Headscratchers: Wuthering Heights
Why is Nelly repeatedly referred to as "Mrs. Dean?" There is no indication anywhere that she was ever married, is there?
- Of course there is. That people call her Mrs Dean.
- But her story to Lockwood begins at a point when she was a child (she couldn't be much older than the young Hindley, anyway). She's obviously unmarried when Heathcliff is first brought to the Heights, and nowhere in the account that spans decades thereafter does she ever mention being married and widowed. There is never any Mr. Dean in the picture.
- She's telling Mr. Lockwood the story of Wuthering Heights and the relationships between Heathcliff and everyone else — presumably her marriage doesn't have a great impact on this narrative, hence why she doesn't bring it up.
- Or maybe her husband was abusive, and like Isabella, she lives apart from him. Hence she doesn't talk about it. Wild Mass Guessing, of course.
- That, and "Mrs" was fairly often used for women of a certain age or, implicitly, experience.
- Well, if that's what Emily Bronte meant, go, Nelly!
- No, not that sort of experience. (Well, that too, just not always.) While unmarried females mostly remained Misses, senior servants would be addressed as Mrs., even though, by necessity, they would remain single. By the time Little Cathy is old enough to notice, Nelly is the housekeeper of the Grange. Housekeepers were bosses of large numbers of staff, often including some men if there was no butler or steward (and there doesn't seem to be.) They were always called Mrs. out of deference to their senior position in that mini-society. (They also usually weren't young, although Nelly comes to that job early, thanks to her connection with Catherine.) 'Professed' (i.e. trained) cooks were also called Mrs., as they had a highly skilled job.
- Indirect evidence: If Nelly was Hareton's wetnurse, she'd probably been pregnant at some point to have been able to lactate. So if we don't hear about either a husband or any surviving children, it could just be she doesn't tell Lockwood about her own family.
- Given the rest of the cast's frequent encounters with high-mortality diseases, it could just be the rest of her family's dead. I guess that also counts as Fridge Horror.
- Women in the 18th century, where the book is set, who were above a certain age, were called Mrs. It was the respectable thing to do. Refer to Pamela by Samuel Richardson, where the heroine, a 15-year-old serving girl is called Mrs Pamela by the other servants. Only in the late 18th or 19th century did older spinsters become a Miss.
People calling it a 'love story'. *shudders*
- I think it's an amazing book, but I wouldn't describe it as a romance.
- Seconded. It can be interpreted either as: a straight Horror Novel; or a Romance with Cathy II and Hareton as the Official Couple, since a Romance is the story of how two lovers get together.
- Or, it's intended to warn us that if you separate two people whose souls must be united, doom will ensue.
- It is a romance - it's the story of a boy and a girl growing up, falling in love and being separated, and what the boy does to try to get the girl back, and how he deals with her death. The fact that the boy in question is a dangerous lunatic who brings about the deaths of most of the people who got between him and the girl, generally screws up his relationship with the girl, and goes on to ruin the lives of everyone around him after she's dead, means that it's also a horror story, but doesn't stop it from also being a romance.
- The Gothic heroine always gets confined somewhere, and a protagonist must have Character Development. Cathy (II) fits the role of Gothic heroine better than Catherine (I), plus she's one of three strange people Lockwood meets at the beginning, prompting Nelly to tell him simply a very long and detailed Back Story of How We Got Here. Based on how Catherine (I) simply reasons that she could never degrade herself by marrying Heathcliff (indicating to Nelly and to me that her professions of unconquerable, passionate love are crap), seeing the Catherine/Heathcliff romance as the main plot of Wuthering Heights seems to me like seeing Hamlet's romance with Ophelia as the main plot of Hamlet.
- Bear in mind that the novel is set in a time when marrying for love was rare, at least in the upper classes. Whether it would have been socially acceptable or not for Cathy to marry Heathcliff would have been of a lot more importance, so the claim that it shows Cathy doesn't feel unconquerable, passionate love for Heathcliff is sketchy - they don't need a marriage certificate to be in love with each other, and being married would possibly make life more difficult for them. Their love is described in more pagan terms, too - the whole leaves on the trees and the eternal rocks beneath description, the fact that Heathcliff digs up her grave and plans to be buried next to her so they can melt together into corpsey soup - so if marriage is a business deal, and a Christian institution (a belief system that neither of them seem to have all that much respect for), then the fact that Cathy chooses not to marry Heathcliff shouldn't say all that much about whether she truly loves him or not. The fact that she marries Edgar is, of course, a different matter, but hey, Heathcliff could have been dead by the time she said "I do" and she'd have been socially expected to marry someone, so it's a pragmatic but valid choice.
- Tell that to Heathcliff...
- It arguably is a love-story — just one about a particularly dangerous, ruinous and obsessive love between two very maladjusted people. Not all love is happy and healthy, after all.
How is Joseph still alive by the end of the novel? He seems to have been a servant much longer than everyone else and just gets increasingly cantankerous and crotchety as the 40 or so years of the novel pass and everyone else dies. Does his sheer hatred for everyone around him just keep him going?
- Probably. That's how it worked for my great-grandmother.
- Maybe the servants tend to live longer. They might have healthier lifestyles or be less inbred, due to less cousin marryin'. Nelly and Zillah are alive too. Nelly says her mother, Hindley's nurse, lived to be 80, which is a plausible age for Joseph by the end of the book, so a long life apparently isn't unheard of. Meanwhile, nearly every rich character dies an early death.
- Also remember that humans of all time periods have the possiblity to live to very high ages. It is just the chance that varies with each time period and location of people actually living to that age that changes. So yes, an 80 year old Josef is very much within the realm of possibility.
What's up with Lockwood's dream about Reverend Jabes Branderham, and the Seventy Times Seven?
- Is that related to the plot at all, or am I missing out on some obtuse religious symbolism?
- We had a long discussion about this in a lecture a while back. On the one hand, you can say it just sets up what a hostile atmosphere full of aggressive, slightly batty people this story occurs in. On another, there's a lot of psychoanalytical meanings you can read into the sequence (which also apply very closely to Cathy (I)'s character arc), like Lockewood and Joseph entering the "church" (womb of the mother) wielding "clubs", followed by the crowd beating him to death (the shame of living out his incest fantasy, like Oedipus blinding himself). Another reading is that it foreshadows the destructive passions that ruin most of the characters, or the vast amount of cimes committed by Heathcliff against the others. There's probably a lot more there that I'm missing.
- As for the religious part, the Seventy Times Seven refers to a comment made by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. When asked how many times someone should endure being sinned agianst by someone, even as much as seven times seven sins (the number seven represents completeness or perfection in the Bible, so the asker is basically suggesting some improbably huge number), Jesus replies that they should endure seventy times seven sins done against them (an absurdly huge number, so you should pretty much never stop forgiving people no matter how far they go (back to Heathcliff's need for revenge, maybe?)).