Love in Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Charlotte Bronte's ''Jane Eyre'' and Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights'' have been constantly compared since they were published. Though the two share a lot of similar qualities, they diverge sharply in their portrayal of love.

Sister Vs. Sister

Coke or Pepsi? Beatles or Rolling Stones? Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre? There are certain dividing lines that tell us a lot about people, and one of them is the Great Bronte Debate.

Emily and Charlotte Bronte both published novels in 1847 (little sister Anne did too, but she always gets overlooked). Both borrow elements from Gothic fiction and feature creepy old houses and supernatural, or at least quasi-supernatural, occurrences. Both feature a young woman falling for a bad boy who refuses to play by society's rules.

But that's where they diverge. The portrayals of love and romance in Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights highlight the deeper difference between the themes of these two books and the worldviews of the women who wrote them.

Jane Eyre, written by the outgoing and religiously devout Charlotte, is a story of redemption. Jane's pure goodness eventually wears down and redeems the loathsome Rochester, a guy so horrible he keeps his wife locked in the attic. In Wuthering Heights, however, written by shy and morose Emily, there is no conventional redemption. Lovers Catherine and Heathcliff can't carry on their unacceptable relationship in this world, so they seemingly do it in the next one.

The Lovers

Rochester, the ugly old crank of Jane Eyre, and Heathcliff, the ''dark-skinned Gypsy'' of Wuthering Heights, have a lot in common. Both have been called a Byronic hero. This term, named for the great poet and scoundrel Lord Byron, refers to a hero that lives outside the bounds of acceptable society but is charismatic and sexy in spite of (or perhaps because of) his refusal to play by the rules.

But while they're both bad boys, the two diverge in their station in life and their relationships to their beloveds. In Jane Eyre, Rochester is a gentleman in title if not in character, whom we meet as a hideously ugly old man ruling over Thornfield Hall. His beloved Jane, who comes to his house as a governess, is about two decades his junior. And as opposed to him, she is a devout Christian and woman of principles.

But opposites attract, as they say, and they eventually overcome their differences to come together. As Jane realizes, despite their different backgrounds, they actually have more in common than Rochester has with his fellow upper crusters: ''He is not to them what he is to me,' I thought: 'he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;--I am sure he is,--I feel akin to him.''

On the other hand, Heathcliff and Catherine start not as opposites but as two sides of the same coin. Heathcliff, an orphaned Gypsy, is taken in by Catherine's family and the two grow up together, tramping through the moors around Wuthering Heights and madly in love with one another.

But eventually, Catherine is educated into giving up her wild ways and becoming a proper lady, leaving Heathcliff behind. And though Heathcliff eventually gets the money and land of a gentleman, he never totally fits in. Heathcliff and Catherine can't be together, at least not in this life. But Catherine also can't quit him, as she tells Nelly, ''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--so, don't talk of our separation again: it is impracticable.''

The Resolution

Which takes us to the important factor of how both of these stories end. Jane and Rochester follow a pretty standard romance, homicidal ex-wives and arson aside. Jane's religious devotion and pure goodness melt Rochester's cold, cold heart and they end up with their happily ever after.

As for Catherine and Heathcliff, well.... After Catherine dies in childbirth, her ghost seems to haunt Heathcliff and the rest of Wuthering Heights. Meanwhile, Heathcliff develops some disturbing feelings for Catherine's corpse. He dies in her old room with the window open, seemingly either beckoned by her ghost or driven mad by her memory, or maybe a little of both. So they end possibly reconciled in the afterlife, but in a profoundly creepy way.

Passion and Purity

These sharply divergent love stories highlight one of the most ancient debates about the nature of love. Is love about purity and devotion, something that brings us closer to God? Or is it about passion, something that awakens our animal instincts?

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