Recently,I picked up Wuthering Heights once again-these classics have such a powerful and eloquent language that dipping into one of them time and again is nothing new.But Wuthering Heights is different in one aspect-every read reveals a new shade of the characters -especially Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Perhaps I should call them ‘changelings’ to adopt Bronte’s expression.I have always wondered at the great heights to which Heathcliff took his mission of avenging his lost love on both the Lintons and Earnshaws with not an iota of pity and evident indifference even for the only person connected to him by blood-Linton Heathcliff. That was enough to convince me that Heathcliff presented the epitome of villainy despite the introduction written by some English professor referring to Heathcliff as “anti-hero”.
It was the most depressing read at that time when all the previous reads have been happily ever after(even Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre despite the romance between Rochester and Jane not being in the style of a regular one). I skipped some chapters to fast-forward the read in the hope of getting some glimpse of redemption,if any ,for both the families from the diabolical schemes of the villain.With turning over each page,it only seemed that things were moving towards something dreadful of an epic proportion and that’s why I had to fast forward my read with this book.
The next read (after a year or so),allowed for a proper reading which turn the spotlight full on the eloquent and most importantly, the powerful language which brought out the raw emotions of the lead characters-Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. This time, I felt some pity for Heathcliff when he says “….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.[….]”
I could understand that being loved in his own way by somebody (for probably the first time in his life), he was always striving to be worthy of that love. On losing his only love, he became someone whose only life mission was to dish out revenge to people whom he perceived to be the reason for his love betraying him. I have always tried to find a convincing explanation for Heathcliff to run amok in view of his life mission of revenge on Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton as he did not stop with only both of them-he carried it too far with his schemes on both Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton.
Understandably Hindley becomes the arch rival as his depriving Heathcliff of his education and degrading him in the eyes of Catherine who eventually turned to Edgar Linton despite her misgivings about marrying him as she herself puts it beautifully thus-“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changing the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath-a source of little visible delight, but necessary…”.When he returns to Wuthering Heights to primarily avenge Hindley Earnshaw, Isabella’s Linton’s attraction towards him presents him with a golden opportunity to avenge Edgar also and he aces it with diabolical cunning. On Hindley quitting the hell of his own making (within a few months of his sister quitting hers and again entirely her own making), Hareton has to bear the atrocious conduct of the sins of the father visited upon the son (and very pathetically without knowing about it).But, Edgar severing all ties with Isabella upon her marriage to Heathcliff and Isabella eventually running away from the Heights and taking refuge in London, it is somewhat of a poor consolation. This time, his own son becomes the pawn in his game to obtain the custody of Hareton Earnshaw and making him a servant in his own father’s house.
On Isabella’s death and Linton Heathcliff’s subsequent arrival at Wuthering Heights, his comfortable upbringing in the dismal and disorderly house is with the sole objective of making his own son the master of Wuthering Heights with his arch rival’s son now knowing his rightful place (if he couldn’t perceive the diabolical cunning behind Heathcliff’s indulgence towards him during his growing up years).By excellent scheming again Heathcliff puts together his Linton and Catherine’s daughter in each other’s company and eventually gets them married knowing very well that his son would die and he would become the master of Edgar Linton’s estate which his son had come into possession on his marriage. Almost everything falls in place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and he becomes the master of Edgar Linton’s estate also.
Heathcliff’s love for Catherine Earnshaw was of such a kind that she lived in his thoughts and everything evoked a memory of her. He himself puts it plainly thus “….what is not connected with her to me? and what does not recall her…The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist and that I have lost her!’. When I say that Catherine loved Heathcliff in his way, it is about the numerous instances where they have echoed each other.
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 could as soon forget you as my existence”
“[…] 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 from lightning,or frost from fire.”
“[..]What kind of living will it be when you—oh God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?“
It was a cruel twist of fate for Heathcliff again when he had everybody in his power but he couldn’t strike the final blow as he saw Catherine Earnshaw instead of Hindley in Hareton now.But,the most compelling thing that made him reluctant was that he had a glimpse of his own youth which had seen his degradation and his subsequent hard life in reaffirming his place in the society -“He moves me differently-and yet if I could do it without seeming insane, I’d never see him again! You’ll perhaps think me rather inclined to become so if I try to describe the thousand forms of past associations, and ideas he awakens, or embodies” “[…]Hareton seemed a personification of my youth, not a human being. I felt to him in such a variety of ways….”.He couldn’t see something of himself in his own son or (more of) Catherine in her daughter to have treated her better. It was an irony that he should see her and also himself in Hindley Earnshaw’s son.
Hareton’s aspect was the ghost of my immortal love,of my wild endeavors to hold my right,my degradation,my pride,my happiness and my anguish___
For somebody who lives only on memories and completely in the past,if Catherine’s ghost(as he says) has haunted him “killing not by inches,but by fractions of hairbreadths,to beguile [him] with the spectre of a hope,through eighteen years“,seeing the ghost of his former self continuously in front of his eyes,was the final blow.It rendered him incapable of finishing the task that he had begun from the day he returned to Wuthering Heights a second time-to avenge his lost love,his degradation,his lost happiness and finally,the death of his only love.
As an afterthought ,Catherine,Heathcliff and Hindley were people who could not accept the changes or come to realize that moving on is the best thing for themselves and most importantly for those around them.It should be said to Catherine Linton’s credit that she was more of a Linton than Earnshaw in making peace with the present and moving on with the hope of a better future when she finally turned towards Hareton.
In the meanwhile,let’s get your views about my ideas to the question whether Heathcliff took his avenging mission to whole new heights in the comments section.