Whuthering Heights

I’ve always been a Jane Eyre person. When I first read Whuthering Heights I could tell it was the superior novel, but emotionally I’ve always felt more connected to Jane – a caged bird of a ‘free human being with an independent will’. Whatever interpretations I’ve read of it, from The Wide Sargasso Sea to the short story collection Reader, I Married Him, I’ve only empathised with her varying sides more. (The exception is Mr Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. That was atrocious.) This connection and empathy always evaded me in Whuthering Heights. There was not a single character in that I could feel with for more than a page.

Until my third read this autumn.

Suddenly Catherine stood out to me as someone I could identify with. Her death drive love for Heathcliff, her destructive search for identity and ultimately her self-imposed madness and death, are all desperate attempts to understand and express herself. I could suddenly understand that. The genius of the novel was no longer just an academic fact, but an emotional reality. I opened my heart and let Cathy in.

Cathy is famously drawn between nature and nurture, between Heathcliff and the Lintons. I’d always read it as the 19th century woman’s plight of being torn between who she truly is and whom society expects her to be. But now the extremity of her actions and reactions made a sister, more so than the symbolism of Jane Eyre. Jane’s moral and pragmatism are strong traits that she stays true to, but Cathy doesn’t even know who she is in the first place. Who does she stay true to?

Is Heathcliff really her nature, more herself than she is? Is it his nature, or did being spoiled by Mr Earnshaw, and bullied by Hindley, make him the way he is? Heathcliff begins his life shy, and Cathy hates the usurper of her father’s affections. So, is it really her true nature that attracts Catherine to Heathcliff, or is it a nature, an alternative, that attracts her? One that she imitates in order to be free?

It’s like the only way she can feel alive is to draw death itself out of her. In life she continually seeks destruction; to herself, to her relationships, and to the people around her. Then in death, peace and answers continue to evade her. Instead she roams the moors and like a vampire ask to be let in to the house and community that rejected her in life.

And although I’ve never starved and hated myself to madness and death during pregnancy, there was something in it that made me admire Catherine for the first time. Admire and actually care for her.

 

2 thoughts on “Whuthering Heights

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  1. Wuthering Heights has always been my favorite Bronte novel. I read it at 17 years old and have yet to reread it as an adult. I’m very curious as to how I would feel about it now. But I remember loving it to pieces because every character wears their insanity like a second skin. It made me feel understood 😂

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