Love is like the wild rose-briar
Friendship like the holly-tree –
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?A quotation from Love and Friendship by Emily Brontë.
Hello everyone and welcome to Friday’s Choice. It is July 30th, which happens to be Emily Brontë’s birthday, so I decided that this week would be about one of her works, perhaps the work she is most known for Wuthering Heights however I did want to share the above quote because while I would argue that her name is most associated with Wuthering Heights, I think Emily Brontë was a wonderful poet and her poem Love and Friendship is one of my favourites.
Wuthering Heights intrigues me and it amuses me because as I have studied it over the years and spoken to other people about it, the one comment that keeps being said again and again is that none of the characters are very likeable, and as time goes on I have started to believe that that is the point. This is a book about deeply flawed people and love it or hate it, there is a reason why it is a long-standing canonical literary classic.
Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 and I would describe it as a tale of intense love and intense tragedy. Rather than talking about the entire novel, I have decided that today I am going to specifically talk about the character Heathcliff because after many readings, and many hours spent analysing the plot, I have come to the conclusion that it can be suggested that people’s opinions on the novel itself depends on how someone interprets the character of Heathcliff. Interpretation is individual and it is subjective and how you interpret something can impact your understanding and enjoyment of the entire plot.
Readers meet Heathcliff as an adult. He is a landlord who is living in a fine manor with servants. He is successful but he is brooding and surely. As an adult he is cold and he is cruel but he cannot be dismissed as just a cruel man. The novel takes readers through his past, and shows us all of the trials and tribulations he faced as a young boy, and readers can see how the cruelty he endured shaped him into the hardened man he is when we meet him.
It is clear from the beginning that Heathcliff is always made out to be ‘other’. He is described as a dirty and ragged child. The novel repeatedly refers to how dark and cold his eyes are, and this physical darkness could be a metaphor for the cold, cruel, revenge driven man he grew up to be but it should be noted that it is not his fault that he was dirty and ragged. He was a victim of circumstance and throughout his life, he was repeatedly cast aside, and mistreated, and made out to be ‘other’, he was even often referred to as ‘it’ rather than ‘him’ which is extremely dehumanising so it is understandable that this treatment played a big part in the cruel man he grew up to be. I would argue that the adults who mistreated an innocent child are responsible for the man he has become.
In many ways, although is is not always a likeable character, I believe that Heathcliff has the potential to be a sympathetic character. He could be someone readers root for. He could have had a rags to riches story, he had a very harsh upbringing but he makes something of himself despite all of the people who wanted the worst for him but Heathcliff, in my opinion, loses sympathy when he not only gets revenge on those who hurt him when he was young, but he is also cruel to innocent people, becoming so engrossed in his revenge that he is as bad as those who hurt him when he was an innocent child himself because that is what he goes on to do. A cycle of cruelty can be easily recognised in this novel, and while it may not make the characters likeable, it certainly makes them layered and interesting.
Wuthering Heights is often referred to as a love story because the love between Heathcliff and Catherine is so passionate and intense and all consuming. The novel brings us the very famous quote “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” While the romance between these two characters is of course a hugely intricate part of the novel, I would actually describe Wuthering Heights as a revenge story because it is intense and dark, and it shows readers what happens when someone is so mistreated that they return determined to ruin the lives of everyone who has wronged them. It is a novel about flawed people, cruel people who do cruel things to one another, not without their reasons, but they are cruel all the same and I think the character of Heathcliff and how complex he is makes the novel memorable. He stands out. He is a rich character to analyse. He can be discussed from many different angles and I would say that if Wuthering Heights is on your reading list but you find it to be a daunting read, because it is a daunting read, my advice is to dive right in and pay attention to Heathcliff. There are a lot of characters, and a lot happens but my advice when it comes to understanding Wuthering Heights is to start with Heathcliff and work from there and that is why I chose to discuss his character today on Brontë’s birthday and this has been my Friday’s Choice
Have you read Wuthering Heights? Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear from you so let me know.