So I started reading Wuthering Heights, and for the first half of the book, I couldn't stand it. Heathcliff wasn't a hero. None of the characters were in any way likable. The romance was between Heathcliff and Catherine was creepy and weird. And it wasn't until halfway through that I realized; that's the point. Heathcliff isn't a romantic figure or a hero; he's a corrupting influence that taints and destroys everything he comes into contact with; everything and everyone is so bitter and twisted because he's twisted them such. It's most perfectly illustrated with Cathy Earnshaw, Catherine and Edgar's daughter; when we first meet her, she's a vicious and cruel bitch, but it's because Heathcliff's cruelty and hatred twisted her into being such; we later learn that before she met Heathcliff, she was a sweet and loving young woman, and after Heathcliff dies we see her with the man she has fallen in love with, and freed from Heathcliff's influence she's once again kind and caring. Heathcliff's presence corrupts everyone in the novel, and it's only when he's gone that they can redeem themselves. This is partially the wool that had accumulated after decades of the Misaimed Fandom around Heathcliff and being told he was a romantic hero falling away, but it's now one of my favourite books. - Doctor Nemesis.
An addition, but one which further underscores the original point: Catherine Earnshaw chooses Edgar Linton over Heathcliff. Heathcliff storms away. We're then told that, whilst Catherine might not necessarily have loved Edgar, certainly not with the intensity she felt towards Heathcliff, they nevertheless had a relatively happy marriage together. Then Heathcliff comes back. And all turns to shit again. - Doctor Nemesis
After Heathcliff and Edgar fight, Cathy runs to her room and suffers a fit of madness. At first I hated this, because I despise the Brain Fever trope for its bad science. Then, Cathy tells Nelly she blacked out and fell on the floor, and came to with her "head against that table leg." A concussion actually makes sense. Maybe Emily Bronte's medical knowledge was better than her characters', given that that scene is set in the late 1700s while the book was published in 1847. If so, Fridge Brilliance both for averting the Hard Head trope, where people get knocked out or amnesia without serious injury, and for dramatic irony, as Heathcliff and Edgar blame each other for causing Cathy's brain fever, while it was a purely accidental concussion.
She had been refusing food for several days, and probably water too, by the time Nelly entered the room. Dehydration can cause dementia. I witnessed this when my mom was dying. At the time I thought back to this very scene in WH and how accurate it was in its depiction of the hallucinations and confusion.
I recently read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and although I was entranced from it from the beginning, I was lying in bed one morning and was suddenly struck by even another reason to love it: the subtle feminism of the ending! After Linton Heathcliff dies, Nelly Dean laments to Lockwood that she believes the only escape for Cathy from Heathcliff is for some proverbial Knight in Shining Armor to come marry her. But instead, after Lockwood leaves and dashes these hopes, Cathy finally decides one day to take matters into her own hands and make an effort to bring some happiness into her life on her own by reconciling with Hareton. Cathy improves her and Hareton's lives through her own efforts instead of continuing to pine away while waiting for a man to save her! And there is absolutely no commentary or sermonizing about this or pointing it out — it just happens! Three thumbs up, Emily Bronte! -Lale
More subtle feminist commentary: characters' problems are caused by lack of legal options for women. Edgar's fortune is inherited by his daughter's husband, instead of Cathy directly. Divorce isn't available to Isabella, and Heathcliff's abuse of her is, as someone said in the Fridge Horror section, "strictly within the limits of the law." As a man, Heathcliff had multiple options after running away, like "education on the Continent," "a sizar's place at college," or "escape to America." Both Cathy's could only hope to marry out. The patriarchal system fails these women consistently. That young Cathy beats that system through compassion and education is absolutely Fridge Brilliance. -puddingpie
Also brilliant because it presents Cathy with the same choice as her mother: settle for marrying a rich, nice-enough guy for a chance to escape, or marry the rough poor guy she actually loves? Young Cathy makes the choice her mother should have made. -puddingpie
One thing that bothered me after reading this book was the contradiction in Heathcliff's characterisation between Lockewood's and Nelly's accounts. In the former he's gruff, unfriendly and treats his two charges like scum, but he's still fully, if begrudgingly, courteous to Lockewood, visits him with a cooked duck when he's sick and even lets him sleep in his bed during the storm that traps him in the Heights, whereas the Heathcliff of Nelly's account would have sneered, thrown him out into the rain and locked the door. Then I realised the contradiction is actually one of two things, either of them brilliant writing on Emily Bronte's part: it's one of the few subtle clues to Nelly's status as an unreliable narrator (seeing as she despises Heathcliff to begin with, and apparently always has) meaning she's willing to lie to show Heathcliff in the worst possible light, which throws the trustworthiness of her whole story into question; or it demonstrates an otherwise unexplored area of Heathcliff's character: his natural reaction to someone who's a fellow outsider to the world of the Heights, and possibly the only man in his life he hasn't been somehow wronged by at any point. - everyfloatingcat
Alternatively, both are possible — Nelly certainly has reason to exaggerate Heathcliff's wickedness, but at the same time even to Lockwood Heathcliff is still a bit of a bastard. But in addition to the above points, though, even if we accept Dean's account of Heathcliff's malevolence as (mostly) truth, most of his malevolence is directed at those who have wronged him in some way (or, less justifiably, those related to those who have wronged him in some way), and he's getting old, tired, lonely, and is looking back at a life where he has nothing but people who hate him to show for it. As noted above, Lockwood has no connection to any of the events of the Heights or any of the wrongs that Heathcliff has suffered, so there's no reason for Heathcliff to make an enemy of him. The contradiction can be explained by the simple fact that Heathcliff is by this point, for all his sins, a lonely old man who probably wouldn't entirely mind making a friend rather than an enemy for once; Lockwood's a completely clean slate for him.
On Wuthering Heights, Victorian propriety made Emily Brontë not give any details about how the conceptions of young Cathy and Linton happened. Now consider how Heathcliff treated Isabella Linton, and how quickly she came to be disgusted with his viciousness (to the point of running away through the moors while pregnant), and think: how could they POSSIBLY have conceived Linton?
That one hit me really, really hard shortly after reading that part. I got so squicked I had to leave the book for a while. There is no way Brontë could have missed the implications of that, right?
It's even more strongly implied than that. Healthcliff tells Nelly before Isabella flees that she is consenting to all of his 'experiments' that are 'strictly within the limits of the law' what would Healthcliff have done that made Isabella leave him then?
Just because something is legal—as marital rape was in England and Wales until 1991—that doesn't mean that it's bearable. Considering Heathcliff's treatment of Isabella, it's likely that he sees "consent" the same way that quite a lot of people nowadays see rape. If a woman is silently enduring rape by a larger and stronger man who could maim or kill her if he chooses, many modern people (and even worse, many cops, attorneys and judges) feel that she must have consented, or she would have fought him physically. If she didn't struggle physically, the argument runs, then she must not have objected. This ignores the fact that fight or flight are not the only options. Sometimes people freeze in terror.