Friday, July 8, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 3): Wuthering Heights (updated September 16, 2016)

Title page of Wuthering Heights, (1847) by Emily Brontë - 1943 American Edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. (All images can be clicked on to enlarge.)

Wuthering Heights

"At noon, Emily was worse; she could only whisper in gasps. With her last audible words she said to Charlotte, "If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now" but it was too late. She died that same day at about two in the afternoon while sitting on the sofa at Haworth Parsonage. It was less than three months since Branwell's death, which led a housemaid to declare that "Miss Emily died of a broken heart for love of her brother". Emily had grown so thin that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. The carpenter said he had never made a narrower one for an adult. She was interred in the Church of St Michael and All Angels family capsule, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30."

- Quote found in the Wiki entry for Emily Brontë, (July 31, 1818 - December 19, 1848).  

"The first reviewers were mystified and puzzled by the strangeness and savagery of Wuthering Heights, although nearly all recognized the seductive power of the novel and the original vision of its author...  However, the critic who perhaps most perceptively synthesized the poetic and fictional halves of Emily's creative aptitude wrote at the end of the nineteenth century. A fellow poet, Algernon Swinburne, referred to Wuthering Heights in a 16 June 1883 article as "essentially and definitely a poem in the fullest and most positive sense of the term."

- From the Poetry Foundation's Emily Brontë page.

"An overwhelming sense of the presence of a larger reality moved Rudolph Otto to call Wutheirng Heights a supreme example of "the daemonic" in literature. Otto was concerned with identifying the non-rational mystery behind all religion and all religious experiences; he called this basic element or mystery the numinous. The numinous grips or stirs the mind so powerfully that one of the responses it produces is numinous dread, which consists of awe or awe-fullness. Numinous dread implies three qualities of the numinous: its absolute unapproachability, its power, and. its urgency or energy.

... It has been suggested that Gothic fiction originated primarily as a quest for numinous dread, which Otto also calls the mysterium tremendum."

- Excerpt from a CUNY (City University of New York) article about Wuthering Heights.
(Note: Mysterium tremendum et fascinans is a metaphysical mystery which is regarded with both fear and fascination.)

"The love which devours life itself, which devastates the present and desolates the future with unquenchable and raging fire, has nothing less pure in it than flame or sunlight... As was the author's life, so is her book in all things; troubled and taintless, with little of rest in it, and nothing of reproach. It may be true that not many will ever take it to their hearts; it is certain that those who do like it will like nothing very much better in the whole world of poetry or prose."

- Algernon Charles Swinburne in reference to Wuthering Heights, from his essay "Emily Brontë" (1883). A link to Swinburne's poetry.

"Emily Brontë died in 1848, aged 30, leaving only one published book and some poems. That book, of course, is "Wuthering Heights" (recently issued in new editions, by Penguin and HarperCollins), a novel so strange and powerful that it sinks into the reader's DNA."

- Quote from Richard Raynor, found here.


For my last "interlude" post (featuring bits of my book collection), I couldn't resist posting an edition of one of my favorite novels of all time: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I think the first time I read it was around the age of 13, an age when the mind is most open to new experiences, and when experience itself has its most indelible impact. I've forgotten a lot of novels I've read in the intervening years, but the effect of Wuthering Heights stayed with me, and as Swineburne so wisely predicted: I never once met its match.

He was wrong about one thing though; it seems that a very great many people took it to their hearts and continue to do so. If you google it, or Emily Brontë, you'll find masses of people still have something to say about the young woman's singular novel written over 150 years ago. As recently as 2007, in a British (UKTV Drama) poll, it was voted the number 1 love story of all time. Imagine that. Or, maybe this article: Copy of Wuthering Heights sells for six figures.

So, just exactly what is it about the novel that moves men and women to such a degree? To this very day, critics and academics still discuss it as if it only recently hit the best seller list. You would think that somewhere along the line someone would've finally solved the mystery of the novel's tremendous popularity, its symbolism, and its peculiar author's life. Happily, for Emily Brontë at least, the particulars of her private life will never be revealed. She left no diaries or records... and what little survives of her memory amounts to no more than the second-hand recollections of those who professed to know her, up to and including those accounts offered by her older sister Charlotte...

As for Charlotte, well, her novel, Jane Eyre - at one time considered the better novel and more popular of the two - didn't do too badly in the 2007 poll, either, coming in at number 4. But, I bet Charlotte would've been unpleasantly surprised to find that, in the end, Emily's novel out-distanced her own. Not that there was any obvious rivalry between the "Bell" sisters - Acton (Anne), Ellis (Emily) and Currer (Charlotte), the male pseudonyms they used for their novel's first editions - but we mustn't forget the youngest Brontë, Anne, whose The Tenant of Wildfell Hall might have been more of a contender had Charlotte not suppressed its republication after Anne's death at age 29. It seems that in all matters concerning her sister's literary contributions, or, for that matter, their characters, Charlotte had the significant last word.

