Remembering Emily Bronte & Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte painted by her brother

I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind~ Emily Brontë

July 30, 1818 was Emily Bronte's birthday. Although, I am a day late, I wanted to remember her through the one novel she ever wrote, Wuthering Heights! I wonder, if there is any girl out there who hasn't read this beautiful novel. Well, I implore you, regardless of age, read it immediately. Clear your schedule, make a pot of tea, a snack, curl up on the sofa, or get tucked up in bed and meet Cathy and Heathcliff on the moors in Yorkshire...

Setting for Wuthering Heights, The Yorkshire Moors

The Moors in Haworth where The Brontes grew up

What I loved about Wuthering Heights are its Gothic qualities, and the lack of moral comment from its author. The presence of ghosts and visions, the prevalence of storms and darkness (echoing the characters' turbulent emotions) and at the core Heathcliff's diabolical nature, combine with the melodramatic plot to create a violent nightmare into which the reader is sucked. The wild, stormy landscape, and Wuthering Heights itself, with its air of faded grandeur and atmosphere of spiritual gloom owe much to the Gothic novels of the late eighteenth century. What is exceptional for the period is the absence of condemnation by Emily of Heathcliff's conduct, or any suggestion that evil might bring its own punishment. The novel is morally ambiguous, the author leaving us to draw our own conclusions. This led to criticism by many early readers, but is an important aspect of its contemporary appeal.

When Wuthering Heights was first published, it was rejected. Publishers didn’t understand the book, or the author. They didn’t understand the complexities and messages in the story or the true strength of character its author possessed.

Emily Bronte was not a typical Victorian woman. She was very reclusive and didn’t have much interest in the outside world. She had pastimes that weren’t proper for women during those times and her views on religion were not what you would expect from a clergyman’s daughter. And, she was in possession of a wonderful imagination that wouldn’t quit.

Because of her lack of contact with the outside world, people know very little about her. What they do know is a striking picture. Emily enjoyed whistling like a man and even practiced pistol shooting with her father, an unheard of pastime for a woman in that era. She dressed oddly for that time and was nicknamed “the Mayor”.

Her love of nature is very apparent in her writing. She enjoyed walking on the moors and loved animals of all kinds. She drew pleasure from watching the seasons change. A neighbor of the Bronte’s claimed that after Emily returned one night from a walk, her face was lit “with the divine light of happiness”. She appreciated courage and showed immense courage herself.

Emily also was a very loyal and caring person. When an old family servant, Tabby, broke her leg, Emily left home to care for her until she healed. And when Emily’s terrible Aunt Elizabeth died, she brought Tabby to her own home to live with her until the end of her days. Branwell Bronte, Emily's brother, was another example of Emily’s extreme loyalty. Although Branwell died very early as a result of excessive drinking, Emily never stopped caring about him. It is widely believed that Emily waited up for him every night and carried him up to his room when he was too drunk to get there himself.

Heathcliff and Catherine
When Catherine took ill with a brain fever, Heathcliff was heartbroken. And the part of him that died when she died was the capacity to love. After Catherine was gone, he became ruthless, calculating and conquering to have revenge on Edgar and Hindley. He set out to acquire all the property of both families, by kidnapping and plotting. He became a very dark and evil person, with no real redeeming qualities, except you never really hate him. Other critics have said that the character of Heathcliff evokes pity in readers, but I never really pitied him. I more sympathized with his character, because he lost his love. It was not good that he took the path of evil and cruel temperament, but it can be understood when you understand that he lost his love when Catherine died. After she was gone, he really had nothing but his revenge to live for, and so he lived for his revenge. He threw himself into revenge and made it his life. And when he was finished with his revenge, and had acquired all of the property, his life was done. Heathcliff gave up living and welcomed death, so that he could once again be with Catherine.

Catherine’s death was a very emotional point for Heathcliff and the story. It is the time when Heathcliff loses all love he has in the physical world and inside himself. In that scene, Heathcliff displays more emotions than in the rest of the book.

“Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to embrace her; he attempted to rise, but she seized his hair, and kept him down.
‘I wish I could hold you,’ she continued bitterly, ‘till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffered. I care nothing for your sufferings. Why shouldn’t you suffer. I do! Will you forget me? Will you be happy when I am in the earth? Will you say twenty years hence, “That’s the grave of Catherine Earnshaw. I loved her long ago and was wretched to lose her; but it is past. I’ve loved many others since: my children are dearer to me than she was; and at death, I shall not rejoice that I am going to her: I shall be sorry that I must leave them!” Will you say so Heathcliff?’

‘Don’t torture me till I am as mad as yourself,’ cried he, wrenching his head free and grinding his teeth.

‘Are you possessed with a devil,’ he pursued savagely, ‘to talk in that manner to me when you are dying? Do you reflect that all those words will be branded on my memory, and eating deeper eternally after you have left me? You know you lie to say I have killed you: and, Catherine, you know that I could soon forget you as my existence! Is it not sufficient for your infernal selfishness, that while you are at peace I shall writhe in the torments of hell?’

‘I shall not be at peace,’ moaned Catherine, recalled to a sense of physical weakness by the violent, unequal throbbing of her heart, which beat visibly and audibly under this excess of agitation. She said nothing further till the paroxysm was over; then she continued more kindly -

‘I’m not wishing you greater torment than I have, Heathcliff. I only wish us never to be parted: and should a word of mine distress you hereafter, think I feel the same distress underground, and for my own sake, forgive me! Come here and kneel down again! You never harmed me in your life. Nay, if you nurse anger, that will be worse to remember than my harsh words! Won’t you come here again? Do!’

