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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wealth, Poverty & Happiness in Wuthering Heights

One day, Mr. Earnshaw returns from a business trip with a street urchin he found in Liverpool.  As he is not in the habit of picking up waifs and strays, his decision to raise the boy as his own shocks and surprises his family.  At first his son Hindley and daughter Catherine detest the newcomer, but in time Catherine and Heathcliff become fast friends.  There’s some question as to who will inherit Wuthering Heights, as Mr. Earnshaw seems to love Heathcliff more than the others.  But upon their father's death, Hindley inherits the estate, which means that Catherine will receive little inheritance, and Heathcliff none at all. 

When Catherine comes of age, she knows that she loves Heathcliff more than anyone else.  He seems to inhabit her soul, to form a part of her very essence.  Yet marriage seems impossible, as they have no money to purchase a place of their own, and no income they can rely on.  After growing up on the rich estate of Wuthering Heights, she envisions a life of poverty awaits them if she gave into her weakness and married Heathcliff.  So she marries a neighbor, Edgar Linton, who owns the neighboring estate of Thrushcroft Grange.  She argues that she admires Linton, and that she will love him because she should, but when separated from Heathcliff, she grows argumentative and miserable. 

While admiring the paintings at, I was taken aback by how the artists’ envisioned Wuthering Heights.  True, Emily Bronte hardly describes it as a great house, such as those owned by Mr. Darcy and others in Pride and Prejudice.  True, under Hindley’s ownership the interior falls into ruin.  Yet Sue Firth and Pat Bell depict the house as a rambling shack that a strong gust of wind might knock down.  It hardly seems a place where anyone would want to live.  In comparison, they portray the quiet English village of Haworth, little changed from the time when Emily Bronte lived, worked, and wrote the novel, as a place you might wish to visit, and yes, even live. 

I’ve read about seventy percent of Wuthering Heights, and I have yet to read a scene that takes place in Gimmerton, the nearby village.  The characters refer to the town, so you know they occasionally visit it.  But so far, there are no references to balls or parties, and little of the social visits or formal dinners with neighbors that form such a large portion of Austen's stories.  Instead, Bronte's characters spend virtually their entirely lives in their homes, or working on their lands, with only immediate family members and servants for company. 

Unlike Pat Bell and Sue Firth, Emily Bronte used words to conjure up her imagery.  Yet the efforts of all three challenge our definitions of wealth and poverty, and point to the sources of true happiness in life.   

Dragon Dave

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Image: Haworth

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