Oddly enough, despite all the cinematic adaptions which concentrated on the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff, I, myself, never really considered it merely a "love story," anymore than I considered it merely a ghost story, in spite of the fact that both elements feature heavily in its theme. On the other hand, although many critics overlook or minimize the paranormal aspect, I think that for Emily - in view of her Irish Celtic heritage - the ghosts of Wuthering Heights may have been its understated key players. They arrive both in the beginning of the novel and at the novel's end, as if to remind us that there's more to our human drama than merely the visible and corporeal Land of the Living.


Page 18/woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

"This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten. 'I must stop it, nevertheless!' I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, 'Let me in - let me in!' 'Who are you?' I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. 'Catherine Linton,' it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of LINTON? I had read EARNSHAW twenty times for Linton) - 'I'm come home: I'd lost my way on the moor!' As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child's face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, 'Let me in!'...."

- Excerpt from Chapter 3, Wuthering Heights; Lockwood's narrative. 
(Note: Wuthering Heights can be read in (English) text form at Project Gutenberg. There is also an edition in its original book form that can be read in two parts, here and here.)


And, there is also the transdimensional aspect of the story: the odd way in which Emily presented her narratives, from several different points of view, intertwining numerous points in time, thereby, creating a weird, reverberating gestalt as opposed to a linear chronicle. In Wuthering Heights, the past is as present as the future; a seamless, eternal "now" where the relative views of the observers and the (possibly faulty) memories they possess are our only guideposts.

So, in the end, who are we to believe? Significantly, in the last chapters of the novel we are finally presented with the ghosts of the two lovers, if only by hearsay evidence. But, we are also presented with the more "wholesome" loving couple - Hareton Earnshaw and his first cousin, young Cathy Linton (Catherine's nephew and daughter) - whom we learn will marry on the first day of the new year. Meanwhile, all of this is related to us thirdhand by the somewhat myopic Lockwood, who, gazing at the barren graves of Catherine, Heathcliff, and the slightly moss-grown grave of Edgar Linton, remarks (in the novel's last sentence):

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

Cunning little devil, that Emily Brontë! :-)


Page 80/woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

" '...Before I recovered sufficiently to see and hear, it began to be dawn, and, Nelly, I'll tell you what I thought, and what has kept recurring and recurring till I feared for my reason. I thought as I lay there, with my head against that table leg, and my eyes dimly discerning the grey square of the window, that I was enclosed in the oak-paneled bed at home; and my heart ached with some great grief which, just waking, I could not recollect. I pondered, and worried myself to discover what it could be, and, most strangely, the whole last seven years of my life grew a blank! I did not recall that they had been at all. I was a child; my father was just buried, and my misery arose from the separation that Hindley had ordered between me and Heathcliff. I was laid alone, for the first time; and, rousing from a dismal doze after a night of weeping, I lifted my hand to push the panels aside: it struck the table-top! I swept it along the carpet, and then memory burst in: my late anguish was swallowed in a paroxysm of despair. I cannot say why I felt so wildly wretched: it must have been temporary derangement; for there is scarcely cause. But, supposing at twelve years old I had been wrenched from the Heights, and every early association, and my all in all, as Heathcliff was at that time, and been converted at a stroke into Mrs. Linton, the lady of Thrushcross Grange, and the wife of a stranger: an exile, and outcast, thenceforth, from what had been my world. You may fancy a glimpse of the abyss where I groveled!...' "

- Excerpt from Chapter 12, Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw Linton to Ellen Dean.


Ellis and Currer Bell

"In 1850, Charlotte edited her sisters' poems and novels; in a "Preface" and "Biographical Notice," she provided biographical details about her sisters and herself, characterized the novels and her sisters, and defended both. A second round of reviews appeared in response to this reissuing of Emily's and Anne's novels and to Charlotte's introduction. In general, reviewers were moved by pity at the early deaths of Emily and Anne, as well as at the general hardship of the Brontë sisters' lives, and were amazed at the discrepancy between their uneventful lives and the violence and passion portrayed in their novels. They also had a greater sense of Emily's achievement, which was increasingly compared to Shakespeare's.

However, Charlotte overemphasized the negativity of the original reviews of Wutheirng Heights when she charged that the original reviewers had not appreciated Wuthering Heights. In reality, its power and its author's ability had originally been acknowledged, along with censure for its violence, brutality, and "coarseness." Charlotte's biased view that reviews had been overhwlemingly negative became "fact" in literary history and biography and continues to be repeated."

- Excerpt from another CUNY article found here.

"Then there is what might be called Charlotte's smoke-screen. Her sister evidently shocked her, to the point where she may even have doubted Emily's sanity. After her death, Charlotte rewrote Emily's character, history and even poems on a - to her and the bourgeois reading public - more acceptable model."

