"Wuthering Heights": By Emily Bronte
By H. Pearl Adam
Co much has been written about the influence of the Yorkshire moors and Yorkshire people on Emily Bronte's mind, by way of accounting for the extraordinary work of genius called "Wuthering Heights," that mild folk living in the South may well have been scared ever to go near Yorkshire. As a matter of fact, the Brontes lived a secluded, reserved life, tormented by ill-health, and were of an odd nature themselves, rather gloomy and fantastic. Emily read deeply and long in German literature, which in her day was just peopling the world with ghosts and goblins and ruined castles and shrieks heard on windy winter nights, and so forth. This influence she translated into a Yorkshire setting ; but the timid Southron may be reassured - the characters in "Wuthering Heights" are not typical Yorkshire people, and the manners of "Wuthering Heights " do not obtain in Yorkshire houses.
The book, although it may rightly be called absurd and impossible from one point of view, with many technical faults, has amazing power, and the transient gleams of sun that pass across the canvas are delicately and truly put in. But the general effect of the book is such that one remembers with amazement that it has a " happy ending."
A kind-hearted Yorkshireman one day, in a slum in a big town, came upon a neglected, homeless little boy - a "little black-haired, swarthy thing, as dark as if it came from the devil." He carried him home to his house on the moors, called Wuthering Heights. " Wuthering " is a local word, and anyone can find out what it means merely by saying " the wind was wuthering round the house." So the name of the house in which the action passes already strikes the note of the book.
The little waif is known as "Heathcliff," and he grows up a violent, gloomy, boorish lad, at war with everyone except the little wild-hearted daughter of the house, Catherine. Earnshaw is the name of the family into which he is introduced, and a more oddly constituted household it would be impossible to find. The elder Mr. Earnshaw is dead, and his wife dies before him. Hindley Earnshaw, the son, succeeds - a young man given to dissipation, and of no very pleasing character. His colourless young wife scarcely appears at all; she just fades away, after giving birth to a son, called Hareton. (All the men at Wuthering Heights have surnames instead of Christian names.) Hindley's young sister Catherine runs wild for years, for apparently education is hardly thought of, and Heathcliff is her chosen companion. The two are in a way kindred spirits. Hindley hates them both, particularly Heath-cliff, and treats the two children cruelly, partly out of ignorance and thoughtlessness.
After a while Catherine comes under the influence of two cousins, Edgar and Isabella Linton. These live in a sheltered grange under the moors, and they are really civilised people, which apparently made it difficult for Emily Bronte to tolerate them, Catherine goes down to have lessons with them, and' comes back to the Heights a little, fine lady. She sneers at Heathcliff's ignorance and boorishness, and drives him nearly mad. Yet his devotion to her never wavers. He would have murdered her at any moment with something approaching satisfaction, but that is merely his little way of loving.
To tell the first part of the story briefly, Catherine grows up and marries Edgar Linton, who loves her, and would not dream of murdering her. For this she never forgives him, as he seems to her tame and insipid after Heathcliff, who has now vanished from the scene. So Catherine is installed at Thrushcross Grange, and is just beginning to settle down when Heathcliff turns up again, with some appearance of cleanliness and education about him, but otherwise just the same as ever.
The story now becomes obscure ; Heath-cliff is always raving violently, but we cannot be quite sure what he would be at. But he has a power which seems to paralyse everybody ; instead of being horsewhipped for hanging round Catherine, it is her husband who creeps about like a culprit. Meanwhile, Heathcliff is busy killing Hindley Earnshaw up at the Heights, by way of paying off old scores ; and teaching his little son to swear.
One day Edgar Linton comes home and finds Catherine and Heathcliff locked in an embrace which seems to hold them as in a spell. (Previous to this Catherine has fallen into a half-tranced state, subsequent to an illness.) That night her little daughter Catherine is born, and the young mother, whom, with all her wildness, we cannot help liking, even in spite of her dreadful rudeness, slips away from the world. Heathcliff is really a madman from this moment.
Hindley dies, and Heathcliff, having won everything from him at cards, enters into possession of Wuthering Heights, where he lives for years, bringing Hareton up as even a greater savage than he is himself. But another thread has new entered into the story. Edgar Linton's sister has conceived an odd infatuation for Heathcliff, before Catherine's death, and with almost incredible brutality Catherine has told Heathcliff of this in the presence of Isabella. The next thing is the elopement of Isabella with Heathcliff, who thinks this a good move in the vengeance he has sworn to wreak on Linton for marrying Catherine. Of course, she cannot stand him, and runs away to a hiding-place, where a son is born.
A Pause in the Story
So now we have Heathcliff and young Hareton living like beasts up at Wuthering Heights ; Isabella bringing up Heathcliff's son in the south country ; and Edgar Linton, broken-hearted and fragile, rearing little Cathy almost as a prisoner in Thrush-cross Grange. The story seems to pause, while the two cousins are growing up ; but with Isabella's death, and Linton Heath-cliff's consequent arrival at Thrushcross Grange, matters move again. Linton is a puling, peevish creature, who would be as brutal as Heathcliff if he were not too weak in body and mind. Brilliant little Catherine pities him from the bottom of her heart, and she dazzles him. Heathcliff insists on having him up at the Heights, and there matures a further scheme. He will marry Linton to Catherine, and thus get possession of all Edgar Linton's lands and money. So he would at last ruin the whole family of Earnshaw and Linton.
This he brings about just before Edgar Linton's death ; and his son dies very shortly after. Catherine, cruelly used and penniless, lives on at the Heights.
A Haunted Man
But Heathcliff is a haunted man. The spiritual presence of the first Catherine, his only love, is for ever tormenting him. He feels always that she is just out of sight - that she is in the next room ; but she never vouchsafes him a glimpse of herself. So strong is the haunted feeling about the house that a weather-bound stranger, sleeping in the room used by Catherine when she was a little girl, dreams of a child's face appearing outside the window, of a voice crying, " Let me in ! Let me in ! " in the moaning of the wind. He is so horrified that he dreams he breaks the window, catches hold of the child's wrists, and pulls it backwards and forwards across the broken glass. Even the dreams in that house are violent and inhuman.
After years of torture Heathcliff has his reward. Catherine appears to him, and for three days he gazes upon her presence in her old places. He eats nothing, speaks to no one. At the end of that time he is found dead, and is buried, as he had long ago arranged, next to Catherine, the two sides of the coffins being withdrawn so that their dust may mingle.
And Catherine the younger and Hareton Earnshaw, who is softened and civilised by her, fall in love and marry, so that this wild and fearful story ends on a gentle note of happiness. But none who have not read it can appreciate its stormy grandeur.
A Sister's Tribute
In conclusion may be quoted the famous words of Charlotte Bronte, which so aptly describe the character of her gifted and dearly loved sister.
" In Emily's nature the extremes of vigour and of simplicity seem to meet. Under an unsophisticated culture, inartificial tastes, and an unpretending outside, lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero ; but she had no worldly wisdom, her powers were unadapted to the practical business of life, she would fail to defend her most manifest rights, to consult her most legitimate advantage. An interpreter ought always to have stood between her and the world. Her will was not very flexible, and it generally opposed her interests. Her temper was magnanimous, but warm and sudden, her spirit altogether unbending.
" Neither Emily nor Anne was learned, they had no thought of filling their pitchers at the well-spring of other minds; they always wrote from the impulse of nature, the dictates of intuition, and from such stores of observation as their limited experience had enabled them to amass. I may sum up all by saying that for strangers they were nothing, for superficial observers less than nothing ; but for those who had known them all their lives in the intimacy of close relationship they were genuinely good and truly great."