Wuthering Heights is..

January 3, 2009

By: Cathy Borders

 

 

Wuthering Heights is… the egg, the nest, the hut, the house, the town, the country, the cathedral, the prison, the dungeon, the cellar door, the attic stairs, the coffin, the hearth, the unlit fire, the beating heart, the bloated brain, the lockbox, the womb, the Mother, the chair of the Father, the castle, the sky, the illusion, the home, the body, the universe.

 

Wuthering Heights is sitting, is looking, looking in, looking at, looking through a window.

 

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.’ ”[1] 

tu·mult n

a.            a violent or noisy commotion

b.            a psychological or emotional upheaval or agitation (!)

 

1. House qua Universe.

 universe

The house is the first space a human being encounters. It is a representation, a trope of outside existence. Before a baby can understand itself as a thoughtful, rational, mortal being, before it can understand that it is a separate entity from its surroundings, it knows only the house and the people which inhabit it. “It is the human being’s first world.”[2] 

It is where a child learns power dynamics, where they learn language, and (in most cases) love. It is the psychoanalytic seat of perpetual return. It is where the child forms, and creates, its self. “Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.”[3] The child’s first home is where Bacchelard locates memories. He says consistently, and constantly, that the adult will come back to it in daydreams, because s/he can’t think of anything more comforting than reliving the memories of early protection.

And it is in this comfortable, comforting way that Wuthering Heights retains the pleasures of the past. For Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights will always retain images of Catherine, of Mr. Earnshaw (the Father), and of overwhelming acceptance and love. This is why he is able to still desire and cherish the Heights when it changes into Hindley’s property. This is why the Height’s can still be his and Catherine’s, despite its sudden transformation into his and Isabelle’s. This is why Wuthering Heights takes on multiple meanings at once.

This is why Brontë only has a handful of characters, and all the action is centered around Wuthering Heights[4].

 

2. The Egg, not the embryo, the egg.

 ttar_egg_03_v_launch

Though I do believe, and I will address this later in the paper, that, in a way, Wuthering Heights is an extension of both Catherine and Heathcliff’s body (in combination, can we say they fertilize the egg?), but my thoughts presently concern the house merely as a shelter, with a thin shell, a protective barrier. The creation of the embryo, or ovum, or life, is one of life’s greatest mysteries. “It is the formation, not the form, that remains mysterious.”[5] But the metaphysical can of worms aside, half of the egg is a container, and the other half precious cargo.

The narrative is born when Mr. Lockwood breaks, shatters, the protective barrier, the window, which Catherine Earnshaw/Heathcliff/Linton flies up against and tries to breakthrough. She inserts herself into the novel, propels the plot forward, and announces: “Wuthering Heights is haunted! Turn the page, find out how.” How dare Mr. Lockwood! But Heathcliff, the behemoth of a character, trembles, and falls into the nook, the even tinier home, the more enclosed, the safer bed/closet/dresser of Catherine Earnshaw. It is there he retreats to his memories, it is there he and Catherine made themselves “as snug as their means allowed in the arch of the dresser. [She] had just fastened [their] pinafores together, and hung them up for a curtain;”[6] It is there the children hid from their tyrannical dictators, dreamed, and disappeared. Like Aphrodite bursting forth from her shell, the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff begins. 

 

3. The Nest/Womb.

 

“Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong.”[7] The architect: Emily Brontë, God, the Father (Mr. Earnshaw), a bird? Either way, Wuthering Heights is a resting place for offspring, where they learn, and grow, and prepare themselves for the outside world. In this way, it is Catherine and Heathcliff’s first microcosm. Within Wuthering Heights they expanded, and smeared themselves all over its walls until there was little distinction between them and the space they inhabited. They spread themselves out, hid their traumas and daydreams in the various objects and nooks. They became one with the space, the thing, making the reader think: if the house would burn, our protagonists would burn with it. Even when Catherine left, Heathcliff is consumed with empty nest, and whether or not we are to accept Catherine’s ghost as real, his recreation of her presence is as real and ghost-like as an actual ethereal figure. And say, as I truly believe, that Catherine does exist in some form, and that she did return to Wuthering Heights, and that she wants back inside the home that she and Heathcliff “built,” the ideal situation would be for her and him to copulate, lay an egg. But Bacchelard argues that nests (love nests) are a childish metaphor; utterly absurd. “Among birds, need I recall, love is strictly extracurricular affair, and the nest is not built until later, when the mad love-chase across the fields is over.”[8]

As to not sound childish, I will abandon this metaphor. Catherine and Heathcliff built the nest as they were falling in love, and their lovechild is merely the nest. Their baby is the womb itself, therefore, is an utter impossibility, which does fit in with the theme of Wuthering Heights, but Bacchelard says it’s childish and my space is limited. But, and this is my raison d’être, the nest is [a] breakable thing [wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king[9]].

