” Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong, imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never have given way but with life.” M. Heger on Emily Bronte.1
Throughout her life time, Emily Bronte was a self-imposed recluse from society, living in the confines of the hellish and quite savage moors of Yorkshire. It is in this isolation that she found the inspiration and strength of emotion to write such potent prose and poetry. In keeping with these facts, it is quite plausible to state that her social means were somewhat lesser compared to the emotional content surrounding her. Furthermore, writing is such an impassioned state; it could well have been her only means to free her soul toward the outer world. In other words, her writings was the means by which she could search and question her personal knowledge on society.
Wuthering Heights develops the search for knowledge or truth that subsequently damns and saves her emotionally charged characters: Heathcliff searches for the knowledge he might one day rest with Catherine Earnshaw; Catherine Linton searches for the enigmatic truth behind the family secrets. Knowledge for the players is one of construction and deconstruction of character. I will thus prove that, while Catherine Earnshaw gains knowledge toward perdition of mind and soul, Catherine Linton undergoes a deconstructive process necessary for the attainment of peace and happiness in life.
Catherine Earnshaw’s quest for knowledge does not start with her discovery of Thrushcross Grange, but with the discovery of Heathcliff himself. As a young girl, she is cloistered in a very secluded but happy family circle. The arrival of an exterior force, Heathcliff, starts the simple human process of discovery of the other. Catherine is a blank painting in our eyes – although “mischievous and wayward”2 like most children -before his entrance into the family fold. The reader must find the basic belief that the individual finds meaning in himself only by the relations that transpires with others. Catherine becomes a product of Heathcliff’s new influence. It is ironic that instead of the whip she desired, her father has given her the means to become an individual craving more than the intimate family circle. One could say that the knowledge of the otherness pushes her away from the comfort of kindred unity and into the arms of the unknown harsh environment she is not prepared for. ” I am Heathcliff” (p.8
2) exemplifies that Catherine will at one point overstep these basic relations and become a misogynous mold for both and vice versa. Heathcliff’s passion becomes an ill-bred character development.
This process develops toward her encounter with Thrushcross Grange, and the question of primitive human social choice. Catherine is now faced with another new element totally unprepared and certainly lacking in character. She must choose between the pride of blood or the passionate emotions of her savage companion. Social knowledge becomes more important to her : (to Heathcliff) ” It is no company at all, when people know nothing and say nothing…” (p.69). Catherine starved from the outer world has no choice by primal hunger to assimilate the plush and more intricate social contract that the Linton’s offer. She explains her thoughts clearly to Nelly when discussing her marriage proposal. ” And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband.” (p.78).
Catherine is ill-equipped to assimilate and comprehend the intricacies of her new situation : she has no concept of the price she must pay , and her grand emotional content is not enough to face the quite pragmatic and ingrate ideals of class. Her feeble explanation to Nelly that she will choose Edgar over Heathcliff is a weak excuse to explain why she has taken opulence of lifestyle over her primal passion for Heathcliff. The novelty of knowledge, culture and social rank has played its evil tune over the prey for the first time.
Catherine until now is seen more as an addict to the new and bewildering effect of culture and knowledge in society. It is impossible to dissociate this new process to one of personal development. First, Catherine is ill-educated on how to approach her new environment. She has not developed the proper skills to delve rationally in an all encompassing culture. Her mind becomes disturbed with the search for truth and knowledge in the social context outside Wuthering Heights. Edgar’s affections are a poor substitute for the pure energetic passion she has felt for Heathcliff. As she has said before their wedding, Edgar Linton is ” as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” (p.80). The pragmatic reality at Trushcross Grange cannot fill the void that she has made for herself in leaving the furious calm of her childhood environment.
