“‘Nelly,’ he said, ‘we’s hae a Cranhr’s quest enah, at ahr folks.” (91).
Yes, I know. I’m annoyed by obscure phonetic accents in novels as well. Joseph’s religious rants, I thought, were placed throughout the pages of Wuthering Heights, simply to annoy me and to create tension between the characters of the novel. But after having watched the Merle Oberon and Sir Larry version of the film, I noted the character of Joseph to be curiously purposeless, playing the part of mere servant, unlike in the novel. Joseph’s constant lectures and hypocritically uncharitable nature appear too often in Bronte’s novel for his character to have no narrative purpose. Then it occurred to me that Joseph feels he is, and enacts the role, of God’s moral representative on earth. He represents the Old Testament style justice that drives Isabella to seek the same very personal, bespoke revenge on Heathcliff, as Heathcliff has sought on his perceived enemies. She sums up the uniqueness of this kind of revenge in her conversation with Ellen Dean:
Ellen: If God afflict your enemies, surely that out to suffice you”…
Isabella: I’d rather he suffered less, if I might cause his sufferings, and he might know that I was the cause” (159).
As in Medea, the Gods are powerless and the innocent are punished. Edgar and his family suffer throughout most of their short lives at the hands of Heathcliff, and the children suffer from his maliciousness even more, mostly unaware of the roles they are playing in hurting those who love them. I had seen the film many years ago, but my contemporary viewing, alongside the reading of the text, makes me feel that the adaptation was far too kind to most of the characters. But film is very much like that. Revenge has formed the basis of so many film plots, even whole film genres. Heathcliff is so awful, so why do we read on? Does something in us want to understand or justify revenge? Are the characters acting out what we wish we had the love-apples to do?
Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Euripides. 2008. Medea and other plays. Translated by James Morwood. Oxford University Press: Oxford.