Death in Wuthering Heights

While reading Wuthering Heights it seems that every other chapter focuses on someone dying, someone who has recently died, or someone who is about to die. None of these deaths happen as a result of old age, and they are often foreshadowed long before they happen. Mrs. Earnshaw dies first, followed by Mr. Earnshaw, Frances, the elder Mr. and Mrs. Linton, Catherine, Hindley, Isabella, Edgar, the young Linton, and Heathcliff. Those who survive the story are Nelly, Joseph, Cathy, and Hearton. A kind of depressing irony comes at the end of the novel when Mr. Lockwood and Nelly are discussing the arrangements for the Wuthering Heights estate and he comments that perhaps ghosts (which there should be plenty of now) might come and inhabit it. Nelly counters by saying, “I believe the dead are at peace, but it is not right to speak of them with levity,” though Nelly has spent the last two-hundred pages gossiping to Lockwood at his request about all the tragedies that happened before he arrived (Bronte, 300).

Eleven deaths. Some are introduced early on, like Frances who arrives at Wuthering Heights during Mr. Earnshaw’s funeral and has a breakdown saying she “was so afraid of dying,” only to die a year or so later (Bronte, 39). Or the young Linton’s arrival to the Grange when Cathy and her father are discussing how well he will do “if we can keep him,” which has a double meaning relating to keeping Linton with them and keeping him alive in general; needless to say he dies (Bronte, 179). I was surprised Edgar lived as long as he did in the story, but when his wife died and Nelly described him as a man who “execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation,” you knew he wasn’t really going to be “living” for the rest of the novel (Bronte, 57). Then there are the deaths of Catherine and Heathcliff, the first of which happens relatively early on and we are aware of for the entirety of the novel and the later which ends the novel. These are the deaths the novel is powered by and then waits for. Catherine and Heathcliff’s unhealthy relationship when they were alive carries over into eternity when she dies and he says, “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living!… I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” (Bronte, 148). In a way, Heathcliff experiences a living death similar to Edgar, where he is still very much alive but all the good parts of him have died and he is being driven by the sorrow of another’s death. All of the trouble they caused when she was alive is foiled by the madness Heathcliff endures and inflicts after her death, and peace only comes when they are reunited in death. Bronte’s repeated injection of death into this novel is striking and plays with several messages relating to relationships, both familial and romantic. Even though death has a negative connotation, is Bronte using it to promote a negative message or is this more like a morbid romanticization?

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