For previous discussion of Heathcliff, and background on Wuthering Heights, click HERE and HERE.
I must confess that I did not at all expect to return to Heathcliff (at least so soon)! But Emily’s character is indelible, I fear. I must have read Wuthering Heights in October and here I am, still wrapped up in processing and thinking about it. It puts most other books to shame by contrast.
So, last time we looked at Heathcliff we were taking him on his literal terms. We were taking the story on its literal terms as well—Heathcliff was Heathcliff, Cathy was Cathy, every character a separate entity and complete human being living in an ordinary (if Gothic and amazing) world.
Back when I was reading Wuthering Heights, I was also indulging in some Jung. In the chapters on the Anima and Animus (every man’s inner feminine, and every woman’s inner masculine), there was a stormy black-and-white picture of Heathcliff and the moors from some older adaptation, with a caption below stating that some people think that Heathcliff, so shocking to so many readers, was in fact a representation of Emily Brontë’s Animus subconsciously coming forth.
When I first read that it sounded ridiculous to me. Mind you, I was still mid-read of Wuthering Heights, taking everything at face-value, taking everything in, reacting to the first impressions of the characters. My sympathy for Heathcliff has taken awhile to develop; when I read the book I empathized with Isabella and the spaniel Heathcliff tried to hang; he became gradually unforgivable to me and I boxed him out of any sympathies just as one would to an abuser/antagonist in real life.
But, as you all know, I have gradually come to feel much more understanding for Heathcliff; although many of his actions remain equally unforgivable, I have gone from viewing his character as a separate entity, to someone I deeply identify with and learn from.
Many are quite troubled by Cathy’s conflicting feelings for Edgar and Heathcliff. It can be hard to understand how Cathy could be so shallow—anyone who at all believes in true love is horrified by her throwing a way a love for Heathcliff so deep just so she could have the flashy Edgar and be the finest woman in the neighborhood.
Here is Cathy’s famous speech, as she tries to decide whether to go through with Edgar’s proposal (which she has already accepted):
“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. 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. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable;” (Cathy speaking to Nelly, from chapter 9 of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë).
While Cathy’s comparisons of her love for Heathcliff and that for Edgar are often construed as describing two types of romantic love (I have read of it before being defined as Transcendental versus Empirical love), I can’t help but wonder if Emily Brontë is making a broader statement entirely.
What if Heathcliff is not really a man at all? Now I’m not saying he’s a woman, what I’m saying is this: in general, men tend not to like Wuthering Heights. I know there are lots of men out there who appreciate the book, but in general I (and others) have noticed that men are more likely to dislike the book, and women are more likely to have an affinity to it. Now one could boil this down to the simple fact that many women-fans are in love with Heathcliff. But really? Are we going to leave it at that?