 -  Welsh novelist Stevie Davies from Emily Brontë: Heretic1994.

"Jane E. might at first deny the hands of Rochester and her cousin St. John Rivers because they want to control her, but she does get married, eventually, all while maintaining her quiet dignity, her resilience, and her piety - meaning that her self-actualization is still in the service of morality, a Christian, patriarchal one. It is important to remember who exactly burns down the house in Jane Eyre, because it isn’t Jane. The arsonist of the novel is Bertha, Rochester’s shut-in wife, the infamous woman in the attic, and if a radical core can be found in Brontë’s work, it’s with her."

- Excerpt form Briget Lee's article: Charlotte Brontë May Have Started The Fire, but Jean Rhys Burned Down the House. This quote is in reference to Jean Rhys' 1966 novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. Jean Rhys also found Charlotte's handling of Rochester's mad wife, Bertha Mason, unsettling and in the mad wife's defense wrote the novel... in which an interracial aspect is added to the mix in the form of  Antoinette Cosway's (Bertha's real name) Creole heritage. For another exploration of women and "madness" see my previous post; specifically the Camille Claudel section.


Although Brontë fans are generally enthusiastic about anything regarding the Brontë family, when push comes to shove the fans often fall into two distinct camps: the Emily enthusiasts and the Charlotte enthusiasts... and if you're in one camp, you're unlikely to wholeheartedly agree with the other. As a teenager, reading Wuthering Heights for the first time, I wanted to know all I could about Emily; and, more or less accepted Charlotte's comments via her 1850 Preface in good faith. As an adult, and a feminist, however, my opinion of Charlotte changed, and not for the better. I finally saw her for what she (most likely) was: a manipulative woman whose strength of conviction was limited to her own conventional world view.* Re-reading her novel Jane Eyre didn't improve matters. In fact, I found "Jane's" meek (and, yet, patronizing) narrative as irritating as chalk scraped across a blackboard, and the character of Rochester - with his patriarchal bluster and snide remarks - revolting; I sympathized with his "mad" wife far more. In the last analysis, the "mad" wife who, at least, was spirited enough to get drunk, curse, swear and attack her prison guards - i.e., the "evidence" of her madness - was the only one of the cast with any character. Without her there would've been no story. As for the loving couple, who flourished in her wake - with the eventual (and obligatory) passel of rug-rats: apparently a necessary ingredient for "happy endings" -  well, their story was quite easy to duplicate, and provided a template for every other Gothic romance which followed.

Wuthering Heights, on the other hand, a far more unconventional novel  - in which each and every character is unique and formidable - blows Jane Eyre right out of the water, rendering just about every other "gothic" novel following in its wake minor and irrelevant. Emily set the bar; none have yet to surpass it.

While Heathclif might portray a monster, we still sympathize with him in ways we cannot sympathize with Rochester, no matter how much Charlotte tries to convince us her gothic confection is, at heart, a good man. He is, after all, the man who woos a young virgin, after imprisoning his actual wife - whom he declares "mad" - in a garret. Jane Eyre might forgive him, but many of us cannot; especially when she make a point of marrying him! Heathcliff on the other hand, regardless of his cruelties, never lies... to his victims, nor to us. We know what he is and why, and while we may feel his variety of revenge is a bit over-the-top, he is, beyond a doubt, a Lover; an obsessed lover to be sure, but we admire his relentless passion. In the end, he seduces all of us, regardless of gender, as well as Catherine, the unfortunate Isabella, and, for that matter, Hareton Earnshaw, who mourned his loss so deeply.


Page 102/woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

"In her eagerness she rose and supported herself on the arm of the chair. At that earnest appeal he turned to her, looking absolutely desperate. His eyes, wide and wet, at last flashed fiercely on her; his breast heaved convulsively. An instant they held asunder, and then how they met I hardly saw, but Catherine made a spring, and he caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive: in fact, to my eyes, she seemed directly insensible. He flung himself into the nearest seat, and on my approaching hurriedly to ascertain if she had fainted, he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy. I did not feel as if I were in the company of a creature of my own species: it appeared that he would not understand, though I spoke to him; so I stood off, and held my tongue, in great perplexity.

A movement of Catherine's relieved me a little presently: she put up her hand to clasp his neck, and bring her cheek to his as he held her; while he, in return, covering her with frantic caresses, said wildly -

'You teach me now 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 wring 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 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?' "

- Excerpt from Chapter 15, Wuthering Heights; Catherine and Heathcliff's last corporeal encounter narrated by Ellen Dean.


Another pro-Charlotte feminist argument is that the Jane/Rochester combination represented a more "mature" love than Catherine's and Heathcliff's... which is, possibly, taking both books entirely out of the context in which they were written. Certainly Wuthering Heights was not meant to be a simple "love story" in the Romantic vein... this interpretation was a 20th century concept, and the feminists who were moved to renounce it were generally those of the "second wave." Of course, in regards to female emancipation, the feminists of the first and second waves were the ones who did all the dirty work, so, we should forgive them this oversight.

