Saturday, 16 May 2015

Love in Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights was published in 1847, and since then has been analysed by hundreds of critics in attempts to draw meaning from a disordered and frenzied story. When originally published, it was rejected by society because of its unapologetic disregard for all things proper. Its transgression of love, and crucially religion forbade Victorian readers the chance to emerge themselves in the story, and take part in the roller-coaster of Heathcliff and Catherine’s tempestuous love affair. 168 years later, is it still shocking, if yes, why?

From an ethical view point, there are countless questions to be raised concerning Heathcliff, and why history has made him a romantic figure.  He’s violent, merciless and abusive to all who encounter him. Even Catherine, the soul he most loves and desires is hurt by him. To me, it is a work of unintentional genius on behalf of Bronte. Her depiction of torment, and then a love so overwhelming is what the reader clings on to as a means of redemption for Heathcliff.  Modern and contemporary readers will differ in what shocks them. To a contemporary reader, it is the senseless love affair itself that is abhorrent. Heathcliff is a victim in their society because he is illegitimate, and Catherine a victim as she is a woman.  To a modern reader, Catherine’s betrayal of herself and love for Heathcliff is what becomes most shocking. Wuthering Heights explores different ideas within morality, one being authenticity- that of being true to one’s self. Catherine’s marriage to Edgar therefore is an act of bad faith, which in turn precipitates all subsequent tragedy and evil. The power of love and its destructive nature is epitomised through their relationship. Not only do they destroy and kill one another, their love ruins the lives of all people surrounding them in its wake. This is not romantic. In fact, there is nothing romantic about Heathcliff and Catherine. Bronte’s intention may have been to create an epic tale of self-destruction; to explore the power and force of love as a human emotion, but their relationship cannot be one we strive to emulate. So why are we attracted to the story?

It is undeniable that as individuals, Catherine and Heathcliff are not good people. However as a pair, they become something else entirely.

 “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”  

What makes Wuthering Heights the greatest love story in literature is exactly why it was disliked.  In Catherine and Heathcliff’s world religion cannot stop them, society cannot stop them, they have nothing but their love and they need nothing else. Their love transcends earth, heaven and hell, Heathcliff confirms this himself.

Nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us”. 

The largest and most heart-wrenching irony of the novel is that it is Catherine who causes their separation. It is Catherine who causes the torment and years of misery for Heathcliff (and the reader) in marrying Linton and preventing their souls from being one. For when Catherine has died and Heathcliff remains on earth, his life is empty.

The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her”. 

  Alas, once dead they are finally free of society and can be with each other as spirits. Do these same restrictions on love exist today? Perhaps not the same, but love is, nevertheless restricted. Whether through law, religion, or simply geographical means it seems that love does not always find a way. In light of this, perhaps what the reader takes from Bronte’s creation is that love is only what you make of it.

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