martes, 30 de diciembre de 2008

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering heights was written and published in 1847 by Ellis Bell, the pseudonym of Emily Bronte and, although it did not get much success in those days, the book gradually gained favourable critiques and generalized admiration until being considered as one of the peaks of the English literature. Far from falling into the oblivion, its main themes are nowadays fresher and more enrapturing than ever. The strange structure of the novel and its unique treatment of characters and facts among the Victorian works make Wuthering Heights even rarer and unmistakeable. Besides, subsequent film adaptations have contributed to increase considerably its fame, though losing part of its intensity and natural beauty.
Emily Bronte combined the poetical description of her Yorkshire moors with the harsh and vigorous portrait of her deep characters. Their strong feelings, absurd ambiguity and passionate determination make them more believable than any real person of the Victorian age. And the continuous transgression of moral rules and civic behaviour gives accurate account of the nineteenth century society and its values.
The story is centred around a well-off family and their tense relation, especially the children, with Heathcliff, an orphan brought by the head of the household. Although Catherine, surpassed the first fit of jealousy, gets on with him, her brother Hindley despises Heathcliff and regards him as a rival for his properties, facilities and especially relatives´ affection. Humiliated over and over again, Heathcliff leaves an actual enemy and an unreachable lover and escapes to a better life only to come back and take excessive revenge upon the two brothers. After an existence full of hatred and grief, and having caused the same to all the family on purpose, Heathcliff finds peace only in death. The happy ending, however, is fulfilled by the descendants of Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw.
The structural division of chapters obeys to crucial scenes and relevant episodes and can embrace a few moments or several days or weeks. Although there are thirty-four chapters the chronological order is not pursued. The description of facts is related by a number or narrators, sometimes one into the narration of another, by means of oral speech or through letters or diaries. So, the external narrator is Mr. Lockwood, who visits Wuthering Heights and becomes intrigued by the inhospitality of their inhabitants and the statements of Catherine Heathcliff Linton Earnshaw´s improvised diary. Then the complete plot from the beginning to the end is narrated by Ellen Dean, the former nurse of Catherine and actual witness of all the facts concerning Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange in the last forty years. Mrs. Dean compilates all the information through own observation and confidences from Heathcliff, Catherine, Isabella, Zillah and Miss Cathy.
The relationships between characters are always marked by triangular associations here and there: The first triangle is composed of Hindley, Catherine and Heathcliff. The atmosphere is of wild beauty and fierce rejection. Another one is formed by Isabella, Edgar and Catherine, where extreme refinement and whimful life cover the period. Other triangular relations are Edgar-Heathcliff-Catherine, marked by tender or wild love, and Isabella-Hindley-Heathcliff, condensed in hatred and bitterness.
The second generation with Linton, Miss Cathy and Hareton, and the surviving Edgar and the imperturbable Heathcliff are again doomed with triangular coexistence with one –or two- disturbing member playing havoc. Although generally let behind the main action, Nelly Dean configurates the most lovely triangle with Edgar and Miss Cathy. Others, like Linton-Miss Cathy-Hareton´s, are full of grief and desperation. The most evil one consists of Heathcliff-Miss Cathy-Linton, where fear, repulsion, illness, manipulation and grief embody the scene. The last triangular relationship oozes hope: a death-waiting Heathcliff stares calmly at Catherine´s spirit forgetting all the undergone sufferings while Hareton gains knowledge to be enough for Cathy and she loves him beyond his rude appearance and modals. Other minor social triangles can be established, but what is really remarkable is the position of Nelly witnessing and sometimes softening the awkward feelings between the inhabitants of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.
The central character of the novel is Heathcliff. Not by chance he appears first on the fifth line of the book and dies two pages before the end. The orphan embodies all the truly passions of human nature in a savage mood, approaching raw goodness and uprightness and incomprehensibly diabolical evil and cold rage later. The introduction of Heathcliff at the Heights is significant and fateful: His appearance implies the loss of Hindley and Catherine presents –a fiddle and a whip- and symbolizes future usurpation and unconcious destruction. Although his physical and psychical strengh are never to abandon him, nobility and kindness will not long so far. As a child, Heathcliff is cold, insensible and becomes the favourite of Old Mr. Earnshaw, maybe in resemblance with his own severity.
Heathcliff´s increasing hatred against Hindley grows from humiliation and poverty and is legitimate because he doesn´t lose his sense of justice. The real wound and treason start with Catherine´s silliness and frivolity since she neglects a heartrending passion to avoid a social degradation. This and a twist of fate make facts irreversible: The union of Catherine and Heathcliff is no more possible and the lad quits Wuthering Heights as a disillusioned boy only to return from an internal hell as a vindictive man. His overwhelming presence gains with adulthood supported in a wealthy impression, exquisite correctness and cold education. But this external improvement only conceals spiritual depravation.