In the end, Charlotte pandered to her "dear reader"... Emily neither knew or cared who might appreciate her novel. She may have never published it at all had it not been for her sister - so, that's one thing we can credit Charlotte for. But, Jane Eyre, while it may have referred to one woman's journey to emancipation, the scope of Wuthering Heights was far more profound. Emily Brontë wasn't intent upon telling merely one tale when she interwove the narratives and time periods regarding the Earnshaw and Linton families from several points of view; she was artfully re-creating the multi-dimensional aspect of all human stories, and, ultimately, her process of self discovery might apply to both men and women. In other words, the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff was no simple romantic matter, nor was it merely a grand passion. It was the "solve" in an almost alchemical inquiry. Emily was the scientist; Wuthering Heights was both her laboratory, her experiment and, ultimately, her discovery.

Wuthering Heights was, after all, the more introspective and metaphysical of the two books. While Jane Eyre may have been embracing her autonomy, she was also very careful to cater to the Victorian conventions of her time. Emily, on the other hand, entirely ignored those conventions. She was the outsider who looked in at society and more or less dismissed it, choosing instead to concentrate on the darker, more primal reality she found within herself and her relationship to the wild Yorkshire moorlands surrounding her. We can understand her enchantment with the moors... but, we can only speculate about the rest.

* Note of apology to Charlotte fans: In the process of editing this post, it occurs to me now that I've been a little heavy-handed with Charlotte. Keeping in mind that she, too, had a painfully short life, and that it is to her credit, "manipulation" (and perseverance) that we are even aware of the Brontë name, I have no major cause to criticize her. It's a sort of heat-of-the-moment kind of thing... and possibly a knee-jerk reaction to some anti-Wuthering Heights comments I've recently seen online. Besides, Jane Eyre wasn't that bad a novel... ;-)


Page 182/woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

"I have a strong faith in ghosts: I have a conviction that they can, and do, exist among us! The day she was buried, there came a fall of snow. In the evening I went to the churchyard. It blew bleak as winter - all round was solitary... Being alone, and conscious two yards of loose earth was the sole barrier between us, I said to myself - 'I'll have her in my arms again! If she be cold, I'll think it is this north wind that chills ME; and if she be motionless, it is sleep." I got a spade from the tool-house, and began to delve with all my might - it scraped the coffin; I fell to work with my hands; the wood commenced cracking about the screws; I was on the point of attaining my object, when it seemed that I heard a sigh from some one above, close at the edge of the grave, and bending down. "If I can only get this off," I muttered, "I wish they may shovel in the earth over us both!" and I wrenched at it more desperately still. There was another sigh, close at my ear. I appeared to feel the warm breath of it displacing the sleet-laden wind. I knew no living thing in flesh and blood was by; but, as certainly as you perceive the approach to some substantial body in the dark, though it cannot be discerned, so certainly I felt that Cathy was there: not under me, but on the earth. A sudden sense of relief flowed from my heart through every limb. I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at once: unspeakably consoled. Her presence was with me: it remained while I re-filled the grave, and led me home. You may laugh, if you will; but I was sure I should see her there. I was sure she was with me..."

- Excerpt from Chapter 29, Wuthering Heights; Heathcliff to Ellen Dean.


The Androgynous Soul

"She should have been a man – a great navigator. 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. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman... impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned."

- Constantin Héger in reference to Emily Brontë, found in the Wiki entry for WH.

"For instance, try to get your head around the fact that the real Emily Bronte was good at investing in the stock market. Not only that, but she invested her own and her sisters' money in railway shares...

Or consider the implications of the fact that the real Emily Bronte was a crackshot with a pistol. The Brontes lived in stirring times and in a turbulent region. Haworth in 1842 was not some remote moorland idyll, but a place of unemployment, riot and some real danger. Knowing how to handle a firearm was not an eccentric skill, and Emily was the best markswoman in the house...

Remember too that the real Emily Bronte could read and write French and German, that she attended art exhibitions in Leeds, and that music occupied a major place in her imaginative world. An accomplished pianist, she played Beethoven and Handel all her life, and she may even have heard no less a musician than Franz Liszt give a recital in Halifax in February 1841."

- An excerpt from Matin Kettle's article: If Wuthering Heights is a love story, Hamlet is a sitcom

"I like to feel that Emily built a little of herself into Heathcliff, it was how she could masquerade in male form and give the (intellectual) finger to the patriarchy by making him as brutal as possible."

- From Vagabond Language's Heroine: Emily Bronte & 'Wuthering Heights.

