Emily Bronte had written few novels in her lifetime and her fame lies upon Wuthering Heights. Due to her death at a very young age, her career came to an end but she has written this novel keeping in mind the time and essence of the age she was living in. There are different themes and types used in the work. However, we will be talking about the romantic aspect of the novel in this article.
Many of the critics and writers have not called this novel to be romantic as the romance portrayed in the novel is not an organic one. The romance feels more of revenge in this novel and many romances remain unfulfilled till the end. Romance takes various forms in Wuthering Heights.
It ranges from Hindley and Frances marriage, the romantic attraction of Isabella, sexual attraction of Cathy and Hareton, puppy love of Cathy and Linton, passion of Catherine and Heathcliff, unsuccessful sentimentalism of Lockwood and naive satisfaction of Edgar. All the lovers, except Hareton and Cathy, are self-centred and ignore the feelings, needs and claims of others and palace their own needs and feelings on the priority.
Nonetheless, it is the passion of Catherine and Heathcliff that most of the readers relate to. This has made the novel one of the greatest love stories in English literature and European literature. Simone de Beauvoir uses Catherine’s cry “I am Heathcliff” to discuss romantic love and all the movie adaptations and songs based on the novel highlight this passion of Heathcliff and Catherine.
The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff and not of any other lovers has become a stereotype. It shows the passionate longing to be complete and to give submit oneself to another partner and gain complete self or the sense of identity back and to be completely immersed in each other so that nobody and nothing in the world matters and to be loved in this manner forever.
This type of passion cum love can be summed up as more and still more as it cannot be fulfilled, satisfied and is not relenting in the demand of both lovers. It is generally accepted that Catherine and Heathcliff are deeply and madly in love with each other but it is very difficult to understand whether they love each other. The question here is what type of feeling or love is Emily Bronte is trying to depict in this novel.
Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister and a prominent novelist calls Heathcliff’s feelings to be perverted passion and passionate perversity. Some of the interpretations of Catherine and Heathcliff’s love are being discussed below in detail.
- Soulmates: Their love exists on a spiritual or higher plane as they are soulmates and they have an attraction towards each other which binds them together irresistibly. Heathcliff time and again calls Catherine his soul.
This kind of love might not be happy or fortunate. According to Cecil Day Lewis, Catherine and Heathcliff represent isolation of soul, the pain of two souls or two halves of a single soul that is forever alone and united.
- Life-force relationship: The love of Catherine and Heathcliff is a life-force relationship according to Clifford Collins as it is conditioned by nothing but itself. This is a principle because the relationship looks imaginary on the surface and there is nothing real about it. However, many statements go on to say that this principle has a great effect on the significance of one’s life.
Catherine’s feelings for Edgar Linton and his appeal are completely in contrast with her boundless love for Heathcliff which is identity acceptance below consciousness level. Their relationship shows the impersonal nature of personal living which is known as a life force by Collins.
This is the reason due to which Catherine and Heathcliff describe their love impersonally. These feelings cannot be fulfilled in an actual relationship which is why Bronte provides Cathy and Hareton’s relationship to bind this principle into daily life.
- Creating Meaning: Heathcliff and Catherine reject the emptiness of social institutions, the universe, and their relationship with others by finding meaning in their relationship with each other and trying to assert their identity based on another partner. Catherine while dying tells Nelly her feelings about the torture and the emptiness of living in this world and her belief in a fulfilling alternate.
- Going beyond isolation: The love of Catherine and Heathcliff is a desperate attempt to break from the boundaries set by themselves and mingle with each other i.e. uniting of two incomplete people to create and achieve an all-new sense of complete identity.
This need for the mixture is the reason behind Heathcliff’s determination to absorb himself with Catherine’s corpse into his so that they can dissolve into each other in such a way that Edgar cannot take away Catherine from him.
- Love as religion: Love takes the form of religion in Wuthering Heights which protects against the fear of death and destruction of consciousness or identity. The use of love explains an inseparable connection between love and death in characters actions and speeches. The desire from moving beyond everything and rejecting traditions has shocked readers since the novel was published for the first time.
The ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff, the stealing of property, the scenes of incest and adultery and an uncontrolled passion expressed in violent and extreme ways are something that has been portrayed for the first time in a novel. All the characters have become a replacement for God and the living characters plan to unite with their dead partners after death just like Christians want to unite with God after death.
Catherine and Heathcliff’s attitude towards death keeps on changing. This is because on one hand Catherine wants to unite with Heathcliff even after her death and on the other hand she wishes to go to another world separately. Conventional religion is given a negative treatment in the novel.
A church at Gimmerton continues to lie abandoned and decays eventually. The minister does not go to Wuthering Heights because of Hindley’s disinterest in the religion. Catherine and Heathcliff do not accept Joseph’s religion as it is places self before others and is very narrow. It feels as if love replaces religion and affects Catherine, Heathcliff, Cathy and Hareton in one way or the other.
- Love as addiction: Stanton Peel has called the passionate love of Catherine and Heathcliff to be an addiction. According to him, addiction is when a person is attached to a person, feeling or object in such a manner that he appreciates less everything around him and depends on that experience for satisfaction.
People who are directionless, commitment-phobic, emotionally unstable, isolated and have fewer interests are prone to addictions. Addictive love wants to break away from the binding of identity and merge with the lover as a single identity. Love addicts do not have any internal sources and they try to look outside for purpose and meaning especially in people who are similar to them.
Although the initial pleasure and sense of satisfaction or fulfilment are not long-lasting the love addict clings to the lover and relationship out of need. Catherine herself says that her relationship with Heathcliff is not very healthy but it is necessary for her.
The loss of a lover either through death or rejection generates withdrawal symptoms in an addict like not eating, faintness or illness to an extreme level. The addict wants to be with the lover regardless of whatever happens to the loved one and a healthy love always prioritises the needs of the beloved.
The passion or love of Catherine and Heathcliff is the centre of attraction in Wuthering Heights. The emotion between is strong and long-lasting than any other emotion displayed in the novel. This emotion forms the major conflicting point as it is contradictory to the plot of the novel.
While narrating the story of Catherine and Heathcliff Nelly criticizes them strictly as she calls their passion for each other immoral. However, this passion is one of the memorable and interesting aspects of the book. It is indecisive whether Bronte wants people to criticize the lovers or idealize them as lovers who go beyond all societal and religious norms to love each other.
The book focuses on two love stories that run parallel to each other. The first half of the novel focuses on the love of Catherine and Heathcliff while the second half focuses on the less dramatic relationship of Hareton and Cathy. The second love story ends happily and restores peace and order to Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange while the first one brings chaos to both the houses.
The differences between both the love stories make the reader realize that why these stories end on a different note. One of the important features in the relationship of Cathy and Hareton is it includes change and growth. When the novel begins, Hareton is illiterate, rude and rough. As time passes, he becomes a very good friend of Cathy and learns to read.
When Cathy meets Hareton, he is completely different from her world yet she starts loving him. Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is from childhood and is not changeable. Catherine marries Edgar to get a sophisticated life but she cannot bring herself to adapt to the role of a wife as she cannot accept Edgar or forget Heathcliff.
Catherine suggests to Nelly that she was twelve years old when her father died and all the years succeeding them have been blank to her which is why she wants to return to the moors of her childhood. Heathcliff maintains similar attitude and holds same regrets over the years.
Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based on the common perception that they have similar personalities. Catherine says famously that I am Heathcliff and upon Catherine’s death Heathcliff says that he cannot live without his soul implying Catherine. Their love cannot accept separation and is non-sexual.
They do not kiss in dark or arrange for secret meets, unlike adulterers. Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based on denial to accept change in another person or change over time. The problems of the generation can be overcome by the passage of time and the rise of the new generation and not by changing one’s nature. Wuthering Heights shows life as the process of change and celebrates it over the romantic nature of its characters.