 

4. The Hut, possibly the Hearth, and dare I say, Mother.

 

The noble savages…their haven in the lonely moors of Northern England…their simplest of human plants, their hut. There is no need for our heroes to fantasize about their primitive solitude, about floating on the ether, in total isolation, protected from the society, from monsters, from whathaveyou. “The hut immediately becomes this centralized solitude.”[10] Catherine and Heathcliff are utterly alone, there are only the other members of the household, and it’s an us versus them attitude. And they fight. They fight, they fly, they flee, but only into corners…Their bond is sacred, indestructible, and has no real threat. [See Figure 9.] “The hermit’s hut is an engraving that would suffer from any exaggeration of picturesqueness. Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb ‘to inhabit.’ ”[11]

in·hab·it v

1.            vt to live in or occupy a particular place

2.            vt to be found in or pervade something

3.            vi to reside permanently in a place (!)

 

Demeter, Goddess of the Hearth, Goddess of the fruitful earth…the mourning mother. Nelly, servant, sister, mother, narrator: “If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss…it only goes to convince me…that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl. But trouble me no more with secrets. I’ll not promise to keep them.”[12] Pandora’s Box. For the first time, at least to us, Catherine’s thoughts: Heathcliff the eternal rocks, without him the universe would turn into a mighty stranger, I am Heathcliff…materialize into the house. These words echo, they bounce, off the walls, right into Heathcliff’s ears. Nelly cannot keep what is now mortared to the house. Nelly, the unbridled momma of morality, cannot keep these two savages at bay, cannot control their wicked desires, cannot stay at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is abandoned yet again. There will be no more women on the Heights for awhile now.

Catherine as Persephone is taken away, but Linton is no Hades, she, herself, is her own Hades. She chose to eat the pomegranate, she chose to marry Linton (her justifications aside). Catherine is the underbelly, the underworld, the obverse of what is. Wuthering Heights moans and creeks in her absence, Catherine moans and croaks in its absence.

Demeter, giver of life, yet, also bringer of the dead. “As a fertility goddess, Demeter, concerned with what the earth brought forth, was connected with the dead.”[13] Life. Death. An unlit fire…Hearth. Listen to Lockwood speak of “what they call the ‘house’ preeminently” (the kitchen and the parlor) with my interruptions/interpretations/disfigurements: The kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter. No signs of roasting, boiling, or baking about the huge fireplace. (No sign of life, of the life force of fuel.) One end reflected (splendidly) both light and heat. (He gets the impression of the life force anyway from the objects, from the pewter, which tower with rows of silver, in an oak dresser, to the very roof.)[14] Does the whole house reflect Heathcliff’s demeanor? Is the attic collapsing into the cellar? Oh wait, I’m ahead of myself…

 

5. The Cathedral in/and the Attic. The Prison or Dungeon in/and the Cellar.

 prison1

“A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability.”[15] (Duh.)

The house is a vertical being, the proof is the dichotomy between the attic and the cellar. Think total opposites. White. Black. Above. Below. Angel, or God, whatever. Devil. The rationality of the roof. The irrationality of the cellar. That one was Bacchelard’s. It’s obvious though. “A roof tells its raison d’être right away: it gives mankind a shelter from the rain and sun he fears.”[16] (Duh.) He says that up in the rafters all our thoughts are clear. In Wuthering Heights, sometimes, on Sunday, the attic becomes a cathedral. Church (Joseph) in the garret. Church, God, the watchful eye, in the attic. (Corners were punishment.) Catherine and Heathcliff hide. Putting God in the attic makes sense, ‘tis closer to the Heavens. But say I want to say Catherine represents the attic: Catherine represents the attic. And, guess what, Heathcliff represents the cellar.

“Mr. Heathcliff forms a SINGULAR CONTRAST TO HIS ABODE AND STYLE OF LIVING[17]…dark-skinned gypsy, in aspect, in dress, and manners a gentleman.”[18] Heathcliff is the Earnshaw’s skeleton. He is the monster everyone is afraid of. “In the cellar, darkness prevails both day and night.”[19] He is the secret.[20] When it concerns Catherine, Heathcliff is not the rational one. Heathcliff is rational in finances, in manipulation (yes, sometimes even when it concerns Catherine). But. And I know one will argue and stamp that Catherine herself is the pure embodiment of irrational, I’m giving this to her A.) to put her on a pedestal B.) for the sake of my argument C.) because she came up with a plan to sustain her and Heathcliff’s irrational love. Which is more than he did.