"No coward soul is mine

"No coward soul is mine 
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere 
I see Heaven's glories shine 
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
0 God within my breast 
Almighty ever-present Deity 
Life, that in me hast rest 
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds 
That move men's hearts, unutterably vain, 
Worthless as withered weeds 
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one 
Holding so fast by thy infinity 
So surely anchored on 
The steadfast rock of Immortality

With wide-embracing love 
Thy spirit animates eternal years 
Pervades and broods above, 
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone 
And suns and universes ceased to be 
And thou wert left alone 
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death 
Nor atom that his might could render void 
Since thou art Being and Breath 
And what thou art may never be destroyed."

No coward soul is mine, Emily Bronte, 1846. (Note: Apparently, Emily Dickinson thought so highly of Emily Brontë's poetry that she chose "No coward soul" to be read at her funeral.) Emily Brontë poetry sources can be found at the Poetry Archive, the Poetry Foundation, or on this translatable Wuthering Heights site page.

"Nelly, do you never dream queer dreams?' she said, suddenly, after some minutes' reflection.

'Yes, now and then,' I answered.

'And so do I. I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I'm going to tell it - but take care not to smile at any part of it.'

'Oh! don't, Miss Catherine!' I cried. 'We're dismal enough without conjuring up ghosts and visions to perplex us. Come, come, be merry and like yourself!...

I was superstitious about dreams then, and am still; and Catherine had an unusual gloom in her aspect, that made me dread something from which I might shape a prophecy, and foresee a fearful catastrophe..."

 - Excerpt from  a conversation between Catherine Earnshaw and Ellen Dean, Wuthering Heights, Chapter 9, Emily Brontë


Top Withens, Yorkshire - photograph -  Fay Godwin
(Note: Top Withens is often considered to be Emily Brontë's inspiration for the
actual location of Wuthering Heights. The photograph above, filtered by myself for a more
illustrative effect (as well as the 2 other photos in this post) was first published in 1979,
accompanying the poems of Yorkshire poet, Ted Hughes.
As luck would have it, this area is now littered by warning signs.

"Nelly, do you never dream queer dreams?" It is at this point in Ellen Dean's narrative that we truly enter the dream that is the dream of Wuthering Heights. We are presented with the most important clue - and most often quoted lines - of the entire novel: "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. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."

Of course, critics have numerous spins on Catherine's "confession." Generally it is seen in an entirely romantic light: the passionate, obsessive, all consuming love that humans aspire to but rarely attain. Others see it in a mystical light - a human's desire for reunion with the Godhead, or a symbolic interpretation of the forces of nature: the wild and windy moors as a metaphor for human passion. Psychologists interpret it as a desire to return to the all-encompassing womb of the unborn, or an intimation of the failure of love inherent in any clash between two immature, narcissist personalities. Some early feminists, like Simone de Beauvoir,* saw it as women's preconditioned destiny of relinquishing self-hood and autonomy to the dominant male in their lives. I can, to some slim degree, agree with all but the last of these observations, at least in terms of the actual story.

Because, with all due respect to Simone de Beauvoir - and in consideration of the issues feminists dealt with at the time - her analysis of Catherine's true nature falls short. Catherine Earnshaw was not the example of a woman who would allow her identity to be absorbed by another human of any description, let alone relinquish her autonomy. Again and again, Brontë reminds us - via Ellen Dean and even Heathcliff - that Catherine was "selfish" and willfull. She was a force to be reckoned with in her own right. If anything, in terms of their relationship, the desire to absorb and to be absorbed was the goal of both Heathcliff and Catherine. And, in this we can make an almost alchemical reference to their union. It is, in essence, the bedrock, the philosopher's stone upon which the entire novel revolves and resonates. Regardless of what occurs before or after their deaths, it is their undying, indomitable spirits which peer out to us at the end of the book, regardless of Lockwood's dismissal, and - as a tribute to Emily's power and influence as a writer - remain with us throughout our lives. Whoever they are, or, more precisely, whatever they are, is elemental and integral to human nature; possibly more so than nature itself.


Page 212/woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

"We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds - and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he WALKS: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you'll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on 'em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death:- and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange one evening - a dark evening, threatening thunder - and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.

'What is the matter, my little man?' I asked.

'There's Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t' nab,' he blubbered, 'un' I darnut pass 'em.' "

- Excerpt from Chapter 34, Wuthering Heights; Ellen Dean, via Lockwood's narrative.


So, beyond the romance, the passion, the mysticism, lies one more thing... and this has as much to do with the integrity of the author as it does with her written words, and, in a way, it's quite simple. That is, when Catherine Earnshaw declares herself as Heathcliff, she is echoing a personal insight on behalf of the author as well. Allow me to explain.

To begin with, Emily was describing an important factor which divides a good novelist from a great one: the ability to transcend race, gender, social status, etc. and essentially become ones "fictional" characters. When an author states that his or her characters "came to life" or took on "lives of their own" don't immediately assume that this "life" was not in some way a portion of the author's. While an ability to interface with the unconscious allows a novelist to weave the strange tales they do, without the decided ability to transcend gender (and/or gender stereotypes), the characters the author creates (or channels) of the "opposite sex" are merely two-dimensional. They don't ring true, and, at some point, the plot overtakes them.

