Heart-throb or heart-breaker? Man or monster?
It’s fair to say that most of us must have come across Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights at some point in our lives so far. Whether this was at school, you simply stumbled across it or even if you’ve just seen the films. Charlotte Bronte is famously known to dislike Wuthering Heights, in particular the character of Heathcliff, writing in the 1880 preface to the novel that ‘Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is’. Therefore, this novel has sparked many a debate about one of the main characters – Heathcliff. On the one side he is a twisted, dog-murdering stalker, on the other he is a misunderstood, heartbroken romantic. Here our two Impact Arts editors weigh in on opposing sides of this debate. Whichever side you’re on, it would be difficult to argue that Wuthering Heights would be half as great without him.
Nobody could deny that Heathcliff had a pretty bad start to life, adopted by Mr Earnshaw in an act of kindness whose family despised him, beat him and treated him as a servant. He was bound to grow up to be hateful and more than a little cynical. This begs the question of whether Heathcliff’s revenge was justified and some form of poetic justice – perhaps Hindley actually deserved his fate as he fell into financial ruin and alcoholism at the hands of Heathcliff?
“His declaration that she is ‘my life, I cannot live without my soul’ is a little insane and perhaps verging on stalkerish but surely they are romantic too?”
Secondly, his love for Catherine may seem a tad obsessive – which it is – but wow is it impressive. I can remember attempting to defend his actions against the majority of my AS English class but perhaps not entirely convincing them. His declaration that she is ‘my life, I cannot live without my soul’ is a little insane and perhaps verging on stalkerish but surely they are romantic too? Doesn’t everyone want someone to love them that much? Loving someone so much that you can’t imagine life without them is the basis on which most romantic novels are built. I was moved by the lengths he would go to in order to be with Cathy, although perhaps I’m in the minority.
“Surely someone capable of this much love is in need of a second chance?”
Therefore, I can defend Heathcliff and his intense love for Catherine because underneath all that insanity and cruelty is a damaged heart-throb. Phrases such as ‘If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day’ have me melting! Surely someone capable of this much love is in need of a second chance? So although not all of his actions are romantic and sentimental, the majority of them are a result of a deep possessive love.
Anyone who can forgive Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy or Jane Eyre’s Rochester should be able to forgive Heathcliff, as after all, aren’t they simply just three standoffish men waiting for love? At least Heathcliff doesn’t have a wife in the attic…
Persuasive argument by the Heathcliff fanatic, but the man’s clearly a lunatic. Killing dogs, and with a cruelty that persists throughout the novel, not just to animals, but to everyone else as well – even the woman he claims to love, means he is one hell of a flawed character, and one that Bronte fans love to hate.
“His list of crimes are pretty extensive, ranging from physical abuse and imprisonment to fuelling Hindley’s downfall”
Despite his dark, brooding good looks, his destruction of everything he loves, and apparent hatred and indifference towards his own son make him a full-on baddie in my eyes. His list of crimes are pretty extensive, ranging from physical abuse and imprisonment to fuelling Hindley’s downfall, and attempting to recreate his miserable life in the next generation. These vile acts can’t be defended by reasoning that he loves Cathy and can’t handle the fact that they won’t be together.
“Because every woman knows the way to snare a man is to marry the guy he hates”
His acts of love instead come across as a creepy obsessive infatuation with the unfortunate Cathy (possibly even more annoying than Heathcliff in my opinion, but that’s another debate…). Despite claiming to be in love, they constantly try to hurt each other. Because every woman knows the way to snare a man is to marry the guy he hates. And every man knows that to get revenge, he will obviously marry the sister of the guy he hates. Twisted as fuck, I know.
To summarise, the man is clearly is a monster! We can feel bad for him (maybe), but that doesn’t change things, as anyone capable of these crimes, even literary ones, are not deserving of forgiveness. And despite what anyone says (Heathcliff fan up there), Mr Rochester wins hands down every time. At least he has a shred of decency, and knows how to feel love without destroying the woman he loves. (I know the wife in the attic is consumed by flames and thus destroyed, but let’s not go there).
In conclusion, Heathcliff, love him or hate him, makes Wuthering Heights the great novel it is! Whichever side you’re on, there is no excuse to not re-read this masterpiece and start debates of your own regarding the kind of character he is: loveable rogue or downright monster.
Heathcliff Fanatic: Lizzie Robinson
Heathcliff Hater: Amy Wilcockson
Image credit: Lizzie Robinson