[“He’ll love and hate, equally under cover.”[21] Under cover of the roof. Oh!]

Catherine dies, always on page 122. “The cellar then becomes buried madness, welled-in tragedy.”[22] Heathcliff, in a nutshell.

 

6. The Coffin. The Beginning. The Middle.

 coffin

Middle: “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 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!”[23]

Beginning: Lockwood wakes in the oak closet. Rapping against the window. A tree, a watchful stick, an anthropomorphized plant, its branch, arm, raps against the window. He wants to open the window, the hook was soldered to the staple. He breaks the glass, HE BREAKS THE PROTECTIVE LAYER, and Catherine’s ghost grabs his hand with icy (outside) fingers (inside). “Let me in – let me in!… I’m come home, I’d lost my way on the moor…I’ve been a waif for twenty years.”…Lockwood screams, the language of pain…Heathcliff rushes in. “How dare you, under my roof?”[24] He strikes his forehead with rage (attic?). Heathcliff gradually falls back into the shelter of the bed, as Lockwood speaks, finally, sitting down almost concealed behind it.

 

7. Heart and Brain (the naughty bits…) under Lockbox and Key[25].

 heart-and-brain

It is impossible to consider Wuthering Heights belonging to anyone other than the Earnshaw’s, (and in this instance I’m considering Heathcliff an Earnshaw). Brontë created the setting, Wuthering Heights, around the family, and this setting was a categorical one, not a dialectical one, each member maintained their roles until a new one was bequeathed to them (as in the case with Mr. Earnshaw to Hindley and eventually to Heathcliff).

To think of Wuthering Heights as a skull, keeping the gray matter of the narrative within its boney walls, would be another way of viewing the Heights as a container, a shell. “Shells, like fossils, are to many attempts on the part of nature to prepare forms of different parts of the human body; they are bits of man and woman.”[26] Though this thought can easily be moved to Figure 1, its placement here denotes the dream-like function of the Heights as shell. A shell is mysterious, especially when the mind itself begins to regard itself as a prisoner inside such a shell. The mind both desires and dreads its freedom from its home, but like a snail without its shell, the body, the mucus membrane is vulnerable, and unless it returns has a much higher risk of death. And though this metaphor doesn’t hold true for children today, Catherine was unable to properly exude her hard shell. To her and Heathcliff the shell is not merely a covering that will be abandoned. Wuthering Heights is the home of her heart, without it she was doomed to perish.

“Everything about a creature that comes out of a shell is dialectical. And since it does not come out entirely, the part that comes out contradicts the part that remains inside.”[27] [Heathcliff.] In other words, the shell is a part of the creature. Just because the snail feels no pain when the shell is nicked doesn’t mean it could survive without it. Heathcliff realized this. Catherine, unfortunately, did only when it was too late. And now, because Heathcliff knows Wuthering Heights contains a part of her soul, is where her heart is, he keeps it safely secured, out of Hindley’s or Hareton’s hands. He keeps it bolted. Mr. Lockwood had to walk across the bleak hill. The earth was hard with black frost, it made him, the guest/intruder shiver. First, bushes blocked his passage. But then there was a latch. He was locked out. (“A lock is a psychological threshold”[28]…exactly.)

 

8. The Castle in the Sky.

 

The illusion: “ ‘Oh dear! I thought I was home,’ [Catherine] sighed. ‘I thought I was lying in my chamber at Wuthering Heights. Because I’m weak, my brain got confused, and I screamed unconsciously.’ ”[29] Catherine regressed. She retreated to her childhood home…to her soul. Living, existing in another space, another’s home, has driven her to madness. She begs for just a smell of the home so close yet so far away. She cannot bear the confinement of her new home, this foreign home. Catherine feels she has lost touch with herself; she feels as if she were not herself. “I wish I were out of doors- I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy and free…and laughing at my injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed? why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I’m sure I should be myself were I once again the heather on those hills…Open the window again wide, fasten it open!”[30]

Catherine feels all would have been right had she still been safe under the protection of the Heights, had she been still inside the womb. She is recalling the moment she left home, her and Heathcliff’s endeavor into the other world, not out loud of course, but the regret trembles in the back of her throat.

