Passion & Romantic Sensibility of Love in Wuthering Heights

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      The two illustrious predecessors of Emily Bronte in the domain of fiction lack the warmth of passion. E.M. Forster says in his Aspects of the Novel that cannot be regarded as a great writer as he cannot move his reader by delineating characters swayed by passion. As regards Jane Austen, it may be said that she eschews passion because overstatement or a furor of any sort is alien to her temper as well as to the easygoing unambitious world depicted in her novels.

      Passion is the keynote of Wuthering Heights and the two characters that constitute that warp and woof of the novel—namely Catherine and Heathcliff - are ruled by passion and we can hardly catch them in sober and lucid moments throughout the course of the novel.

      Any feeling when it assumes a very strong form and makes a person - act in a way which violates the norm of behavior imposed on him by society, is called passion. Love, sorrow, and hatred, are regarded as passionate when they transcend normal limits. Sometimes, such feelings are. localized in persons and they suffer alone without drawing others ‘into their vortex.

      A misanthrope like Timon pouring out vials of wrath on an ungrateful world, a sorrowing maiden like Isabella nurturing a basil plant with her tears beneath which lies the head of her murdered lover, a fate-dogged man like Henchard dying in lonely Egdon Heath, leaving behind a will by which he bequeathed to the world his hatred and disillusionment of life, are grand figures, grand in their cynicism, sorrow, and disillusionment that are passionate, — that are keenly felt. But society is not disturbed by such persons, they do not harm it; its even tenor of life is not ruffled by them. They live in their splendid isolation. They are passionate characters and sublime in their passions.

      But the ambitious desires of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth not only bring about their own ruin, but unleash the destructive forces that fall upon the innocent and sweep them off.

      Matthew Arnold visited the graves of the Bronte sisters in the churchyard of the small moorland town, Haworth. It was this visit that inspired the following lines, which convey the glowing tribute of an eminent Victorian to the memory of Emily Bronte:

—and She
(How shall I sing her?) whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,!
That world-framed son of fire—she, who sank
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed;
Whose too bold dying song,
Stir'd, like a clarion-blast my soul

      In the words of an eminent critic, it is 'passions that spin the plot' of Wuthering Heights — the passions of Heathcliff and Catherine. Byron's poetry as an expression of energy, power, and passion, will hold its place of honour in English literature in spite of the criticism of Lionel Johnson the contrary. It has been described as the poetry of romantic self-representation, but the self that reveals itself through it has the fire and passion though at times it lacks sincerity of purpose and degenerates into rhetorical outbursts.

      Byron's passionate hatred of humbug and cant, his downright condemnation of tyranny, his genuine wrath against conquerors and oppressors of mankind, his ardent love of liberty for which he laid down his life, and the ecstatic feelings roused in his heart by mountains, oceans, lakes and colossal ruins, — not only bring out the intensity, passion, and elemental quality of his imagination, but also betray a spirit of dissatisfaction with the existing order of society, a hankering after freedom from its shackles, and a fondness for a wild and roving life.

Heathcliff's Passionate Hatred

      Heathcliff is such a vicious character and in the pursuit of his ruthless vengeance born of a passionate hatred, he tries to ruin two families, but his revenger cannot reach beyond one generation. They are ultimately saved. The influence of passion on Heathcliff's 'genuine bad nature' is the theme of the novel. His motive of revenge, no doubt, is inspired by the cruel treatment he receives at the hands of Hindley, but it assumes a huge proportion and outruns all calculable limits. The greedy man ruins Hindley, gets possession of his house and lands and turns his son Hareton into a little savage animal.

      This passionate hatred of Heathcliff also extends to Thrushcross Grange. Its owner Edgar Linton has taken away his Cathy from him. He should avenge himself upon the robber and his passionate desire gives this revenge a diabolic character. He knows that in default of male issue Linton's properties may go to Isabella's children, and to satisfy his revenge and greed he takes advantage of the infatuation of foolish girl in her teens, and marries her, though he had not a grain of love for her. He then tortures her impelled by a sadistic motive. He abducts the younger Cathy and forces her against the wish of her father to marry his sickly son so that the properties of the Lintons may not go out of his hand. He has no mercy for the daughter of the woman he once passionately loved and adored. He behaves with her rudely.

      There is no redeeming element in this passion for revenge and it shows the power of evil at its worst. Even before Cathy's marriage with Edgar, Heathcliff tells Nelly that he will not spare Hindley, and there is in his utterance a ring of determined resolve and we feel that he is born to create troubles: "I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!"