Another view of Top Withens

So, Emily's anti-hero was a man and, in conventional terms, a monster. And, yet, Heathcliff was also sensitive and vulnerable to the point of morbidity. He had no macho delusions... he despised anything and everything - certainly all social conventions - which smacked of falseness or pretentiousness of any kind, merely using them (when he found them) to serve his own ends. Ultimately his goal was to reunite with Catherine, a childhood love who had become integral to his own nature.  But, his passion does not end with Catherine's corporeal existence, nor is it related to the conventions of a "normal" relationship. Certainly marriage never seemed to be in the cards, and, yet, ultimately, the inevitable union of Catherine and Heathcliff is implied throughout the novel. Symbolically, their union can be interpreted as a chemical wedding, that is, a love story - once again - of alchemical significance, in which the King and Queen, although not polar opposites in character, become one driving force, one prima materia or mysterium conjunctionis.

And, I think, this union represented an epiphany in Emily Bronte's own process of self-discovery as well. I'm not saying she was sexually ambiguous - although a few assume she was - but what she attempted to convey in her story was that, at their core - aside from the roles dictated by society and/or biology - men and women are each a portion of the same natural continuum. They are capable of becoming one because, spiritually, they are one.  And this "oneness" was no idle speculation on the part of the woman who described them as such. She was revealing something of herself when she said (via Catherine Earnshaw): "I am Heathcliff," in that she had already found and recognized this primordial integration within herself.

Cover woodcut - WH by E. Brontë - Random House, NY 1943

Feminist Gloria Steinem once said "Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry." Now, you can take that any way you wish, but, there's a kernel of truth in the statement and Emily may have agreed. I don't know how deeply she had to dig to find her Heathcliff, but my guess is that, ultimately, he was never found walking about in her immediate world. This is not to say that he was not inspired initially by an actual person, but, ultimately, his true force was Emily's.

Spiritual love, strength of character, the beauty of nature, and the illusion of death are among the same themes rehashed again and again in Emily's poetry. She knew both her strengths and weaknesses; not necessarily those of a stereotypical Victorian woman, but those of a fully developed entity. She also realized that this undifferentiated spiritual aspect of herself represented what was truly immortal and eternal. In a sense, she had found her great love - the "Being and Breath" within her own chest - an internalized "he" who shared her soul - and she needed no corroboration from society and never sought it. There would never be the clamor of wedding bells in her future, nor the legacy afforded by the propagation of children. She knew this, as surely as she sensed her life would be cut short by physical affliction. It is my belief that when she wrote Wuthering Heights, it was more than just a ghost story, a tale of revenge or a romance; it was a tribute to a love that transcends all aspects of human existence, that is, the soul - and the sole mission - of the truly integrated self which, in Emily's eyes resembled "the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary."

So, in the end, Emily allows the spirits of Cathy and Heathcliff to triumph against a world which strived to divide them... the "mature" adult world in which the polarized view of gender roles, and the constrictions society placed upon humans in general - could no longer dampen the freedom represented by their wild, androgynous, childlike spirits.

"How deep a chord Emily strikes with the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff is shown by the use Simone de Beauvoir makes of it in writing of the French tradition of the grandes amoureuses or the the great female lovers. Catherine's affirmation "I am Heathcliff" is for de Beauvoir the cry of every woman in love. In her feminist, existentialist reading, the woman in love surrenders her identity for his identity and her world for his world; she becomes the incarnation or embodiment of the man she loves, his reflection, his double. The basis for this relationship lies in the roles society assigns to males and females. 

The male is the standard or norm, the One; he is the subject who is capable of choice, of acting, of taking responsibility, and of affecting his destiny. The female, who is measured against the standard of the male, becomes the Other, dependent on him; she is an object to be acted upon by man, the subject; she is given meaning and status by her relationship to him. She is taught to regard man as godlike and to worship him; the goal of her existence is to be associated with him, to love him and be loved by him, because this allows her to share in his male power and sovereignty." (Quote found here.)


Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee

Shall Earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall nature cease to bow?

Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving -
Come back and dwell with me -

I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee still -
I know my sunshine pleases
Despite thy wayward will -

When day with evening blending
Sinks from the summer sky,
I've seen thy spirit bending
In fond idolatry -

I've watched thee every hour -
I know my mighty sway -
I know my magic power
To drive thy griefs away -

Few hearts to mortal given
On earth so wildly pine
Yet none would ask a Heaven
More like this Earth than thine -

Then let my winds caress thee -
Thy comrade let me be -
Since nought beside can bless thee
Return and dwell with me - 

Emily Brontë


I've posted clips from my two favorite Wuthering Heights adaptions below. The first, from 1970 features the soundtrack by Michel Legrand, starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall. The second - from 1992 - features the score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, starring Ralph Fiennes, and Juliette Binoche (who incidentally, assumed the leading role in a film about Camille Claudel), with a cameo appearance by "Emily Brontë" (Sinéad O'Connor).