Secondly, and more importantly, her development in social education results in her regression in psyche. Catherine cannot in any case find common ground between the elemental emotions with Heathcliff and her social duty now with Edgar. Catherine remains to Heathcliff the image of beauty, an ethereal romantic fetishism. For both, the image of beauty, lust and passion is reduced to themselves since they have never known anything else. Knowledge of beauty and passion are therefore inaccurate and impossible to continue in a seemingly fashion. Edgar’s rational love and sincerity will never control the fury in Catherine’s mind at realizing the price she has paid for furthering her status.
Catherine Earnshaw-Linton is thus damned into eternity for having not the strength to sustain both wild emotion and rational social status. The fierce internal motion between her sense of compassion and her social duty are too tempestuous for any human individual to withhold or control. Time like all has become the limit to her life and more importantly her quest for knowledge of the other. Even in death she tries to regain a balance between both worlds with her internment site: ” It was dug on a green slope, in a corner of the kirkyard, where the wall was so low that the heath and bilberry plants have climbed over from the moor…” (p.168). Catherine has chosen a place where she may be as close to the wild moors of her youth while never leaving the confines of her new world.
We are also faced the impossible relation of composing with the Romantic and Victorian differences in character and social context. Emily Bronte might wish us to understand that it is difficult to find in the mind of a recluse creature the strength to join old and new ideals. Thus, pure emotions cannot be restrained by common sense or return to a classical mode of thinking. This answer is too romantic, considering all the allusions to the social contract of the era: for example, her use of law to develop Heathcliff’s revenge.
The Victorian era was one of regression for the status of women: they are sent out into the industrialized work force with little or no equality in status to men. Furthermore, land ownership for women continued to be refused until the Married Women’s property Act in 1870. Women are thus integrated in a harsher social context, but are not compensated for their new status.
A question remains: how may we attribute these social values of regression to Catherine Earnshaw if the novelist was a recluse and separated from social life in general? The answer is simple, we cannot. On the other hand, we may transpose the question toward the next generation since they will have to cope with the effects of the ill events that have taken place between herself, Heathcliff, and Linton. Our answer lies with Catherine Linton – Cathy- her daughter.
Young Cathy is the inheritor of all the evils that have destroyed and enraged the first generation of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Cathy emerges from Catherine’s womb with a pre-destined knowledge encrusted into her family blood. ” An unwelcomed infant it was, poor thing! It might have wailed out of life, and nobody cared a morsel, during those first hours of existence.” (p.164). Thus, her development in the social world of Thrushcross Grange lies heavily with the past events that have damned her mother.
Her individual development and quest for personal knowledge must revolve tightly around the introduction of external forces. She is not in full control of her future. Right at her first step, Edgar is overly protective of her daughter, giving her a full education while enclosing her in the confines of Thrushcross Grange:
” He took her education entirely on himself, and made it an amusement: forunately, curiosity and a quick intellect urged her into an apt scholar; she learnt rapidly and eagerly, and did honour to his teaching…Wuthering Heights and Mr. Heathcliff did not exist for her; she was a perfect recluse; and, apparently, perfectly contented.” (p.189)
His intentions are good and pure since he does not want his daughter to be involved in the prior wrongs. Still, his own actions are the first step in Cathy’s normal search for knowledge of the other and the outer world. Like in Moliere’s l’Ecole des Femmes, the young heroine is pushed into the arms of her lover Arnolphe by her husband’s coveting of her education. It is impossible in both texts to ensure the education of an innocent mind, and assuring that this mind stays attached to her small, limited social world.
The coveting of innocent minds only leads to their sure search toward knowledge of the other. ” Ellen, how long will it be before I can walk to the top of those hills?”(p.189). She cannot wait long before she does reach the hills, and thus begins her deconstruction in knowledge. Simply, she must regress in progression to encompass the reality on the other side of the wall. For example, her initial disgust on learning that Hareton is her cousin relates her prior notions in the “pride of blood”. Only her acceptance of the new situation will restart her progression in knowledge, but now on a wider and larger social scale.
