Lost Loves in Wuthering Heights

I am curious about how Wuthering Heights fits into or negates the gothic fiction genre. Many of the novel’s themes and tropes are reminiscent of other gothic works, such as Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula, Dicken’s Hard Times, or the poetic works of Lord Byron. Firstly, the swampy gloomy moors setting of Heathcliff’s mansion adds to the gothic drama of the book. The setting mirrors Heathcliff’s downtrodden and dark state of mind. The cloudy scenery is parallel to the audience’s lack of awareness of Heathcliff’s intentions. However, the gothic theme I will focus on primarily in this blog post remains the notion of tragic lost love.

The romance in Wuthering Heights is reminiscent of tragically lost love within gothic fiction drama. The Heathcliff and Catherine relationship is one of childhood friendship, turned love, that grew distant with age. Following Catherine’s injury after spying on Edgar Linton, she is taught to be more ladylike and consequently grows away from Heathcliff. As she matures, she gives into societal standards of what women in the 1850s is supposed to look and behave like. And as she becomes more aware of societal expectations of women, she distances herself from her love Heathcliff, as his education level and social status are not high enough for her. Catherine marries Edgar, though she loves Heathcliff, but is satisfied with being the lady of the manor. She only becomes more interested in Heathcliff years later, when he comes into money and status. However, their love never comes to fruition, as she gives birth to daughter Cathy shortly before passing away. To cement their love, Heathcliff puts a lock of his own hair in her necklace, taking out Edgar’s.

The theme of love being blocked by societal expectations is reminiscent in many gothic works, and throughout all works of fiction. It symbolizes the notion that innocent love of childhood cannot stay pure and exist in a cruel world. The standards humans place upon ourselves prevents love from flourishing. Systems of society like education, class, and conflict deter from pure love or happiness. Catherine’s choice to marry Edgar over Heathcliff demonstrates that a young woman at this time in history must make decisions to better herself in society, rather than make a decision for love.

I am sure critics of Catherine’s will find her choice shallow – and maybe they believe that the rest of Wuthering Height’s melancholy and tragic plot happen due to this decision. But reprimanding her for a logical choice that would financially and socially benefit herself and future children are not looking at how women were regarded in the 1850s. Emily Bronte is well aware of how women were expected to marry upwards if they wanted to have a comfortable life. Though upper-class women were expected to receive an education, they were not supposed to work. Catherine loves both Heathcliff and Edgar in different ways, but ultimately loves herself and her children more to make the smart decision to marry Edgar for societal gain. Many will say this is a shallow opinion, and that Catherine is ultimately self-absorbed, but I believe her choice mirrors a woman making the smart decision for herself in this era. Maybe we should stop judging women for choosing oneself over a naïve childlike love.

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