First visit to Thrushcross Grange: the discovery of another universe. Catherine and Heathcliff ran from the top of the Heights to the park without stopping, Heathcliff recounts…“We crept through a broken hedge, groped our way up the path, and planted ourselves on a flower-pot under the drawing-room window. The light came from thence; they had not put up the shutters, and the curtains were only half closed.”[31] They were voyeurs, seeing the beckoning light, the Others, “through its light alone, the house becomes human.”[32] They saw the rich. They saw the Lintons. Crimson and gold, and no parents- no authority figures. They hated them. They shrieked. They ran. Catherine fell. The dog attacked her ankle, got her by her Achilles’ heel: her love affair with herself: her selfish self, and the selfish desire for money and power- her drive to hurt those she loves to ensure they love her back: Heathcliff.

Heathcliff’s illusions are more complicated than hers because his psyche is more complicated than hers. Mr. Heathcliff was the lover who waited, was the lover who returned. True, both lovers left and returned, but where Catherine left again (across the moors, to the same original point of departure), Heathcliff stayed (only Brontë knows where he ran off to) and cluttered the house with more sadomasochistic complexities, more illusions/delusions of grandeur. Also, and this will be further examined below, both protagonists suffer from their creation of horcruxes.

Not to mention the way both of them begin to view Wuthering Heights as the crème-de-la-crème of their happiness. If only, for once, they could own Wuthering Heights together, be the tyrannical Mistress and Master of their domain… They are dreaming/daydreaming, mythologizing the house into something sacred and healing. If only they could live together, inside their warm and wonderful womb, all would be solved and settled and perfect, forever.

[I am not dealing with the (metaphysical/metaphorical) debate surrounding whether or not Catherine’s ghost is Catherine (or at least a shade of her) or if it’s merely an illusion. It is more beautiful and relevant to accept the author’s words as fact, and it is highly relevant for my next figure.]

            Also see Footnote 15.

 

9. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

 

Heathcliff’s first space, first resting place, in the Heights was at the top of the stairs, because, “from the very beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house,”[33] to everyone else, but not Mr. Earnshaw. But by Chapter 4, said Earnshaw grows weak and, to his resentment, is confined to the chimney-corner: the beginning of his immobility, his silence, his escaping into the walls. “The corner is a sort of half-box, part walls, part door.”[34] For Bacchelard, the corner is the chamber of being. Man is always half perpetual movement, half paralyzed parasite. The corner, the half wall, half open space, serves him as a metaphor for this duality. It is fitting that the final seat of the father, the space referred to earlier as “the house,” is the final resting space for Mr. Earnshaw. With his death, he’s passing down the human condition to his kin, and each behave according to their already assigned roles. Hindley becomes the tyrannical father. Catherine becomes the hot piece of ass on the market. Heathcliff becomes the dark man in waiting, the dweller in the shadows. And the house takes on these archetypes. It molds and reconfigures its space, its aura. Wuthering Heights becomes the place where memories are localized.

It is impossible to record thoughts and moments with perfect linearity. The very nature of thought resists such accurate archiving. As a result, people start to externalize their inner selves; they throw memories and feelings into objects. Memories, by definition[35], are motionless, it is space that relies on movement. “The finest specimens  of fossilized duration are to be found in and through space.”[36] This is exactly why Heathcliff keeps Catherine’s room intact, secure. Heathcliff is attempting to keep these memories as pristine, as untainted, as possible. This attempt is not irrational. If Lockwood, as he does, were to stay in Catherine’s room he would have wiped his being all over her walls, and quite possibly the new memory of Lockwood lying in her bed, reading her books, would not efface Heathcliff’s memories of Catherine in that space, but crowd them, force them to share that space. In a way, Heathcliff is safekeeping Catherine’s soul within her room, filling it with sacred objects, turning it into a shrine. In this way, Heathcliff has made a horcrux.

Of course, this rational protection requires Catherine’s absence. And though a ghost is in some form a presence, it is also, and mainly, an absence.

And of course also, it was that same impulse that inspires Heathcliff to fret about his will, namely who will inherit Wuthering Heights. “I wish I could annihilate it from the face of the earth.”[37] He cannot bear to think of another occupying his space, their space, the seat of his memories, the keeper of her soul, the space which contains their compressed time. He is not an organ donor.

