ROMANTIC LOVE IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Romantic love takes many forms in Wuthering Heights: the grand
passion of Heathcliff and Catherine, the insipid sentimental
languishing of Lockwood, the coupleism of Hindley and Frances, the tame
indulgence of Edgar, the romantic infatuation of Isabella, the puppy
love of Cathy and Linton, and the flirtatious sexual attraction of
Cathy and Hareton. These lovers, with the possible exception of Hareton
and Cathy, are ultimately self-centered and ignore the needs, feelings,
of others; what matters is the lovers' own feelings and needs.
Nevertheless, it is the passion of
Heathcliff and Catherine that most readers respond to and remember and
that has made this novel one of the great love stories not merely of
English literature but of European literature as well. Simone de Beauvoir
cites Catherine's cry, "I am Heathcliff," in her discussion
of romantic love, and movie adaptations of
the novel include a Mexican and a French version. In addition, their
love has passed into popular culture; Kate Bush and Pat Benetar both
recorded "Wuthering Heights," a song which Bush wrote, and MTV
showcased the lovers in a musical version.
The love-relationship of Heathcliff and
Catherine, but not that of the other lovers, has become an archetype; it expresses the
passionate longing to be whole, to give oneself unreservedly to another
and gain a whole self or sense of identity back, to be all-in-all for
each other, so that nothing else in the world matters, and to be loved
in this way forever. This type of passion-love can be summed up in the
phrase more--and still more , for it is insatiable,
unfulfillable, and unrelenting in its demands upon both lovers.
HEATHCLIFF AND CATHERINE: TRUE LOVERS?
Despite the generally accepted view that
Heathcliff and Catherine are deeply in love with each other, the
question of whether they really "love" each other has to be addressed.
This question raises another; what kind of love--or feeling--is Emily
Brontë depicting? Her sister Charlotte, for
example, called Heathcliff's feelings "perverted passion
and passionate perversity."
I list below a number of interpretations of their love/ostensible love.
Soulmates. Their love exists on a higher or
spiritual plane; they are soul mates, two people who have an affinity
for each other which draws them togehter irresistibly. Heathcliff
repeatedly calls Catherine his soul. Such a love is not necessarily
fortunate or happy. For C. Day Lewis, Heathcliff and Catherine
"represent the essential isolation of the soul, the agony of two
souls–or rather, shall we say? two halves of a single
soul–forever sundered and struggling to unite."
A life-force relationship. Clifford Collins
calls their love a life-force relationship, a principle that is not
conditioned by anything but itself. It is
a principle because the relationship is of an ideal nature; it does not
exist in life, though as in many statements of an ideal this principle
has implications of a profound living significance. Catherine's
conventional feelings for Edgar Linton and his superficial appeal
contrast with her profound love
for Heathcliff, which is "an acceptance of identity below the level of
consciousness." Their relationship
expresses "the impersonal essence of personal existence,"
an essence which Collins calls the life-force.
This fact explains why Catherine and Heathcliff several
times describe their love in impersonal terms. Because
such feelings cannot be fulfilled in an actual relationship,
Brontë provides the relationship of Hareton and
Cathy to integrate the principle into everyday life.
Creating meaning. Are Catherine and Heathcliff
rejecting the emptiness of the universe, social institutions, and their
relationships with others by finding meaning in their relationship with
each other, by a desperate assertion of identity based on the other?
Catherine explains to Nelly:
...surely you and everybody have a notion
that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What
were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here? My great
miseries in this world have
been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each
from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else
perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and,
if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn
to a mighty stranger. I should not seem part of it" (Ch. ix, p. 64).
Dying, Catherine again confides to Nelly
her feelings about the emptiness and torment of living in this world
and her belief in a fulfilling alternative: "I'm tired, tired of being
enclosed here. I'm wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to
be always there; not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it
through the walls of an aching heart; but really with it, and in it"
(Ch. xv, p. 125).
