Wuthering Hieghts by Emily Bronte
‘”What new phase of his character is this?’ exclaimed Mrs. Linton, in
amazement. ‘I’ve treated you infernally–and you’ll take your revenge!
How will you take it, ungrateful brute? How have I treated you
‘I seek no revenge on you,’ replied Heathcliff, less vehemently. ‘That’s
not the plan. The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn
against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture
me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in
the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able. Having
levelled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire your own
charity in giving me that for a home. If I imagined you really wished me
to marry Isabel, I’d cut my throat!’
‘Oh, the evil is that I am not jealous, is it?’ cried Catherine. ‘Well,
I won’t repeat my offer of a wife: it is as bad as offering Satan a lost
soul. Your bliss lies, like his, in inflicting misery. You prove it.”
Note on the Text:
Though it is difficult to give an accurate representation of a novel in such a short space, I will attempt to contextualize this quote. Wuthering Heights is the story of a passionate, destructive, unrequited love between the two childhood companions Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan boy who was adopted by the Earnshaws but is treated cruelly. Catherine marries Edgar Linton, and after a mysterious disappearance, Heathcliff returns and ruthlessly pursues vengence against all who wronged him. In this scene, Heathcliff has recently returned and is expressing his desire for revenge to Catherine.
Wuthering Heights was published in 1846 and is Emily Bronte’s only full length work, other than a book of poems that was published posthumously. Although Emily and her sisters Charlotte and Anne were successful writers, they published their works under male pseudonyms. Wuthering Heights met with mixed reviews; some were transfixed and others were appalled by its vivid depictions of emotional, physical, and verbal cruelty and its extreme passion. The portion I have quoted here is unedited, and taken from a paperback version of the novel published by scholastic.
This work is important to study as a transitional piece between romanticism and other periods of literature: although it is technically a Victorian novel; its gloomy, macabre setting and themes demonstrates a heavy gothic influence. It also exemplifies elements common to romanticism such as passionate emotion and dreamlike encounters with supernatural forces (in this case, ghosts). But most noticably, Heathcliff is a perfect manifestation of the Byronic hero as a sulky, ruthless yet passionate character. Feminist scholars may also be interested in its publication history and its reception.