Heathcliff´s relationship with Catherine after her marriage is bitter and full of reproaches. She becomes ruined by present dullness and her own guilty. He condemns her to perpetual sorrow and directly provokes her mental deterioration through his harsh sincerity. But even after her death does Heathcliff pursue the wretch of both Lintons and Earnshaws. On page 188, chapter XXI (Penguin Books) the man makes a declaration of facts and intentions so brutal and savage that the reader can’t less than be scandalized. If the evil of Heathcliff is reduced to excessive rancour and contemptuous pride at the beginning, he will develop new and disgusting devices to spread out his bitterness such as marrying a woman whom he doesn’t love –Isabella-, corrupting Hareton, threatening Linton, kidnapping Ellen Dean, forcing Miss Cathy to an unwanted marriage, beating Hindley or bribing the lawyer.
Special cruelty is shown in Linton’s approach. Heathcliff hates his son because of his physical weakness and for being the offspring of Isabella. And Linton, educated in manipulation and rejection, inherits his father’s vileness.
Heathcliff´s growing villainy reaches his peak quite at the end of the novel, when he scorns Linton, Edgar and Cathy, or when out of any sacred respect desecrates the dead –like in Poe’s tales- just to glimpse Catherine again twenty years later.
The most dramatic change in his behaviour takes place just after, when, owner of the Heights and the Grange but weary of living with Hareton and Cathy, he remains absent and waits for something to happen. Only then the reader realizes all the frustrated love for Catherine and the torture he has been suffering during her absence. The villain then humanizes substituting evil for apparent madness: He starts watching Catherine’s ghost -a Shakespearean recurrent topic in Macbeth or Hamlet- and expecting his time to come. Death in Heathcliff´s heart is a real liberation from perpetual agony, hatred, pain, evil and remorse.
The second most important character of the book –letting aside Nelly’s omnipresence- dies in the middle of the plot. Catherine Linton leaves an air of unfulfilment and one feels that she is a better person than she appears. But most of her qualities -except her love for Heathcliff- remain in her daughter. Her reincarnation provides her a new opportunity to fight for happiness. When alive, Catherine Earnshaw spoils her youth in search of superficiality. She finds it fully straight. Notwithstanding, other high values conquers Heathcliff, like savage passion, a free spirit, joyous personality or social class unconsciousness. The latter is not going to last for long as long as her convalescence at Thrushcross Grange separates clearly their two social worlds: her own (upper class) and that of Heathcliff (lower class). Their love failure is the triumph of social conventions against that new spirit of equality. But this schism is not really the victory of class feelings, but the surrender of her wild spirit to a new life of comfort and boring vacuity.
After marrying Edgar Linton, Catherine shows known and new defects beyond patience: She exhibits mischief, insolence, victim mentality, egotism, manipulation and evil. She gets to the point of overacting her own death parody. Her whimful character and the contempt she feels for Edgar and the remorse for Heathcliff lead her to a genuine serious illness. Catherine Linton dies giving birth to Miss Cathy Linton, who represents herself in a resume, a second opportunity.
Hindley Earnshaw represents malice and cowardliness. He humiliates Heathcliff because he fears the orphan child. He is afraid of losing his father’s affection, his convenient position, his social status and money. And Hindley knows Heathcliff is much better, stronger and more righteous. His biased treatment will cause Heathcliff to escape, survive and come back to take fair revenge. The fact is that his revenge turns to be too excessive, too unfair.
Just as Hindley stands for the upper class evil, Edgar becomes the upper class kindness. He bears Catherine like a saint, brings up Miss Cathy properly and try to keep his nephew Linton with him. His sister Isabella possesses similar characteristics although her degree of emptiness is higher. She falls in disgrace when mistakenly marries Heathcliff.
Hareton is the only character in frequent contact with Heathcliff that doesn’t get corrupted. He survives in a rude insignificance far from the wretch of his father or the maliciousness of Mr. Heathcliff. His future prosperity is miraculous and unimaginable. He’s totally opposite to his father: Strong, pure, uneducated, healthy and good. He resembles an untreasoned Heathcliff and their relationship is relatively cordial.
Unlike his noble cousin, Linton suffers physically the scars of their parents rejection and grief. And his unhealthy body will soon put on service to a manipulating mind. Linton is a prolongation of his father’s contempt. He stands for the personification of late Heathcliff, Hindley Earnshaw and Isabella Linton: evil behaviour, corrupted soul and fragile constitution. His indicative disgrace is an inevitable punishment to his fear and weakness.
Miss Cathy is the aforementioned last chance for Catherine to gain pardon and achieve true love. She isn´t able to rescue Linton from his father’s diabolical influence, but manages to cast her wild passion for life towards much worthy people like her father or Hareton. However, her first years are full of comfort and wealth, which develop in Cathy a taste for disobedience and lack of satisfaction. Her redemption is possible only when she is deprived of her easy life and relaxing circumstances. The catharsis she suffers includes other major sacrifices like her forced wedding, Edgar’s death or her inheritance loss in favour of Heathcliff. And through pain and humiliation Miss Cathy learns to value underclass people and little things. These two redeeming factors are the key to Hareton and to happiness. And Hareton answers like a pure Heathcliff without vindictive longings. All the while, Catherine and her beloved Heathcliff find their long awaited love after death.
More than one hundred fifty years after its publication, Wuthering Heights remains as one of the most significant examples of sick love and fatality through the constrictions of social inscrutability. Some critics have seen in it an eternal fight between the forces of nature and man, between good and evil, between body and soul. In any case, Wuthering Heights stays as a novel of great beauty and devastating intensity.

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