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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Barron's Booknotes
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There are, in a sense, two Catherines: the one who roams
wildly over the moors with Heathcliff, who races him barefoot
when she loses her shoes in a bog; and the one who returns
from Thrushcross Grange a lady, afraid that the dogs, and
Heathcliff too, might soil her grand new dress. There is
Heathcliff's Catherine, and there is Edgar's Catherine. They are
not mutually exclusive, of course; even the wild Catherine is
educated (unlike the young Heathcliff), and even the dressed-
up Catherine is saucy and indulgent (unlike Edgar Linton).

You can see Catherine as either untrue to her own untamed
nature, through pride or ignorance, or genuinely torn between
two ways of being.

She herself admits that Heathcliff is "more herself" than she is,
and that Edgar is as different from her "as a moonbeam from
lightning or frost from fire." Catherine's acceptance of Edgar's
proposal, then, is a betrayal of Heathcliff and of herself. Why
does she do it? Ellen says she's proud, and perhaps Cathy does
want to be a great lady. Or perhaps Cathy's true desire is to free
Heathcliff from Hindley's clutches. If so, her plan is foolish;
neither Heathcliff nor Edgar would have gone along with it.

On the other hand, there is much evidence that Cathy is truly in
conflict. She tells Ellen that Heathcliff's return has reconciled
her to God and humanity; yet she describes him to Isabella as a
"pitiless, wolfish man." When she tells Ellen of Edgar's
proposal, she wonders whether Heathcliff even knows what
being in love is, and despite the unconscious cruelty of the
question, you wonder, too. His love seems so much larger, so
much wilder, than human love.

If Cathy married Edgar for reasons other than love-ambition,
or a desire to help Heathcliff-why doesn't she declare her love
for Heathcliff on her deathbed? In that scene her passion is
obvious, but it's as complicated as ever.

In a more conventional novel Catherine would be the heroine.
Though her death comes before the midpoint of the story, her
capacity for love is so great that her spirit-if not her actual
ghost-haunts the rest of the novel.


Readers who defend Heathcliff usually point to his
mistreatment at Hindley's hands. You might think then that
Hindley is the villain. However, nothing in this novel is that
simple. Hindley is evil, cruel, dissolute; you can't deny or
excuse his cruelty. But Hindley is also a victim-deprived of his
father's love by the usurper Heathcliff, deprived of his beloved
wife when she dies, and, finally deprived of Wuthering Heights
itself by his enemy Heathcliff.

There is no doubt that Hindley is weak-willed. He is no match
for Heathcliff, when quarreling over a horse as a boy or when
gambling into the night as a man. He does not have the
strengths usually associated with the other members of the
Wuthering Heights household.


You first see Edgar through Heathcliff's eyes, as he peeks
through the window at Thrushcross Grange. Edgar is weeping
after a fight with Isabella over a little dog neither has any real
interest in. Ellen also initially describes him as a coward and a

It's Cathy who responds to him from the beginning because
he's pleasant, polite, refined, and educated (all Thrushcross
Grange qualities). Later, after going to work for him, Ellen has
nothing but praise for his kindness.

Edgar obviously loves Cathy, even though he doesn't always
understand her, and their married life seems pleasant until
Heathcliff returns. Edgar is also a good father-just compare
him in this role to Hindley or Heathcliff.

And he is not quite the coward of Ellen's original description.
When he orders Heathcliff out of his house, and Heathcliff
responds angrily, Edgar strikes the bigger, stronger man.

Edgar, then, is the "angel" opposed to the "devil" Heathcliff.
That, at least, is one way to see him. But have you ever known
anyone who was too good? Such a person might be wonderful
to be with-always charming and interesting, with good looks
and money. Still, he or she may lack the ability to understand
one's own struggles and fears.

Edgar at times does seem to lack this crucial understanding.
Heathcliff speaks scornfully of leaving an ill Cathy to Edgar's
"duty" and "humanity." You get the impression that Edgar isn't
capable of the tumultuous passion that grips his rival.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Barron's Booknotes

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