Love in Wuthering Heights and Relevance in Victorian Literature.
Wuthering Heights is a classic novel that can be termed as both realistic and gothic. It is also not unusual or irrelevant to term it as a romantic novel. The characters and setting created by Emily Bronte are a clear depiction of what took place in the ordinary lives of the people during the Victorian era. Wuthering Heights, as one of the books during this era, helps in bringing out elements covered by the Victorian literature. Themes like social status, the woman question, progress in terms of education status and wealth, religion, and nostalgia about the past were unique to this literature. Love in wuthering heights is influenced by some of these elements, as shown by its characters. This paper focuses on how social status, religion, and progress influences love in Wuthering Heights.
Catherine Earnshaw’s character shows how social status affects love. She has a profound affection for her adopted brother Heathcliff who was found in Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw. Despite growing up together in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff still speaks in a vulgar manner, which is associated with lower-class people. His social status is further depreciated when Hindley, Catherine’s brother, takes over Wuthering Heights after their father’s death and reduces him to a servant. When Catherine returns home to Wuthering Heights after staying at the Linton’s, a wealthy family living in Thrushcross Grange, she has improved manners. She has become more etiquette and has formed a friendship with Edgar Linton, a boy from a higher social class. Catherine, though aware of her love for Heathcliff, decides to marry Edgar because he is of a higher social status. She confesses to Nelly, “I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it” (Bronte 21).
Marriage during the Victorian era was hardly based on love but class. Therefore, companionship was arguably the only thing that mattered when it came to choosing a marriage partner, Catherine Earnshaw knows this, and that is why she chooses Edgar for marriage. When Nelly asks her why she is going to marry Edgar, she can hardly explain why she loves him, but she is assured their companionship is a great reason why they should be together. Catherine compares what she feels for him to what she feels for Heathcliff. She goes on to say, “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” (Bronte 21). The same can be said for the love between Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff. Their love was based on them knowing each other. One can say it is forced since Heathcliff wants Catherine Linton for his son Linton Heathcliff. They have entirely different views on the same matters, “I said his heaven would be only half alive, and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his, and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow very snappish” (Bronte 26).
Love takes the form of religion in Wuthering Heights, which acts as a shield to those who fear death and loss of identity and consciousness, in this case, both Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. This is evident in the speeches given by both characters, whereby they both believe and feel they are one, and none cannot live without the other. On her deathbed, Heathcliff says, “I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul” (Bronte 24). Their love attempts to break the boundaries of both love and death. They both hope to be with each other even after death, just as Christians believe in life after death.
Love in the Victorian period was encircled by the need for progress in literacy levels. This is depicted in wuthering heights by Catherine Linton Heathcliff and her need to educate or help educate Hareton Earnshaw. Hareton’s father, Hindley Earnshaw, does the minimum to cater to his needs after his mother’s death. This leaves Hareton in the hands of Nelly, who is from a lower social status. He never has the chance to learn. Cathy’s and Hareton’s love is the least selfish compared to the love between all characters. It lacks the destructiveness witnessed in Catherine and Heathcliff’s love, “the savage and passion-hate love they share” (Goodlett 316).
Emily Bronte clarifies how to love in the Victorian era was influenced by what people thought was right other than feelings of affection towards a person. During the Victorian period, it is clear that social status, religion, and progress had a large part to play in matters of love and marriage.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering heights. Smith, Elder, 1870.
Goodlett, Debra. “Love and addiction in Wuthering Heights.” The Midwest Quarterly 37.3 (1996): 316.
Phillips, James. “The Two Faces of Love, in Wuthering Heights.” Bronte Studies 32.2 (2007): 96-105