Wuthering Heights Character Review: Catherine Earnshaw

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

The best love stories always have an obstacle to the potential happiness of the couple. The best stories sometimes have a character who is standing in the way of their own happiness. This, in a nutshell is Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Catherine is the daughter of the local gentry. We first meet Catherine when her father brings home Heathcliff, her adopted brother/soulmate. Catherine and Heathcliff grow up together, joined at the hip until they reach early adulthood. Then reality sets in. Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine’s older brother, Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights. Hindley was never fond of Heathcliff when they were boys. Without anyone to stand in his way, Hindley openly and maliciously abuses Heathcliff.

While this is happening, the audience and Catherine are introduced to the brother and sister duo of Edgar and Isabella Linton. While it is obvious that there is a strong connection between Catherine and Heathcliff, there is also the pressure of the world of Victorian era England. It would be a disgrace for Catherine to marry Heathcliff, despite their deep love. Heathcliff has no money, no social standing and his origins are unknown. In short, it would cause quite the scandal if the lovers were to marry.

“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 if 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.”

After Catherine marries Edgar and Heathcliff disappears, she appears for a time, to have put aside the wild child sensibility and become a proper lady. But when Heathcliff returns as a wealthy man and starts to not court Isabella, Catherine becomes jealous. Pitting her husband and her soulmate against one another, she becomes ill and dies just moments after her daughter in born.

To sum it up: There are always obstacles, whether on the page or in life. We have two choices, we can find a way to overcome the obstacles or we can take the easy way out.  Catherine unfortunately, takes the easy way out and pays for her choices. As writers, we don’t always have to lead our characters down the right path. Sometimes, we lead our characters go down the wrong path and let them pay for their choices.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Emily Bronte, Writing, Wuthering Heights

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