Although I never found it easy reading, given its literary style, for many years I shared the widespread delusion that Wuthering Heights was a love story. Won over by the brooding Laurence Olivier (he was gorgeous, although the film now seems inauthentic and wooden) performance, I thought that the darkness permeating the entire novel related to passion/love.
The fact that Heathcliff’s and Cathy’s dilemma is only resolved, if at all, by death, tells us this is not actually a love story, more some narcissistic self-indulgence.
Paul Miller (2012) claimed that Wuthering Heights is not a love story at all and I’m inclined to agree with him.
It is about addiction, revenge, and jealous rage. Heathcliff, the anti ‘hero’ has no redeeming features. There is no concern for the other, only the self. Martin Kettle (2007) went so far as to say if Wuthering Heights was a love story, then Hamlet was a sitcom. You get the gist. Obsession, power, class conflict … the themes are dark, gloomy, Gothic and endless.
Miller actually described Heathcliff as Gollum (now there’s an image, my precious): “consumed, enslaved and made a tyrant by his obsession”. It is a good description. He calls it “narcissistic eros” for there is a kind of mutually destructive self-love between Heathcliff and Cathy, which renders Heathcliff, especially, incapable of humanity.
Which is what brings me back to what I hated so intensely about it. Before reading it I had a general impression that it was a great story of forbidden love that many people looked to as a stirring tale of how to follow your heart lest we lose our soulmates. That radically misreads the book. Heathcliff does follow his heart, and that is exactly why he destroys himself and everyone around him. Heathcliff and Catherine’s love is not a pattern for us to emulate, but to avoid.
I hate this book’s reputation and the way this book is read and perceived by others.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline Parkinson (2013) wrote, from a psychological perspective, of co-dependency and narcissism among the two leading characters. They feed off each other, wish to control, fear abandonment and are utterly dysfunctional. Heathcliff is dark and cruel, a misogynist. And that is just a taste of it. Author Emily certainly had a vivid imagination, or did she? We tend to base characters on those we know. She, for example, had a great arsenal of behaviour to draw upon when describing Hindley.
As Cathy stresses, there is no pleasure in her relationship with Heathcliff, so that obsession is not love; it is extreme, pathological.
My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath, a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.
There is no joy in it.
Here’s Kate Bush singing about it. I first heard this in 1978, at university, when I was 18. I played the record over and over again (like some obsessive in the book) and told all my friends she was going to be amazingly big, and this song would be a classic.
They didn’t believe me.