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This page is under construction. In its present form, it is a series of disconnected notes; please read it in this spirit.


  • How deep a chord Emily strikes with the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff is shown by the use Simone de Beauvoir makes of it in writing of the French tradition of the grandes amoureuses or the the great female lovers. Catherine's affirmation "I am Heathcliff" is for de Beauvoir the cry of every woman in love. In her feminist, existentialist reading, the woman in love surrenders her identity for his identity and her world for his world; she becomes the incarnation or embodiment of the man she loves, his reflection, his double. The basis for this relationship lies in the roles society assigns to males and females.

    The male is the standard or norm, the One; he is the subject who is capable of choice, of acting, of taking responsibility, and of affecting his destiny. The female, who is measured against the standard of the male, becomes the Other, dependent on him; she is an object to be acted upon by man, the subject; she is given meaning and status by her relationship to him. She is taught to regard man as godlike and to worship him; the goal of her existence is to be associated with him, to love him and be loved by him, because this allows her to share in his male power and sovereignty. She achieves happiness when the man she loves accepts her as part of his identity. In reality, because no man is godlike, she is ultimately disappointed but refuses to acknowledge his fallibility; because no man can give her either his ability to act and choose or the character to accept responsibility for those actions and choices, she does not really achieve or even participate in his status as subject or standard. She remains dependent, Other. It comes as no surprise, then, to find that the woman in love, who is seldom the wife, at least traditionally in France, is the woman who waits.

  • Catherine implies that their love is timeless and exists on some other plane than her feelings for Linton, which are conventionally romantic. If their love exists on a spiritual or at least a non-material plane, then she is presumably free to act as she pleases in the material, social plane; marrying Edgar will not affect her relationship with Heathcliff. By dying, she relinquishes her material, social self and all claims except those of their love, which will continue after death. Heathcliff, in contrast, wants physical togetherness; hence, his drive to see her corpse and his arrangements for their corpses to merge by decaying into each other.

  • If identity rather than personal relationship is the issue or the nature of their relationship, then Catherine is free to have a relationship with Edgar because Heathcliff's feelings and desires do not have to be taken into account. She needs to think only of herself, in effect.

  • In Lord David Cecil's view, conflict arises between unlike characters, and the deepest attachments are based on characters' similarity or affinity as expressions of the same spiritual principle. Thus, Catherine loves Heathcliff because as children of the storm they are bound by their similar natures. This is why Catherine says she loves Heathcliff  "because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." As the expression of the principle of the storm, their love is, of course, neither sexual nor sensual.

  • Because of the merging of their identities or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, because of their intense desire to merge and refusal to accept their literal separateness, Catherine's betrayal of her own nature destroys not only her but threatens Heathcliff with destruction also.

  • Is Catherine deluding herself with this speech? Louis Beverslius answers yes, Catherine is preoccupied, if not obsessed with the image of herself "as powerfully, even irresistibly, attracted to Heathcliff." Their bond is a negative one:

    they identify with one another in the face of a common enemy, they rebel against a particular way of life which both find intolerable. It is not enough, however, simply to reject a particular way of life; one cannot define oneself wholly in terms of what he despises. One must carve out for oneself an alternative which is more than a systematic repudiation of what he hates. A positive commitment is also necessary. The chief contrast between Catherine and Heathcliff consists in the fact that he is able to make such a commitment (together with everything it entails) while she is not. And, when the full measure of their characters has been taken, this marks them as radically dissimilar from one another, whatever their temporary 'affinities' appear to be. It requires only time for this radical dissimilarity to become explicit.

    Their dissimilarities appear when she allies herself, however sporadically, with the Lintons and oscillates between identifying with them and with Heathcliff. When Heathcliff throws hot applesauce at Edgar and is banished, Catherine initially seems unconcerned and later goes off to be with Heathcliff. Her rebelliousness changes from the open defiance of throwing books into the kennel to covert silence and a double character. Catherine both knows Heathcliff and does not know him; she sees his avarice and vengefulness, but believes that he will not injure Isabella because she warned him off. Catherine's mistaken belief that she and Heathcliff still share an affinity moves her to distinguish in their last conversation between the real Hathcliff whom she is struggling with and the image of Heathcliff which she has held since childhood. It is with the false image that she has an affinity:

        Oh, you see, Nelly! He would not relent a moment, to keep me out of hte grave! That is how I'm loved! Well, never mind! That is not my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet; and take him with me–he's in my soul.

    The fact that to maintain the fiction of their affinity Catherine has to create two Heathcliffs, an inner and an outer one, suggests that total affinity does not exist and that complete mergining of two identities is impossible.

  • Catherine is similarly deluded about her childhood and has painted a false picture of the freedom of Wuthering Heights.

  • Catherine's assertion that Heathcliff is "more myself than I am" is generally read as an expression of elemental passion. But is it possible that she is using Heathcliff as a symbol of their childhood, when she had freedom of movement and none of the responsibilities and pressure of adulthood, when she was "half savage, and hardy and free"?  Does Catherine become, in the words of Lyn Pykett, "the object of a competitive struggle between two men, each of whom wants her to conform to his own version of her"?

Brontë: Table of Contents

Day 1

Overview of Emily Brontë
Publication of Wuthering Heights & Contemporary Critics
Later Critical response to Wuthering Heights
Film Versions of Wuthering Heights

Day 2 Themes in Wuthering Heights
The Narrator
Day 3 Wuthering Heights as Socio-Economic Novel
Psychological Interpretations of Wuthering Heights
Religion, Metaphysics, Mysticism and Wuthering Heights
The Gothic and Wuthering Heights
Romanticism and Wuthering Heights
Day 4

"I am Heathcliff"
Emily Bronte's Poetry


March 14, 2011