Heathcliff becomes not only a willing participant in the deconstruction of Cathy’s instruction in the ways of the world, but also the cause of his own downfall. Only in Cathy’s deconstruction of knowledge may she assimilate and comprehend the reality of the outer world. For example, her forced marriage to Linton should in her eyes satisfy the social contract of a decent marriage, equal in lineage. At no point will this seemingly conventional bond satisfy her morality and her social development. Linton not only alienates her from her basic wealth of knowledge through the intervention of Heathcliff, but makes it possible to find a common bond with Hareton in the end. ” They lifted their eyes together, to encounter Mr. Heathcliff – perhaps you have never remarked that their eyes are precisely similar, and they are those of Catherine Earnshaw” (p.322). Both unwillingly obey their calling in union through the strength in their eyes. Heathcliff with thoughts of destruction has brought to Cathy the primitive know
ledge to reconstruct her life and the lives of others around a sound and emotionally peaceful outcome.
On an opposite psychological pole from her mother, Cathy is never whole when the events in her development take place. This is her salvation since it gives a certain leeway to add or reconstruct her knowledge into a piercing weapon. By regressing to a more common social standing at Wuthering Heights, she is able to understand Hareton’s situation and thus not only reconstruct herself into a fuller picture of society, but extend her new awakening onto Hareton and his salvation toward a better situation. Unlike her mother’s destructive process, she is able to rebuild a fuller reality by accepting social structures and knowledge in a broader picture. In the end, not only has she advanced herself and Hareton in the world, but made Heathcliff unfulfilled in his quest for revenge. Still, only by her personal progress can Heathcliff be finally reunited onto his beloved Catherine.
Finally, the question of Victorian influence is left unanswered. How can Catherine’s progression relate to a women’s regression or development through this era. A simple answer is found with her transmitting of knowledge onto Hareton. With Heathcliff’s demise, Hareton stands alone to inherit the lands of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. Cathy must inevitably end up with Hareton for her to retain or regain her place in the social order since only men can own and inherit land by law. One could state that Emily Bronte’s novel could never involve such comparisons since she lived herself as a recluse to the outer world. To its defense, although Emily Bronte’s physical world was quite limited her mind roamed far and wide. She could never make use of such complex law questions without prior knowledge and comprehension of the larger society she lived in.
Through her educational process, Cathy has made of Hareton her equal in worth, but also her superior in power. In other words, she is twice blessed for she has found a romantic “spontaneous overflow of feeling”3 for Hareton, and a regain in social standing. Still, Cathy must accept her place in a Victorian society to keep her new found wealth. The young couple will inevitably move to Thrushcross Grange to settle down, signifying a closure for the tempestuous emotions of Wuthering Heights, and a continuation for the more rational order of Thrushcross Grange.
Many critics have through the years praised Bronte’s forceful work of emotions, and compared her fully with her Romantic predecessors. In no way is it possible to contradict this statement since the novel transcends human emotions, the natural environment, and the supernatural. On the other hand, this essay has tried to delve around the complex meld of Romantic and Victorian elements in the progress of social and individual development.
Lastly, and to further the statement of knowledge, it is possible to seek more answers through Emily Bronte’s poetic soul. Wuthering Heights was not only a process of development for two generations of woman, but a personal one for the author. The elemental forces and emotions contained in her verse might have been too much for such a limited and short vessel. Only in the novel, could she try and develop her art form to fully encompass the fierce beauty of emotions and human passion. Still, the novel’s great quality is just that the author make her emotions leave the boundaries of her lines to encompass everything they come in contact with. Thus, knowledge and development can never be grasped as a finished object and “what thou art may never be destroyed”4.
1Spark, Muriel and Stanford, Derek. Emily Bronte: her Life and Work, Arrow Limited, London, 1985, p.14.
2 Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995, p.36. All subsequent quotes from the novel will be indicated by the page number in parenthesis.
3 Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 2, sixth edition, Norton & Co., London, p.6.
4 Idem. No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Bronte, p.1273.