‘Oh, you see, Ellen, he would not relent a moment to keep me out of the grave. That is how I’m loved! Well, never mind. That is not my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet; and take him with me: he’s in my soul. And’, added she musingly, ‘the thing that irks me most in this shattered prison, after all. I’m, tired, tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart; but really with it, and in it. Ellen, you think you are better and more fortunate than I; in full health and strength: you are sorry for me - very soon that will be altered. I shall be sorry for you. I shall be incomparably beyond and above you all. I wonder he won’t be near me!’ She went on to herself. ‘I thought he wished it. Heathcliff, dear! you should not be sullen now. Do come to me, Heathcliff.’

‘You teach me how cruel you’ve been - cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and ring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you - they’ll damn you. You loved me - then what right had you to leave me? What right - answer me - for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because of misery and degradation, and death, and 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. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you - oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?’

‘Let me alone. Let me alone,’ sobbed Catherine. ‘If I have done wrong, I’m dying for it. It is enough! You left me too: but I won’t upbraid you! I forgive you. Forgive me!

‘It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,’ he answered. ‘Kiss me again; and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer - but yours! How can I?’”

This excerpt illustrates many things about both the author’s style and the characters in it.
Toward the beginning of the passage, Catherine pulled Heathcliff in by the hair, but he broke free. Catherine still had some of his hair in her hands. In way, I think this is symbolic of the fact that they could never be parted. They were one mind, one soul and one love and whether they were mad at each other, or separated, they were always together. Along these same lines, Catherine said, “You have never harmed me.” Catherine was probably the only person Heathcliff had never harmed. He had been proven to be a very loveless character, quite capable of hurting people, and yet he had never harmed Catherine.

Midway through, Catherine talked about her prison and about how she wanted to break free and go to the glorious place. To me, prison has many meanings in this place. One meaning is Catherine’s room. She had been ill and cooped up in her room for a long time. She wanted to be able to walk on the moors again, like she used to. She wanted to be among people again and stop being an invalid who relied on others to do things for her. Another meaning, is the prison of her mortal body. She is close to death, and wanted to go to heaven. Again, she was tired of being sick and an invalid, and she just wanted it to be done. Catherine wanted to make a graceful exit from the physical world to the heavens. She was tired of living. The last meaning I see, is the prison of loving Heathcliff and not being able to be with him. She had lived many years and through them all, she has loved Heathcliff. Her own love for him has imprisoned her and made her miserable. She just wanted to break free and be able to love Heathcliff without the extra baggage of Edgar Linton.

At the very end, Heathcliff said, “I love my murderer, but yours? How can I?” This quote expresses Heathcliff’s sorrow perfectly. He refers to Catherine as breaking his heart and killing him, and he says that he loves her, even if she has killed a part of his soul. But, he can never forgive her murderer, which is himself. Throughout the rest of the book, it can be seen how much he longs for Catherine. He saw her in Catherine’s daughter and Hareton. He prayed for her to haunt him and he could sense her with him all the time. And he never forgave himself for “killing” her, until he dies.

Everyone had a hardship of love. Heathcliff loved Catherine and Catherine loved him, but they couldn’t be together because he was nothing but a beggar. Edgar loved Catherine and married her, but never really got love in return from her. Hindley loved his wife Frances, but she died at a young age. Isabella loved Heathcliff, and they were married, but she discovered that her husband was not the caring man she thought he was. Cathy loved Linton, but then discovered he was nothing but a sickly, spoiled brat. Linton loved Cathy but felt he was too weak to do anything about it. And Hareton loved Cathy, but at the beginning, he was too uneducated to be worthy of her. Everyone in the book loved someone, and was hurt by that love.

These two themes also occur in many of Emily Bronte’s poems, especially the hardships of love. In an untitled poem, she wrote:

If grief for grief can touch thee,
If answering woe for woe,
If any ruth can melt thee,
Come to me now!

I cannot be more lonely,
More drear I cannot be!
My worn heart throbs so wildly
‘Twill break for thee.

And when the world despises-
When heaven repels my prayer,
Will not mine angel comfort?
Mine idol hear?

Yes by the tears I’ve poured,
My all my hours of pain,
O I shall surely win thee
Beloved, again!
(Wuthering Heights and Poems)

In this poem, the narrator is mourning the loss of a loved one. From the ending phrase, “I shall surely win thee/Beloved again!”, I think she was trying to convey that her love is alive and has left her, but that she will win him back. Again, it is the theme of “love hurts”.

Another reccurring theme in her poems is death. In a poem entitled merely “A.G.A”, she wrote:

Sleep brings no joy to me,
Remembrance never dies;
My soul is given to misery
And lives in sighs.

Sleep brings no rest to me;
The shadows of the dead
My waking eyes may never see
Surround my bed.

Sleep brings no hope to me;
In sounder sleep they come.
And with their doleful imagery
Deepen the gloom

Sleep brings no strength to me,
No power renewed to brave:
I only sail a wilder sea,
A darker wave.

Sleep brings no friend to me
To soothe and aid to bear;
They all gaze, oh, how scornfully,
And I despair.

Sleep brings no wish to knit
My harassed heart beneath:
My only wish is to forget
In the sleep of death.
(Wuthering Heights and Poems)

This poem is all about life and how she had tired of it. She wanted to leave this life and go on to death. She was ready and wanted to move on.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions,


thumbalina said…
I love Wuthering Heights and my daughter is reading it now. She really surprised me at the bookstore when she told me she wanted to read it! We'll discuss it also. I think its so valuable to try stay aware of what your kids are interested in.
Lots of information about Emily Bronte too bad she had such a sad life I guess it makes for good writing!
Kimberly Eve said…
How wonderful that your daughter is already interested in Wuthering Heights! More importantly that you'll read it together and discuss it as well. Even if it's a kindle or ebook, so what as long as they're reading I say! Yes, Emily Bronte had some sadness in her life which I'm sure helped her write! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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