Psychological Elements in The Novel Wuthering Heights

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Concentrated Passion - Drama

      It is said that Emily Bronte had a narrow and limited experience of the world as it is. In her days of adolescence she wrote many strange and fantastic stories of heroes, giants, fairies, and ogres and the dreamlands of her imagination were Gondal, Angria and Zamorna. It was said by her elder sister Charlotte who had a realistic turn of mind that Emily's direct experience of life was very inadequate "She had scarcely more knowledge of the peasantry among whom she lived than a nun has of the country people who sometimes pass her convent gate". (Preface to Wuthering Heights). Her story too comprises two families — the Earnshaws and the Lintons, occupying two houses 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Thrushcross Grange' — The distance between them is not more than four miles. Into this narrow space she has crammed a concentrated passion drama.

Theatre of the Inner World

      Such a world — small as it is — is a contrast to the epic breadth of Hardy's vision or for that matter, the comparatively circumscribed world of George Eliot. Hence, the writer is driven into a mood of self-analysis, an examination of one's thoughts and feelings. The large outer stage of some eighteenth-century novels will not be found here: hence the attention is devoted to the theatre of the inner world.

      One of the best examples of this mood will be found in Chapter 12 of this novel. The nostalgic yearning of Catherine for the cold and nipping air of the bleak moors and the reminiscences of her childhood days and years of adolescence, when she with Heathcliff freely rambled on these bleak heaths, make her feel uneasy. She is out of her element in the midst of the coziness, sophistication and social warmth of Thrushcross Grange, her husband's home. Her introspective mood, her self-examination, gives a clue to the root cause of her trouble. The inhibition put on an elemental, unsophisticated, and atavistic mind in the most of alien surroundings gives it no comfort. Whatever social virtues she possesses lie on the surface of her being, thinly covered, and if you only scratch a little you will hear the voice of the spirit, the agony of the soul.

Catherine - A Divided Soul

      Catherine, who has been thrown into a state of mental disequilibrium by the arrival of her old lover Heathcliff who has met her, is afraid that her unflinching loyalty to her husband may be shaken. She is sick and suffers from inner agony brought on by this division of her soul. She is alone and is thrown into a reminiscent mood which unfolds what is inmost in her mind — what lies beneath a false exterior—her inextinguishable love for Heathcliff and her irresistible attraction to him. She reveals her mind to Nelly Dean, her housekeeper. She desires that Nelly Dean should open the window but she objects as it is the middle of winter, and the wind is blowing strong from the north east. Oh, if I were but in my own bed in the old house...And that wind sounding in the firs by the lattice. Do let me feel it - it comes straight down the moor—do let me have one breath. She remembers how she and Heathcliff were not afraid of ghosts while coming back home late in the evening. "It is a rough journey, and a sad heart to travel it; and we must pass by Gimmerton Kirk to go that journey! We've braved its ghosts often together and dared each other to stand among the graves and ask them to come..." She
remembers how Heathcliff once threw a net over a nest of lapwings which died as the mother bird could not come through the net to feed the younglings.

Catherine's Self-Analysis

      It is Catherine who makes a crude psycho-analysis of her love for Heathcliff which is rooted in her being and cannot be eradicated. It is more or less a spiritual kinship. Edgar Linton is her life-mate, but Heathcliff is her soul-mate and no social barrier will be able to keep her away from him after her death. They will be united in the other world: This passionate desire is also expressed in her utterances.

      "But Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture? If you do, I'll keep you, I'll not lie there, by myself; they may bury me twelve feet deep and throw the church down over me, but I won't rest till you are with me!" (Chapter 12).

      And Her ghost found no rest till Heathcliff was laid beside her.

      Nothing can express more powerfully her burning passion for Heathcliff than her own utterances quoted below. When Nelly Dean severely criticizes Catherine's plan of using her would be husband Edgar Linton's money to aid Heathcliff to rise and stand on his legs, so that he may be beyond the reach of Hindley's cruelty. Catherine gives the following reply:

      "I cannot express it but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? 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, always in my mind—not as a pleasure any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don't talk of our separation again; it is impracticable and" (Chapter 9).

The Love of Heathcliff and Catherine — Metaphysical

      The whole of the utterance appears to be enigmatic. Nevertheless, it conveys one impression—it is the eternal passion of Catherine for Heathcliff, the existence, of an unbreakable bond of union between them. To Nelly Dean a levelheaded woman — it is a string of meaningless words. We also fail to make anything out of this exuberant, and metaphysical rhetoric on love and are reminded of the Shelleyan conception of it—a reciprocity of feelings which constitutes the essence of human love, 'a thirst of the soul after its likeness' — once among the heather on those hills, with Heathcliff she will come back to her true self. No wonder some critics have given a metaphysical interpretation to this strange love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Catherine is Emily Bronte herself and Heathcliff is the embodiment of her love for the absolute she found immanent in Nature, which she has described in her poems. Like St. Paul, she, believes that the life of the spirit is to be preferred to the life of the flesh. Her passionate love yearns for a union with Heathcliff after death. The "too bold dying song" referred to by Arnold shows the strength and reach of her thoughts. In her own words, 'There is no room for death', it is non-existent.

