Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights: Characteristics, Analysis & Quotes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

She's the maid in the middle of the action. Ellen 'Nelly' Dean, narrator of most of Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights,' is thoughtful and opinionated. Let's jump in and meet her.

Nelly, the Maid

At the beginning of the novel, Nelly Dean is the maid at Thrushcross Grange. She gives Lockwood the scoop on the history of both houses, the Grange and Wuthering Heights, as she's been at one of the two since she was a child. She's loyal to the Linton family of the Grange and to certain members of the Earnshaw family, the owners of Wuthering Heights. That loyalty influences her narration at times.

She's also very opinionated, and she's willing to express herself both positively and negatively. She really dislikes Heathcliff and that comes through in her narration. She's full of sassy comments about him and about several other characters.

Nelly is a romantic at heart, in the sense that she's willing to exaggerate things to heighten the drama both as a character in the story and the person telling the story. For example, she encourages Heathcliff to invent a noble background for himself. She also tells us that Heathcliff looked like a demon or a ghoul, near his death.

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  • 0:04 Nelly, the Maid
  • 1:01 Nelly, the Narrator
  • 1:40 Nelly, Mother to All
  • 2:20 Nelly & the Supernatural
  • 2:56 Nelly Quotes
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Nelly, the Narrator

Nelly is what's known as an unreliable narrator. She's telling the story of what happened at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, but she's telling her version of it. At other times, she's telling her version of what somebody else told her, too. Everything Lockwood hears about the history of these people and these two houses is filtered through Nelly.

That affects Lockwood's perception of these events and characters, which in turn affects our perception. The whole story of Wuthering Heights is Nelly's, so with her tendency to exaggerate and paint certain characters in better or worse lights, we get an intense, dramatic version of the history of this house.

Nelly, Mother to All

Nelly is especially loyal to two characters in the book: Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy Linton. Nelly raises both of these characters, as both of their mothers die shortly after giving birth. Her attachment to them is strong, and her opinion of them is higher than most people's. Pretty much everybody thinks Cathy is a prideful, mean jerk, and Hareton is treated like a servant.

Nelly loves these two like her own kids, so she plays up their romance during her narration at the end of the novel. Nelly's attachment here really tilts this toward a happy ending. She tells Lockwood, ''I shall envy no one on their wedding day: there won't be a happier woman than myself in England!''

Nelly & the Supernatural

Nelly isn't quite as superstitious as many of the village folks (who, for instance, believe that Heathcliff and Catherine haunt the moors together after he's buried next to her at the end of the book). Still, she's not taking any chances. Frequently throughout Wuthering Heights Nelly admits to being at least a little anxious about hauntings, ghosts, and prophetic dreams.

Nelly does have a Christian faith, which causes a divide between her and Heathcliff. He doesn't see any need for it, which doesn't put him in Nelly's good graces. And later she sees Heathcliff as a sort of demon, when he's in the grip of madness right before his death.

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