

Twilight is inspired by Wuthering Heights? Oh, pul-lease. Where is the angst? Was Heathcliffe ever glittery? I've read Wuthering Heights 1001 times, and Twilight is no Wuthering Heights.

Hey, Mrs. Giggles, have you seen the Twilight trailer spoof?


Yeah, now you can go see the movie.;)
November 16th, 2008 @ 2:44 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

I love that spoof. It will make the movie more palatable.
November 16th, 2008 @ 3:03 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

I love this exchange in the comments:

EllenRussell54 (9 minutes ago)
Moi aussi. These books are terrible. The characters are all underdeveloped. Bella is a Mary sue-i don't care whether she lives or dies...Edward is a stalker...
The best character in this series is Alice, and we don't see enough of her in the first book.
Oh, and i just love how the plot comes in the last quarter of the book. (sarcasm)

BellaSandEdwardC (5 minutes ago)
EllenRussell54, you can go say what you said and shove it up your ass, okay! Twilight is love between Mortal and Immortals, and he is only stalking her (not exactly) because bella is his true love. He has been waiting for 100 years for her to come along. So dont go critisizing others work because your pissed off that it wasnt how you fucking imagined.
November 16th, 2008 @ 3:09 PM

Posted by Gennita Low Jenn:

Oh yes, I love Youtube comments between fangurls and "others," especially when they start segueing into international politics over a video about shoemaking. It makes me realize that fangurls are the same all the world over, heh.
November 17th, 2008 @ 2:57 PM

Posted by Hayley:

The series wasn't INSPIRED by it. What Stephenie Meyer did was she kind of based each book on a classic novel depending on the situation Bella and Edward were in. In eclipse which is where Wuthering Heights is portrayed it is showing the love triangle of sorts between Edward, Bella and Jacob like the similar love triangle in Wuthering Heights. She doesn't mean that their relationship is the same. Jeez get your facts straight.
April 7th, 2009 @ 8:06 AM