Category Archives: Wuthering Heights

Social and cultural capital in Wuthering Heights

It didn’t escape my notice that Emily Bronte saw the value in social and cultural capital. And here is a spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what happens to Hareton and little Cathy, don’t read any further.

“His honest, warm and intelligent nature shook off rapidly the clouds of ignorance and degradation in which it had been bred..His brightening mind brightened his features, and added spirit and nobility to their aspect (286).”

Heathcliff was well aware that economic poverty was not enough to hobble poor Hareton. It seems that in the last fifty years or so free-market economics has allowed many members of our society to become similarly hobbled, as success and liberty are measured in dollars alone. It’s an area of educational neglect. It’s interesting that Cathy, a woman, was Hareton’s ‘knight in shining armour’, liberating him from ignorance and social isolation. And several times in the novel, books and the escapism literacy can provide, were given powerful significance, with the to-and-fro of volumes smuggled to Linton, stolen by Hareton, and confiscated from Cathy. In the end, Hareton’s happiness and confidence came not from the re-acquisition of property, but from education. Perhaps it took a female writer to acknowledge the power of what men may have taken for granted? Here’s hoping that social and cultural entrepreneurship come back into vogue.

Image: Unhappy (Bordieuan) Hipsters. I think of this image as a modern-day Cathy teaching Hareton. The book of the blog can be purchased here. Buy it for an ironic – mais oui – take on cultural capital and where it has led us in an imperfect world!

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Heathcliff as ‘other’

I didn’t want to have to go all Lacanian on your asses, but it recently occurred to me that the attraction to the ‘other’ might be a biological necessity. Has anyone else noticed that the working class seem to be the voices of reason in Wuthering Heights, and that the well-bred, as it were, seem to be pictures of irrationality, pallidity and illness, both physical and mental?

Ellen Dean tells that her mother lived well into her eighties, which in modern-person years is around 150 years old! And at 45, Ellen is in rude health, indulging little Cathy in running races. She claims to have been sick for three weeks in her life. Linton cuts a pathetic, insipid figure. Cathy senior is plagued by what we now might diagnose as encephalitis, with its pursuant brain damage. One has to wonder whether a bit of fresh genetic material introduced into the bloodline (from a gypsy orphan from Liverpool perhaps?) might improve the Linton/Earnshaw lot.

All this rumination, and in consideration of Cathy and Isabella’s intense attraction to Heathcliff, an obvious ‘other’, got me thinking that maybe ‘other’ness serves a kind of Darwinian purpose. I am going to investigate. Here is my first ever-so-slightly facetious lead.

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A Love Measured in Black and Blue

Is anyone else seeing a pattern here? Isolated authoress writes tale of violently consuming love, inspiring future isolated authoress to write tale of violently consuming love. Repeat. It would seem that limited experience of love and passion leaves much room for the imagination. Is domestic violence defined so in the intent? Bronte writes of Catherine and Heathcliff’s final bodily encounter:

“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” (140).

Bronte’s antipodean successor and fan, Miles Franklin, writes:

“For answer, he took a firmer hold, in one hand seizing my arm above the elbow, and gripping my sholder with the other so tightly that, through my flimsy covering, his strong fingers bruised me so severely that in a calmer moment I would have squirmed and cried out with pain” (Franklin 2004, 159-160.)

Franklin’s account develops Bronte’s motif with far less inhibition, relating:

“on disrobing for the night, I discovered on my soft white shoulders and arms – so susceptible to bruises – many marks, and black. It had been a very happy day for me” (Franklin, 2004, 166).

Ever-enlightening, our Facebook group – thanks Row! – has drawn cynical (but no less accurate) links between late adolescent violent-stalker notions of sexiness and the Twilight franchise, with Meyer capitalising on this long tradition. However the cynic in me feels that isolation and spinsterhood make the violent fantasies so much more desired and intense for their lack of experience by the creator. Reality rarely lives up to fantasy. Stephenie Meyer, a SAHM capitalising on adolescent inexperience (with vampiric clichés thrown in to double-trend), seems kind of disingenuous by comparison, with none of the fetishism of the lonely.

