Wuthering Heights and the folly of vengeance

I choose to start with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, partially because it was a text that I choose to do when retaking my GCE A Levels, so I’ve analysed and digested it a bit more than most books. (It was sitting on my bookshelf for years, courtesy of my mother, and I had heard my secondary school Literature teacher mention it in passing as a dense and difficult book.)

CENTRAL IDEA: Wuthering Heights is about the destructiveness of selfish “love”.

A lot of Wuthering Heights is about the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, where lovers are separated by a family feud,  Heathcliff and Catherine are separated by their own selfish spitefulness towards each other, and their relentless one-upmanship.

Some people describe the book as “romantic”, which I find outright disturbing. I don’t believe that there’s anything beautiful about ‘love’ that is so consuming and possessive. It’s worse than parasitical- it destroys the host, and cascades outwards destructively. (I find myself thinking about Asian horror films, like Ju-On. Brr.)

“To say ‘you are just like me’ is just a way of talking about me.  The danger of desire is that it ‘tends to bring the object ‘close enough’ to be engulfed’ by the self, and consequently destroys the sensation of difference that generated the attraction in the first place. ” – Emmanuel Levinas

We cannot truly possess others- and we will never find satisfaction or fulfillment in doing so. We cannot subjugate others completely, as much as it might seem a “romantic” thing to do. It isn’t. 

Heathcliff and Catherine both badly needed therapy and emotional counselling. We’re looking at something vaguely Chris Brown/Rihanna-esque. Even at the heights of their passion, they speak of their own self-interest- I need you so much, because you fulfill me and my needs. I don’t actually care about your needs, your happiness, your well-being; none of that interests me.

Heathcliff even marries Isabella in a carefully plotted attempt to make Cathy suffer… Emily Bronte creates detestable, pitiful characters who spitefully destroy themselves and each other. It’s a beautiful work of writing, and to me, a warning against emotional blackmail and petty neediness.


“May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. “Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

“You teach me now how cruel you’ve been – cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you – they’ll damn you. You loved me – what right had you to leave me? What right – answer me – for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will did it. I have no broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you – Oh, God! would you like to lie with your soul in the grave?”

Wuthering Heights is not about love, it’s about selfish possessiveness, and how that destroys everybody and everything. Cathy and Heathcliff not only destroy each other, they take everybody else around them down with them- marrying people they do not love to spite each other, manipulating and hurting them, passing on their hatred and vengeance to their children… it’s a horrible sight to behold.