Transcending isolation. Their love is an
break the boundaries of self and to fuse with another to
transcend the inherent separateness of the human condition; fusion with
another will by uniting two incomplete individuals create a whole and
achieve new sense of identity, a complete and unified identity. This
need for fusion motivates Heathcliff's determination to "absorb"
Catherine's corpse into his and for them to "dissolve" into each other
so thoroughly that Edgar will not be able to distinguish Catherine from
Freud explained this urge as an inherent part of love:
"At the height
of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt
away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is in love
declares ‘I' and 'you' are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were
Love as religion. Love has become a religion
in Wuthering Heights, providing a shield against the fear of
death and the annihilation of personal identity or consciousness. This
use of love would explain the inexorable connection between love and
death in the characters' speeches and actions.
Robert M. Polhemus sees Brontë's religion of love as
individualistic and capitalistic:
Wuthering Heights is filled with a
religious urgency–unprecedented in British novels–to imagine a faith
that might replace the old. Cathy's "secret" is blasphemous, and Emily
Brontë's secret, in the novel, is the raging heresy that has
become common in modern life: redemption, if it is possible, lies in
personal desire, imaginative power, and love. Nobody else's heaven is
good enough. Echoing Cathy, Heathdiff says late in the book, "I
have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether
unvalued and uncoveted by me!" ...The hope for salvation
becomes a matter of eroticized private enterprise....
... Catherine and Heathcliff have faith in their
vocation of being in love with one another.... They both believe that
they have their being in the other, as Christians, Jews, and Moslems
believe that they have their being in God. Look at the mystical passion
of these two: devotion to shared experience and intimacy with the
other; willingness to suffer anything, up to, and including, death, for
the sake of this connection; ecstatic expression; mutilation of both
social custom and the flesh; and mania for self-transcendence through
the other. That passion is a way of overcoming the threat of death and
the separateness of existence. Their calling is to be the other; and
that calling, mad and destructive as it sometimes seems, is religious.
The desire for transcendence takes the form of
crossing boundaries and rejecting conventions; this is the source
of the torment of being imprisoned in a body and in this life, the
uncontrolled passion expressed in extreme and violent ways, the
usurpation of property, the literal and figurative imprisonments, the
necrophilia, the hints of incest and adultery, the ghosts of Catherine
in other words, that has shocked readers from the novel's
first publication. Each has replaced God for the other,
and they anticipate being reunited in love after death, just as
Christians anticipate being reunited with God after death.
Nevertheless, Catherine and Heatcliff are inconsistent in their
attitude toward death, which both unites and separates.
After crying "Heathcliff! I only wish us never to be parted," Catherine
goes on to say, "I'm wearying to escape into
that glorious world," a wish which necessarily involves
separation (Ch. xv, p. 125).
Love as addiction. Is what Catherine and
Heathcliff call love and generations of readers have accepted as Ideal
Love really an addiction? Stanton Peele argues that romantic or passion
love is in itself an addiction. What exactly does he mean by addiction?
Conventional religion is presented negatively in the novel. The
abandoned church at Gimmerton is decaying;
the minister stops visiting Wuthering Heights because
of Hindley's degeneracy. Catherine and Heathcliff reject
Joseph's religion, which is narrow, self-righteous, and
punitive. Is conventional religion replaced by the religion of love,
and does the fulfillment of Heathcliff and Catherine's love after death
affect the love of Hareton and Cathy in
any way? Does the redemptive power of love, which is obvious
in Cathy's civilizing Hareton, relate to love-as-religion
experienced by Heathcliff and Catherine?
An addiction exists when a person's
attachment to a sensation, an object, or another person is such as to
lessen his appreciation of and ability to deal with other things in his
environment, or in himself, so that he has become increasingly
dependent on that experience as his only source of gratification.
Individuals who lack direction and commitment, who are emotionally
unstable, or who are isolated and have few interests are especially
vulnerable to addictions. An addictive love wants to break down the
boundaries of identity and merge with the lover into one identity.
Lacking inner resources, love addicts look outside themselves for
meaning and purpose, usually in people similar to themselves. Even if
the initial pleasure and sense of fulfillment or satisfaction does not
last, the love-addict is driven by need and clings desperately to the
relationship and the lover. Catherine, for example, calls her
relationship "a source of little visible delight, but necessary." The
loss of the lover, whether through rejection or death,
causes the addict withdrawal symptoms, often extreme ones
like illness, not eating, and faintness. The addict wants
possession of the lover regardless of the consequences to
the loved one; a healthy love, on the other hand, is capable of putting
the needs of the beloved first.
Brontë: Table of Contents
March 14, 2011