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Franklin, Miles. 2004. My Brilliant Career & My Career goes Bung. Sydney: Harper Perrenial.

T’Grand ‘Sizes

“‘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.

The Mither Beneath the Mools

This strange sounding line translates to “mother beneath the earth” meaning dead and buried. It’s just one of many ghostly torments in Wuthering Heights. Ellen, nurse and maid, sings it without irony to her charge, to calm him after an horrific scene, with a drunken and bereaved widower Hindley. The passage sees baby Hareton dangled over a bannister, conjuring warped Michael Jackson-esque visuals in the reader. (Don’t let me get started on the Joe Jackson connection here!) The treatment of baby Hareton compares with Medea’s treatment of her children. Hindley clearly relishes the pain he is causing those around him, and puts his child at risk of death. The baby is dropped, but is rescued dramatically by Heathcliff in mid-fall. Ellen, ever precise in her estimations of her employers, cries:

“I wonder his mother does not rise from her grave to see how you use him. You’re worse than a heathen, treating your own flesh and blood in this manner!” (66). (Italics mine).

Does Euripides similarly suggest that Medea is a heathen? After all, the Gods cast no judgement on her acts, even helping her to escape punishment. In this way, is she also Godless? Or are Gods and their progeny beyond reprove?

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Euripides. 2008. Medea and other plays. Translated by James Morwood. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Continue Minutely

I can’t help thinking of novels as being a little like films. Each event, character and device has what, in film, we would call a ‘motivation’. I wanted to write briefly on the depth of information in Wuthering Heights, and the treatment of time. Generically speaking, the novelist withholds information in the first section of the story, narrated by Lockwood. His character, a newcomer, allows Bronte to narrate from a position of innocence and suspense. We have the information Lockwood has – very little. He narrates in the present. The following section introduces Ellen, the Earnshaws’ ex-maid. After a short section of her in-depth narration, Bronte allows readers to pause and reflect on Ellen’s privileged position in the family. Ellen has been able to see most all of the family’s relationships in detail. Her position allows her to play confidante and her role allows her access-all-areas. So you can see Ellen has a huge motivation for appearing in the novel. How else could all of the detail be related convincingly? Bronte has given us a not altogether unbiased narrator and narratee to bridge past and narrative-present.

The depth of information is explained charmingly by Lockwood. He clearly relishes the pace and detail of country life:

“One state resembles setting a hungry man down to a single dish on which he may concentrate his entire appetite, and do it justice – the other, introducing him to a table laid out by French cooks; he can perhaps extract as much enjoyment from the whole, but each part is a mere tom in his regard and remembrance” (55).

Ellen, also clearly enjoying relating the tale faithfully, responds:

“if I am to go on in true gossip’s fashion, I had better go on; and instead of leaping three years, I will be content to pass to the next summer” (55).

Here Bronte has drawn a line in the generic sand. From a suspenseful beginning, now we as readers are indulged with the depth of detail required to create character portraits.

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lyrics and Lit

There has been a bit of Facebook study group discussion on the nuttiness of Kate Bush. It got me wondering if there had been any other novels turned into wacky pop songs. I will share the first lines of the lyrics to Wuthering Heights here:

Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green
You had a temper, like my jealousy
Too hot, too greedy
How could you leave me?
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you, I loved you too.

It’s such an iconic song (can a song actually be an icon? I am not sure if I have over-colloqualised that word.) Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden have slightly ‘mondegreen’ed the first line, but here it is on The Trip, surely affirming the song’s iconic status.

While I can’t think of a single other novel which has been canonised in pop, I did recall a book belonging to my kids called One More Sheep. Definitely a cute Po-Mo take on Bronte with:

“Out on the moor
the wind whistled and wuthered,
while the sheep safe indoors
snuggled under the covers,
drifting through dreams
until a loud…
rat-a-tat
woke them all up.

“Who’s there?”
“What was that?”

Don’t worry, a waif doesn’t lay her icy hands on the sheep. It was just a wolf. Kids find wolves more terrifying somehow than waifs.

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kelly, Mij and Russell Ayto. 2005. One More Sheep. London: Hodder Children’s Books.