 

10. House qua Body.

 s_monopoly-house

            I think I have given sufficient evidence: the horcruxes, the beating hearts and bloated brains, that Wuthering Heights is alive, has flesh, and exists only because Catherine and Heathcliff exist inside of it. The day Heathcliff returns to Catherine, Brontë writes about Wuthering Heights and the mist surrounding Thrushcross Grange, the mist outside of the Linton’s window: “Wuthering Heights rose above this silvery vapour-but [the] old house was invisible- it rather dips down on the other side.”[38] Up until that moment Heathcliff was invisible. Catherine was not Catherine. (Catherine Linton ≠ Catherine Earnshaw.) Up until that moment both Catherine and Heathcliff were repressing the Heights, were repressing their childhoods, were repressing each other, their love.

Wuthering Heights has always matched the countenance of its occupants…“And far rather would I be condemned to a perpetual dwelling in the infernal regions, that even for one single night abide beneath the roof of Wuthering Heights again…I don’t like being left by myself in this grim house.”[39] But at one point Nelly blasted the day she left. Nelly is sensitive to auras…

“Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man be a dispersed being. It maintains him though the storms of the heavens and through those of life. It is body and soul.”[40] 

Soul, according to Bacchelard. But. And this is a big but. Brontë was a Christian. She believes in the whole duality of the mind and body thing. There was a reason Heathcliff had to leave the inside of the house to die. (I can’t say he had to leave Wuthering Heights because the entire property is Wuthering Heights, but since I have mainly/only worked on the inside of the home I shall stick with the strict dichotomy between inside and outside.) Anyhoo. Heathcliff left the house. And Bacchelard highlights the aggressive and hostile duality of inside and outside, and he states that “when confronted with outside and inside, [philosophers] think in terms of being and non-being.”[41] [Inside is to mind as outside is to body.]  

If the house is his and her body, it is extraordinarily fitting that both of them had to leave its protective layer (lair?) to expire. One could say he left the house in order to meet her, since she was unable to get inside without the help of another. (Was Heathcliff punishing her again? Or could they not be together until death? Probably the latter.) And since they rejected Christian doctrines, according to their stricter times, and according to Joseph, of course they were denied entrance into Heaven. But really. Their heaven is Wuthering Heights. Their home is Wuthering Heights, now and forever. Little Cathy and Hareton move into Thrushcross Grange (her childhood home) and give Wuthering Heights to its rightful owners, Catherine and Heathcliff. Thus, completing their illusion, and giving the reader (me) the happy ending I crave. Of course, Joseph will still be there, but he will only live in the kitchen, and it was decided in class that he was merely part of the setting anyway.

 

 


[1] Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Pg. 2. Dover Thrift Editions. © 1996. From here on out I shall be referring to this book as Heights, without italics.

[2] Bacchelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 7 Beacon Press Books. © 1969. From here on out I shall refer to this book as Space, without italics.

[3] Space 7.

[4] This is why the title is the title.

[5] Space 106.

[6] Heights 14.

[7] Heights 2.

[8] Space 93.

[9] Heathcliff.

[10] Space 32.

[11] Space 32.

[12] Heights 60.

[13] Stapleton, Michael. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology. Bell Publishing Company. © 1978.

[14] Heights 2.

[15] Space 17.

[16] Space 18.

[17] My Caps.

[18] Heights 3.

[19] Space 19.

[20] In the Wuthering Heights in my head Catherine and Heathcliff get it on constantly. I prefer it that way.

[21] Heights 18.

[22] Space 20.

[23] Heights 124.

[24] Heights 18.

[25] Key will not be addressed.

[26] Space 114.

[27] Space 108.

[28] Space.

[29] Heights 91.

[30] Heights 92.

[31] Heights 34.

[32] Space 35.

[33] Heights 27.

[34] Space 137.

[35] mem·o·ry n

1.            the ability of the mind or of an individual or organism to retain learned information and knowledge of past events and experiences and to retrieve it

2.            an individual’s stock of retained knowledge and experience

3.            the knowledge or impression that somebody retains of a particular person, event, period, or subject

4.            the act or a specific instance of remembering

5.            the preservation of knowledge of and, usually, celebration of a deceased person or past event

6.            the knowledge or impression of somebody retained by other people after that person’s death

7.            the period of past time that a person or group is able to remember

8.            the part of a computer in which data is stored.

Also called memory bank

9.            the data storage capacity of a computer

10.            the ability of some materials, for example, plastics and metals, to return to their original shape after being subject to deformation

 

 

[36] Space 9.

[37] Heights 244.

[38] Heights 69.

[39] Heights 134 and 247.

[40] Space 7.

[41] Space 212.

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