      The passionate hatred of Hindley for Heathcliff is a complex bom of a sense of social superiority, that makes him hate Heathcliff — a forsaken child kindly reared by his father. This hatred is intensified by his father's love for the waif whom he treats like one of his children. It assumes a passionate character—by which we mean a strong or intense quality. Further, when he learns that Heathcliff's machinations are going to turn his only son Hareton into a street boy he is blind with fury and always carries with him a knife and a pistol to kill him. On one occasion he makes an attempt on Heathcliff's life but he is saved. We find in these three characters an embodiment of passion - the strongest in Heathcliff, a, little less in Catherine and still weaker in Hindley.

Heathcliff's Redeeming Passion

      Let us now discuss the other manifestation of passion which redeems the character of Heathcliff arid proves beyond doubt that he is a human being and not an out-and-out embodiment of evil. A well-known critic, David Cecil makes a very significant remark in his Hurdy, the Novelist, "Man, cast into a dark and unsatisfying world, thirsts for happiness. The happiness promised by love is the most universal symbol of this thirst. But this thirst drags him on through heat and dust towards a mirage and ruins him. Heathcliff's, love for Cathy is the central fact about his life. He struggles and toils for three years and comes back to Wuthering Heights a handsome, fairly educated, substantial man with the tremulous hope of winning Cathy; but all his hopes are dashed. She is already Mrs. Linton, but the undying passion of Heathcliff subsists his passion in its concentration and ecstasy has the Marlowesque 'amor de la impossible — a love for the impossible; its scale is too vast to be judged by human standard. It is amoral, knows no social barriers; and in Platonic terminology - it is the hankering of the soul to meet its counterpart. In frenzied passion, he holds in his arms the insensible body of Cathy, in her husband's parlor, and she too abandons herself without the slightest struggle to him. There are no words—it is the moment of "passion-fraught" repose which art creates, and is rarely found in actual life— this drab life of beef-steaks and automobiles. The words which express the anguish of his bleeding heart are sublime poetry in prose. Some of the utterances of Heathcliff are quoted below:

"Two words would comprehend my future — death and hell: existence after losing her, would be hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton's attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in a day." (Chapters 14).

      The last scene of their meeting at Thrushcross Grange, only a few hours before Cathy's death, is unforgettable and outside Shakespeare and Elizabethan dramatists there is nothing like it. They are united, body and soul, for the last time. Cathy realizes her mistake and Heathcliff has clasped her and she too clings to him tamely. All this is being enacted in the parlor of Cathy's husband, and he may turn up at any moment and can shoot him. But Heathcliff has no fear and says: "Hush, my darling! Hush, hush, Catherine! I'll stay. If he shot me, I'd expire with a blessing on my lips". (Chapter: 15).

      Catherine too is in a state of trance, resting in the arms of her beloved, forgetting the torture of her soul and the agony of her burning heart.

His Passionate Sorrow

      It is the news of her death that maddens Heathcliff. He will love her even in death. He will meet her ghost and talk with it. Here is another blazing expression of Heathcliff's passion. The words are uttered after Catherine's death. "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 that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always — take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in the abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

      Heathcliff's passion now takes the form of a heartfelt longing to meet the ghost of his beloved. It is not his beautiful Cathy in flesh and blood whom he seeks but her discarnate shadowy spiritual presence, fleshless but recognizable—like Beatrice in Dante's Paradise—of course without the halo of glory not possible on this sorrow-stricken planet. His desire is partly fulfilled.

      It is this meeting with his lost beloved, "the bone of his bones, the flesh of his flesh." that makes his life endurable on the earth for eighteen years. He finds Cathy moving about the moors, hears her voice in stormy nights knocking at the windows of Wuthering Heights praying to be admitted in. This elusive image torments him for this long period, yet it is her tantalizing presence—may be a shadowy presence or hallucination created by his passionate imagination—that begins to occupy his mind more and more and drives away all other thoughts. It is the only thing that gives a meaning to his life. He forgets his revenge, he forgets to take his food, he forgets all earthly things. The passionate mood finds an expression the equal of which cannot be found in any literature: "I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree—filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her image.....The entire .... world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!" Such passionate sorrow can only be compared with that of Isabella in Keats's tragic story. "She forgot the stars etc." stanza LIII-Isabella.

      The desire to live which is the strongest instinct of living beings is transformed into a desire for death—which is the only door through which he must pass to meet his beloved. And death comes as a welcome relief. It is this grand passion which redeems the character of the Demon Lover as he has been called, raises him, purifies him, and throws around him in the words of a critic "a dusky splendor".

Catherine's Passionate Love

      The passionate love of Cathy for Heathcliff on the other hand, has not the splendour of Heathcliff's passion. She has chosen Edgar of her own accord, and his wealth and social position have attracted her. She forgets Heathcliff and never thinks of him as long as he is away from Ginunerton. But Heathcliff works hard in a distant land, educates himself, learns polished ways of life and earns money, as he has a flickering hope that if Cathy finds in him the qualities of a gentleman and if he is financially competent, she may throw her choice on him. This is evident from the words of Heathcliff: "I have fought through a bitter life since I later heard your voice, and you must forgive me, for I struggled only for you! (Chapter: 10).