The reality is, Emily Brontë's story defies cinematic adaptions, rendering them all somehow incomplete and somewhat hollow. It is a story that was meant to be read and transmuted into one's personal understanding - one's own "Language of the Birds" - so, while the films are entertaining, in this case, there can be no true substitute for a human's inner, silent, transdimensional engagement with the written word.


In reference to the inset photos: the first (found here) - the most celebrated painting (assumed to be) of Emily Brontë - was the only remaining fragment of a group portrait executed by Branwell Brontë. Lo and behold, this has been recently disputed online - the portrait is attributed to being one of Anne - due to the possible discovery of a glass photo (and/or "photo on glass") found in France with the inscription: “Les Sœurs Brontë.”  Sounds (and looks) somewhat suspicious to me... you be the judge. See here.

The photos of Emily's watercolor of her hawk "Nero" and that of a page from her poetry notebook can be found on this British Library page.

Also, during my research for this post, I found a number of interesting links (posted below).

Brontë links: The Brontë Society; The Brontë Blog (with a sidebar list of other Bron blogs); Kleurrijk's Brontë Sisters; and, last but not least, Les Soeurs Brontë, filles du Vent.

Wuthering Heights links: a Wuthering Heights discussion page (last updated 2012); a great UK Wuthering Heights page; a European Emily Brontë page; and, lastly, the Penguin Books Emily Brontë page.

Other illustrated Wuthering Heights editions: the 1931 Edition illustrated by Clare Leighton; the (MacMillan) 1970 Edition, illustrated by Bernarda Bryson; The Folio Society's Edition, Illustrated by Rovina Cai (introduced by Patti Smith!).


Update (September 16, 2016)

"According to the Brontë Effect, then, a soul-based love will unlock our awareness of reality as it truly is, in which we coexist in all times and places. There is the story we read, which falls into the 'light,' that is, the story visible to us in three dimensional reality. There must be, however, a related 'dark' story unfolding beyond our view, beyond what we know as Euclidean space (including, perhaps, the realms of dark matter and dark energy)."

Over at Histories of Things to Come, blogger (and friend to Trans-D) Tam B takes the transdimensional WH meme introduced here and runs with it! She even coins a new expression: the "Brontë Effect" (described in her quote above).

So, from one member of the "Emily camp" to another, here's more to add to our archives: 

Thanks, Tam B!


  1. A most insightful glimpse into one of our masterpieces of literature. You have plumbed depths I didn't even know existed in the novel/author...and connected dots that were heretofore unknown.


    This deserves a place in the Wiki as far as I'm concerned.

  2. Well, Wiki strives for an objective point of view... which I'm afraid this post is not! ;-)
    But, as always, thanks for your encouragement!

  3. "And, there is also the transdimensional aspect of the story: the odd way in which Emily presented her narratives, from several different points of view, intertwining numerous points in time, thereby, creating a weird, reverberating gestalt as opposed to a linear chronicle." This is the heart of it. I felt that there was an indistinctness, especially because the characters give their kids the same names. Past, present and future are jumbled together.

    I liked Jane Eyre, but over time it holds up less well (I agree about Bertha in the attic, horrible). It is part of the start of portraying mental illness as demonic (notice the euphemism of concealing terrorism which recently started in the media of describing terrorists as people who are mentally ill; this after so many years battling the stigma of mental illness). Oddly Heathcliff is demonic and probably mentally ill, but he remains sympathetic. The contrast between Bertha and Heathcliff on that score shows the gulf between the two sisters as authors. I am in the Emily camp.

    You're right to discuss the supernatural, alchemical, trans-dimensional, time- and death-defying energies at work in the book, bigger than Romantic Gothic. The closest analogy to Cathy-Heathcliff which I see in culture now is twin flame alchemical soul marriage.

    1. Thanks for dropping by!

      In the last analysis, technically, Jane Eyre was a great novel and - sans the "madwoman" - a novel to like. In spite of its varying horrors, it had a (more or less) conventional happy ending. I think that the problem arises when trying to compare it with Wuthering Heights... which was not so much a "story" as a recorded dream, in which there is no concrete beginning or ending, no hero, no heroine, and not much of a story in linear terms. In other words, if we didn't know that the books were written by two siblings, we might not compare them at all.

      Well, it's probably an understatement to portray terrorists as "mentally ill." There's certainly diseased elements in all of this... but, I would question where the actual "rot" begins. It seems to me that what we're seeing now is merely a heightened, extreme (and grotesque) expression of the predominately testosterone-driven qualities modern society seems to applaud: cold-blooded hatred, arrogance, aggression, violence, revenge, and misogyny.

