Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing
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.
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.
Sassy but wise, Nelly tries to get through to Heathcliff about how he's not doing himself any favors with his terrible attitude. Her advice, of course, falls on deaf ears.
''Don't get the expression of a vicious cur that appears to know the kicks it gets are its desert, and yet, hates all the world, as well as the kicker, for what it suffers.''
She might 'just be a maid,' but don't underestimate Nelly. She's a bookworm, which only adds to her idealism and romanticism.
''I have undergone sharp discipline, which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood. You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into, and got something out of also.''
Here's more of Nelly's classic sass at work, this time turned on Heathcliff's son, Linton.
''Pretty loving, indeed! and both times together you have seen Linton hardly four hours in your life! Now here is the babyish trash.''
Even though she's in the tank for Cathy and Hareton, Nelly loves romance so much that she's willing to entertain Lockwood's ideas of him marrying Cathy.
''These things happened last winter, sir. . . hardly more than a year ago. Last winter, I did not think, at another twelve months' end, I should be amusing a stranger to the family with relating them! Yet, who knows how long you'll be a stranger?''
Nelly's a romantic, but she speaks eloquently about love. This is how she sums up Cathy and Hareton's courtship.
''Earnshaw was not to be civilized with a wish, and my young lady was no philosopher, and no paragon of patience; but both their minds tending to the same point - one loving and desiring to esteem, and the other loving and desiring to be esteemed - they contrived in the end to reach it.''
Nelly Dean, more than just a humble maid, is the narrator for most of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. She's idealistic, romantic, and sassy, and always ready with a smart comment on the things she's telling Lockwood or others about. She's often an unreliable narrator, as she twists the story she's telling to suit the people she likes and to make the people she doesn't like look bad.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack