Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.
Wuthering Heights: Background
Wuthering Heights, was written by Emily Brontë in 1847, the year before she died. It's the only novel written by Emily Brontë, the sister of Charlotte Brontë whose novel Jane Eyre is still one of the most beloved novels of English Literature. Wuthering Heights, which is much darker and more psychological than Jane Eyre, tells the story of the Linton and Earnshaw families. This lesson focuses on the role of marriage in Wuthering Heights.
Wuthering Heights: Synopsis
Nelly Dean, is the narrator, or person who tells the story of Wuthering Heights. She's a servant at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. She tells the story of the Linton and Earnshaw families, starting with the adoption of the gypsy-like Heathcliff. Heathcliff is hated by Hindley Earnshaw but close with the youngest Earnshaw, Catherine.
Catherine loves Heathcliff passionately, but marries Edgar Linton, the heir to Thrushcross Grange, instead. As revenge, Heathcliff marries Edgar's sister, Isabella. After Catherine dies bearing her only child, a daughter named Cathy, Isabella goes to London and bears Heathcliff's son, Linton.
Hindley Earnshaw dies not long after Isabella leaves. Hindley's son Hareton is cheated out of Wuthering Heights by Heathcliff. Years pass, and Cathy grows up. Linton comes to live at Wuthering Heights after his mother dies. Heathcliff forces the two to marry. Then Edgar Linton dies, and Linton Earnshaw soon after, so Cathy becomes the heir to both properties.
The Role of Marriage
Unfortunately, all of the marriages in Wuthering Heights end badly. By examining each of the major marriages, a pattern becomes clear: marriage is destructive, especially to the women, and leads to the end of love and romance.
Heathcliff and Catherine
Heathcliff's love for Catherine drives his entire life. Though she loves him, she marries Edgar, choosing social standing over passion. The love Heathcliff has for Catherine consumes him, eventually causing him to wed another and even to stop eating, causing his own death decades later. It's something to note that the only relationship that is shown as true love is both destructive and never actually realized.
Catherine and Edgar
In a lot of ways, Edgar is the complete opposite of Heathcliff. He has the social standing and family that the orphaned Heathcliff can only dream of. Instead of the fiery passion Heathcliff has, Edgar is solid and steady. They are even opposites in looks: Edgar is described as fair haired and blue-eyed, while Heathcliff is as dark as a gypsy.
Catherine meets Edgar Linton while recovering from a dog bite at Thrushcross Grange. Even though Catherine is temperamental and far below him socially, Edgar is afraid to anger Catherine and lives in fear of her. Though Edgar indirectly causes Catherine's death in childbirth, he is a good man who cares for his family, and in that, he is the opposite of Heathcliff, too.
Heathcliff and Isabella
Isabella is weak and foolish. Brontë describes her as being beautiful but ''infantile in manners.'' Isabella falls in love with Heathcliff, who uses her as revenge. Against her brother's wishes, Isabella runs away with Heathcliff.
But life with Heathcliff is terrible for Isabella. She begs her brother to forgive her, and tries to return to Nelly at Thrushcross Grange, but Edgar won't let her stay. So Isabella leaves Heathcliff and goes to London, where she bears and raises his son.
Cathy and Linton
Cathy is pretty, willful, and brave. Linton is weak and often sick. But Heathcliff sees the friendship between Cathy and Linton as a way to recreate what he had with Catherine, and as a way to control the fortunes of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.
Cathy and Linton exchange love letters, but she doesn't want to marry him. However, Heathcliff takes her prisoner at Wuthering Heights when her father is ill, and won't let her leave until she promises to marry Linton. The relationship is short-lived, as Linton dies soon after.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. Marriage in Wuthering Heights never did anyone any good. Of the original four people who married, none are left alive at the end of the novel—only the narrator, or the person who tells the story, Nelly Dean. Catherine is dead in childbirth, Edgar and Isabella of illness, and Heathcliff of his own mental instability. Linton, too, has died much too young. In fact, the Linton/Heathcliff/ Earnshaw families have dwindled down to only two members: Cathy and Hareton.
Even though the marriages in the novel are destructive, we are left on a bit of a high note. Hareton and Cathy have decided they will get married. Nelly hopes they can break the curse started by the denied love between Catherine and Heathcliff and be truly happy together.
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