      Catherine's passion for Heathcliff is adulterated and has not the pristine and elemental grandeur of Heathcliff's passion for her. It may be said that Heathcliff too marries. But there is a world of difference between the marriages of Cathy and that of Heathcliff. Heathcliff's marriage is a cold and loveless marriage. Heathcliff has not a grain of love for Isabella, who begins to hate her husband and considers him worse than a venomous serpent only a few days after her marriage.

      But Cathy is very fond of her husband. An eminent critic and novelist Albert J. Guerard is of the opinion that Cathy wants both Edgar and Heathcliff but finds that the fulfillment of her wish is impossible. But Heathcliff is glad beyond measure when Isabella tells him that she has nothing but hatred for him.

      Hence, the passion of Cathy is pitched to a lower key when compared with the "grand passion" of Heathcliff.

      The passion of Catherine which is only less intense than that of Heathcliff, re-asserts itself when Heathcliff comes back after an absence of three years. But even the bond of marriage, and her loyalty to her husband of whom she is overfond cannot save her. The primordial feeling of love that united her with Heathcliff in their childhood and adolescence proves stronger than the social and institutional conventions. In her mind, there is a struggle between two antagonistic forces. But it is the passionate, elemental, natural love that gets the better of married love; passion overbears reason, instinctual life proves stronger than social virtues, and institutional sanctions. Primitive, atavistic, and natural forces push out feeble, acquired, arid conventional sentiments. Passion is lawless, it is amoral, and has an irresistible power. It is particularly so—in matters of sexual passion. Though this passion has been sobered by long and habitual obedience of man to social laws so as to curb it, yet instances crop up here and there that show that its original, primitive, natural power has not been completely wiped out by ethos, by the inhibitions of institutional life.

Catherine's Primitive Violent Nature

      But there are critics who hold a different view. Catherine acts like a prudent woman by marrying Edgar Linton. But she has beneath her superficial coating of civilization, a primitive, unsubdued, and violent nature. It disturbs her now and then and she is a victim of sudden fits of melancholy and violent outbursts.

      The unreclaimed nature of Heathcliff with an abundance of masculine energy appeals to her original instincts. Their rambles in wild moors, their companionship in the period of adolescence, and above all a certain mysterious affinity interknit their souls. Both of them are intolerant of checks and controls that civilized life imposes on an unrestrained, free, and natural course of life.

       Emily Bronte's views on these matters are not clear. There are ambiguities that have given scope to critics to give plausible interpretations of the novel that do not follow the same track. Anyway, there is no lack of illustrations to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that Catherine has an impassioned and uncontrollable nature that verges on insanity and some tiling alien to what is social, ethical, or institutional is deeply embedded in her nature. There is something in her constitution both physical and mental, that does not thrive in a well-ordered frame of society which is not founded upon self-abandonment, but upon self-control.

      Nevertheless, some of the utterances of Cathy reveal a passion which bums like a flame. They reveal a soul that has felt the agony of thwarted love. A few selected quotations are given below.

      "Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff. Oh, that's not what I intend—that's not what I mean! I shouldn't be Mrs. Linton were such a price demanded! He will be as much to me as he has been all his lifetime". Soon this oscillating mood rises to a white heat of passion and we vaguely feel how she and Heathcliff are indissolubly united. To think of their separation is absurd and meaningless. "My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff. He's always in my mind — not as a pleasure, anymore than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being." (Chapter:9).

      The above lines appear as nonsensical to level-headed Nelly. Catherine says these words when she is engaged to Edgar and their marriage is not far-off. Nelly does not relish those sentimental effusions poured on Heathcliff, yet they are the most passionate utterances of a woman. The intensity of love, and the identity, the oneness of the lovers emphasized here transcends all human limits. Hence, some critics, not unjustly, have regarded Heathcliff as the symbol of "divine immanence" in the world, communion with which threw Emily into a state of spiritual exaltation.

      Let us quote another passage in which tells there is a strange affinity between her soul and that of Heathcliff. They are made of kindred elements. It is not Heathcliff's handsome look but the make-up of their spiritual nature that has united them and made them one and indivisible, ".........and that not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire." (Chapter: 9).

      These are the two passionate characters in the novel and a portrayal of their passionate moods is the soul of the book.

Passion and Elemental Qualities in Wuthering Heights

      Such riotous display of passion, and elemental qualities of the mind are also embodied in Wuthering Heights. We have the passionate love of Heathcliff for Catherine—the only thing he lives for, and when it is frustrated he is seized with a desire for revenge on vast and inhuman scale. The diabolic machinery of Heathcliff acts but ultimately the wheel comes full circle. Heathcliff cannot wipe out the Earnshaws and the Lintons — they are united in the wedlock of Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw. Their properties are restored to them.

