*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.
In every madhouse, there is usually one sane person. This person is usually the eyes and ears of audience member or the reader and is the only person who can tell the story without prejudice. In Wuthering Heights, that sane person is Nelly Dean. Nelly is the housekeeper/mother figure who tries to keep the peace in the family. Tries is the key word here.
She introduced early in the story when Mr. Lockwood, the tenant at Thrushcross Grange visits Wuthering Heights to introduce himself to Heathcliff, his landlord. Unable to return to Thrushcross Grange because of the weather, Nelly takes pity on Mr. Lockwood and tells him the story of the house and its former occupants.
As much as Nelly tries to keep the peace and the sanity in Wuthering Heights, she can’t. Not for lack of trying, but because the ones who she gives advice to decide to do what they think is best, regardless of her advice. It is Nelly who Cathy goes to after agreeing to marry Edgar, but not sure that marrying him is a good idea. A generation later, Nelly tries to stop Heathcliff from imprisoning Catherine Linton (Cathy’s daughter) and forcing Catherine to marry Linton.
To sum it up: Emily Bronte was one of the greatest writers of the past 200 years for a reason. In creating Nelly Dean, she understood that Nelly not only needed to be the eyes and ears of the audience, but she also needed to be the eye of the storm that is Wuthering Heights. When a writer creates a world and narrative that is out there, he or she needs to have at least one character who is clear and level headed. It is that character who the audience relies on as the steady, reliable voice of sanity. Without that character, the reader of the audience may not be able to latch onto the story and may walk away.