      Hence, Donald Trump.

      Heathcliff can also be seen in this "light"... but, note that Heathcliff's descent into the demonic was the result of Love Thwarted; love that was thwarted throughout his life apart from his alchemical relationship with Catherine. But, it wasn't merely at the time of his death that his love was regained, it was during that pivotal - and necrophilic - moment by Catherine's grave (Chapter 29) in which Heathcliff had his epiphany.

      "There was another sigh, close at my ear. I appeared to feel the warm breath of it displacing the sleet-laden wind. I knew no living thing in flesh and blood was by; but, as certainly as you perceive the approach to some substantial body in the dark, though it cannot be discerned, so certainly I felt that Cathy was there: not under me, but on the earth. A sudden sense of relief flowed from my heart through every limb. I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at once: unspeakably consoled. Her presence was with me: it remained while I re-filled the grave, and led me home. You may laugh, if you will; but I was sure I should see her there. I was sure she was with me..."

      Actually, Wuthering Heights is an alchemical soup of human relationships - quite a lot of "flames"! And, I guess it's a tribute to Emily's genius that we're still captivated by it. Long live the Emily camp! ;-)

  4. I wonder if Emily Bronte was exposed via her father to Scottish freemasonry? Because when you look at the story in the sense of two souls in an alchemical marriage, the story becomes much more clear. Maybe she intuitively 'reached for' alchemical concepts without knowing them. I am sure someone has researched it. A lot of the primal gothic takes on the trans-dimensional or multi-dimensional aspects you're talking about if you consider the alchemical. Across time, space, in new incarnations, like the two lovers embody a conflicting spirit of humans on the moors, but there's a Jacob's Ladder feel to this too. My knowledge isn't good enough to be sure.

    1. Actually, that's a very interesting question, TB.

      I've read a few Brontë biographies, but, in regards to the Reverend Patrick Brontë, I can't remember any mention of freemasonry. It's possible that Emily may have had some knowledge though, because, lo and behold, her brother Branwell (and I quote): " February 1836 joined Haworth's Masonic Lodge of the Three Graces at the youngest possible age."ë

      Emily and Branwell were very close... so there may, indeed, be more to this picture. Very cool! Thanks! :-)

    2. Hmm, well well - I think there's something there, actually. Something worth digging into, because Masonic ritual is all about climbing through different layers of time and awareness to higher levels of union between the male and female. I know this from some of my gnostic hermetic blog posts.

    3. And, baby, you really dug into it!

      Just updated the post - we in the Emily camp can't ever get enough of WH can we? Looking forward to the "the dark-haired girl."

    4. Your piece really inspired and gave me some real epiphanies, thank you. I don't know if you've seen it but the 2009 ITV version is on youtube. 2 parts - search for 'Wuthering Heights (2009).'

    5. You're welcome, sweets. Epiphanies are, in an underlying sense, what I'm trying to conjure up when posting to this blog. So, it's very gratifying for me to have you say so.

      I've read some good things about the 2009 film, but, at the time, I wasn't really ready for another WH version. Maybe I'll watch it some night in November... November being my official WH month. ;-)

      On the other hand, do you realize there has been 31 cinematic adaptions of WH? And, if I remember correctly, another one is in the works. (!)

    6. The 2009 ITV/PBS version was really good, well done, worth seeing. The actors who played Catherine and Heathcliff were terrific (the whole thing hinges on that casting, which is incredibly difficult) and very, very believable. Tom Hardy (Heathcliff) and Charlotte Riley (Cathy) ended up getting married IRL, so their chemistry on screen is authentic and real, but more, they looked the parts, and inhabited them. I'm not a native, but I think they got the accents right, and these are English actors.

      The others in the cast were also great, particularly Andrew Lincoln who played Edgar Linton. The challenge in that role is to illustrate how and why Catherine would marry him at all. In the book, you are left with Heathcliff's total disgust and scorn of the character. So the dramatic portrayal does have to overcome that and successfully mirror and contrast with Heathcliff somehow, which is a tall order. Lincoln also plays the lead in the 'Walking Dead' so a substantial actor who 'stands for civilization.' The casting of Isabella Linton was also good - again, she has to stand up to Heathcliff, and this worked in this version.

      There is a new 2017 version of WH on Kickstarter now, but it is hipsterish and IMO off base, but even then, I like to see them trying.
      Here is their trailer

      To me the epiphany was the Masonic aspect and the impact of fiction in our own reality, our sense of time. I have to read up on Masonic lore to confirm further whether there is a connection between the two.

    7. Okay, okay, you've convinced me; I'll watch the 2009 film. As for the "hipster" version... I don't know... I seem to really loathe attempts to translate the story into any other time frame than the one it originated in.

      Re: "fiction in our own reality". Is there a meaningful difference anymore? I get the impression that for many people there isn't. So, good luck with that! :-)