      His passionate love for Catherine does not fade away with her death. He runs after her phantom that deludes him. Her ghost distracts him. He loses contact with life and reality, and the visionary presence of his beloved preoccupies all his interests. He cannot eat, and sleep, till he has found, Catherine, his souls counterpart in the other world. For eighteen years he lives the life of a monomaniac - belonging neither to this world nor to the other, — till he dies.

      The love of Heathcliff and Catherine which is the core of the novel of Emily Bronte has around it an imaginative sensibility which is the hallmark of the romantic age. This sensibility is not only found in the major theme of the novel, it is also found in the character of Heathcliff whose heart bleeds at the cruel taunts hurled at him by Hindley and others, even when he is a child. He has a mind that feels keenly, and makes him react to the buffets of life with fierce determination.

      Sensibility means the dominance of feelings. It is the legacy of the romantic age. In the history of the English novel, there is a definite reaction in favor of realism after Scott. Even Scott's illustrious contemporary Jane Austen anticipates this tendency and by reviving the spirit of the eighteenth-century novelists becomes the coryphees leader of a long line of fiction writers who show a positive distaste for hair-raising gothic Romance or the tales of Scott with their paraphernalia of the middle ages.

      In the wake of Jane Austen follow Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes, Kingsley, Mrs Gaskell, and George Eliot, who do not go back to the past for the materials of their novels, but cull them from the familiar matters of everyday life.

The Influence of Romanticism on the Brontes

      But Romanticism has left its marks in the realm of heart. Its after-glow falls upon early Victorian poetry and lends it an ineffable charm. Its sensibility, passion, and imagination linger in the novels of the Brontes and enrich them. Its notes of escapism, and spiritual vision find an utterance through the great novel of Emily Bronte.

      Even the novels of Charlotte Bronte are not free from the inroads of romantic sensibilities delicate feelings, and passions. But her sense of realism and moral austerity has controlled them to some extent.

Emily Bronte's Imaginative Sensibility

      Emily Bronte on the other hand, has given reins to her imagination. Her hero and heroine know no moral restraint. Both of them are endowed with romantic sensibility, passion, and ardent emotion—and Romanticism means the overthrow of reason and calculation by imaginative sensibility.

      There is an element of pathos in the tended sensibility of Heathcliff whose feelings even from boyhood are lacerated by the inhuman treatment he suffers at the hands of Hindley. Heathcliff also keenly feels in his early youth the growing intimacy between Catherine and Edgar Linton, observes their movements closely, hears the heart-breaking words of his beloved, "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now." After this, he leaves 'Wuthering Heights', for an unknown destination, and nobody knows or hears of him for three years.

      Emily Bronte lays greater stress on the workings of Heathcliff's heart than on his outward activities. The realism of facts, the inclusion of which in the novel would have been artistically appropriate, has been sacrificed to make much of the emotional life, and this has been done with great skill. This is a romantic method which sets greater value on the inner life, its conflicts and impossible hopes, than on the prosaic facts of life. This imaginative effect is gained by doing injustice to the form of the novel.

The Treatment of Passionate Love

      The treatment of passionate love also follows the romantic manner. It is not characterized by bold or daring actions of lovers. The sensibilities of the lovers have been made much of, but they end in the luxurious weaving of feelings or in giving vent to pent-up emotions. This lyrical infusion affects the quality of the novel which thrives on objectivity of outlook and representation of action.

      There is no action. Catherine does not elope with her lover but remains a faithful and loyal wife to the last. There is no immoral act. Even when she has made up her mind to marry Edgar Linton she luxuriates on effusions that reveal her love for Heathcliff, her sensibilities and her prudence that drives her to a profitable marriage with Edgar Linton, fight a duel in her heart in the post-capital period of her life. In this clash of sensibilities, emotional and spiritual forces overpower reason and calculation and she chooses to die.

      When we come to Heathcliff, we find that in spite of his "genuine bad nature" he is a victim of sensibilities. The death of Catherine leaves him to mature his plan of revenge. He ruins Hindley and is indirectly responsible for his death. His heartless behavior to his sickly son hastens his end.

      But he has another undercurrent of life which asserts its power when he is alone, he is haunted by the image of Catherine, her ghost visits him. His desire to meet her in the other world seizes upon him. The power of sensibilities over him, is now immense. He is its victim; it makes him act and behave erratically. The desire to be united with his dead beloved in the other world, even the consolation to be buried near her, are now the be-all and end-all of a life dedicated to the pursuit of a grim revenge. The iron nerves of a tough guy are melted in the heat of passionate love.

      All these are illustrations of romantic sensibility that runs through the novel, and makes it appear more like a product of romantic imagination than of Victorian realism and its moralistic trend.

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