      Catherine passionate utterances gather their intensity and force from the eternal spiritual qualities of love, which betokens a union of souls. Though the union of such souls incarnated in bodies is hampered by the rude hand of fate yet the lovers have the consolation that they will meet in eternity—Dante will see Beatrice in Heaven.

      This is a romantic note, an expression of romantic sensibility not on a par with the spirit of realism on the solid rock of which the Victorian fictionists built their stories.

Heathcliff's Self-Revelation

      Equally passionate are some of the utterances of Heathcliff. But there is a difference between the introspection of Heathcliff and that of Catherine. Catherine embodies pure flame of love, and marries Edgar Linton as his wealth and position will give her a social status and when Heathcliff comes back she wants to have him also as her friend and companion. This impossible dichotomy kills her. This is the tragedy of her life. Her desire for what is impossible kills her; She is a good girl — more to be pitied than blamed. Heathcliff on the other hand has, as Lockwood says a 'genuine bad nature', which is aggravated by Hindley's cruelty and is held in check by Catherine's love. He stands self-condemned and his own utterances reveal his evil nature. His desire for avenging himself upon Hindley has an unforgiving and cruel spirit behind it. "I am trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!" (Chapter 7). He has not yet felt the blow of unrequited love.

      His own words analyse his nature. Apart from this desire for revenge, he feels pleasure in acts that inflict pain on others. Catherine knows it and she refers to his throwing a net over the nest of a lapwing which prevented the mother bird from coming into it to feed her young. After some time they found the bones of the dead younglings there. When she says to Heathcliff, "Your bliss lies, like Satan's, in inflicting misery." she hits the nail right. Heathcliff after he cruelly thrusts his wife Isabella from the room and forces her to go upstairs mutters, "I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!! It's a moral teething; and I grind with greater energy in proportion to the increase of pain." He analyses introspectively his inherent cruelty of disposition. Isabella is a victim of his sadistic pleasure, and he pursues it till it kills her.

      But this devilish nature is partly redeemed by love though it is frustration in love that gives to his revenge a diabolic character and brings within its ambit the innocent Lintons.

      Yet some of his sayings about his love for Catherine that come out of the inmost depth of his soul have a lyrical intensity, and reveals 'some soul of goodness, in Shakespeare's words, 'in things evil'.

      They are his outbursts in moments of introspective self-revelation and some of them are given below:

      "Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued 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".

      On hearing the news of Catherine's death Heathcliff bursts into lamentation which shows how deeply 'Catherine is embedded in his soul so as to form an inseparable part of it'. Nothing in the novel expresses his feelings so deeply as the words quoted below. He knows fully well that it is his return that has killed her. He is her murderer.

      "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 this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

      With the death of Catherine his soul too has fled, leaving behind a soulless body, a dull lump of flesh and blood, more dead than alive. Life has lost all meaning to him.

Psychological Enquiry and Self-Analysis

      His speeches meant for the ear of Nelly may be regarded as wonderful fragments of self-analysis. Love for Cathy, a desire to be united with her even in the grave so overwhelms him that it sweeps off his long-cherished revengeful spirit. His self-analysis is revealing. It is a wonderful piece of psychological realism—a faint dawn of the method later adopted by Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. A portion of Heathcliff's self-examination like the famous soliloquy of Hamlet, is worth quoting—

      "An absurd termination of my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished....."

      I don't care for striking, I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand! That sounds as I had been laboring the whole time, only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity! It is far from being the case — I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing". (Chapter 33)

      Here we have a fine piece of close psychological enquiry and a terse but significant reply—the result of deep introspective activity.

      Again the passionate mood of a lover who has lost his beloved nowhere finds a more vehement and powerful expression. Everything associated with her in the least recalls her. The faint likeness of Hareton, her nephew, to her, the shadow of her image in her daughter, the younger Catherine, though she did not take after her mother in anything except her dark eyes; the hills and the moors where she moved as Heathcliff's never-failing companion, every nook and corner of that dark house— 'Wuthering Heights' where they spent their child and early youth— every thing seemed to tell her story and brought her image before the forlorn lover. These words put into the mouth of Heathcliff express a mood of passionate sorrow.

      I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree—filling the tlie air at night and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men, and women—my own features—mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!" (chapter 33)


      We may conclude this discussion with a remark quoted from 'A Short History of the English Novel' by S. Diana Neill: "Wuthering Heights is, perhaps, less a novel than a psychological drama in which the characters are the personified powers that stormed and despaired in Emily Bronte's own being".

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