Character Sketch of Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights
Nelly Dean’s Position
Mrs. Ellen Dean is popularly known as Nelly Dean. She is one of the two narrators of the story of Wuthering Heights. It is a tribute to the art and genius of the novelist that in the narration of the story of Wuthering Heights Nelly’s character is also revealed in comments that she makes on this situation and that. She has closely and sympathetically watched the events and occurrences at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Everything is stored up in her memory. It is, of course, not without a touch of her personal feelings and whatever she tells, she invests it with a colour of her own personality.
However, it does not impede the movement of the plot, nor does it block our understanding of it. Since she remains normal all along, we find the story believable. The character and story pertaining to Heathcliff sometimes appear to be highly eccentric, but we do not doubt because we cannot doubt Nelly. Moreover, her comments are made from a common sense angle of vision. Her easy manner, quick intelligence and acute realism impress us profoundly.
Nelly Dean: A Product of Wuthering Heights
Nelly’s mother served at Wuthering Heights in the capacity of a nurse. Nelly was thus a foster-sister of Hindley. Later on she became a nurse to Hindley’s son, Hareton. When Catherine was married to Edgar Linton she was sent as an attendant to Thrushcross Grange much against her will because she felt that Hareton would not be properly looked after in her absence. After Catherine’s death she became the nurse of her daughter, Cathy, and the housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange.
Nelly Dean: A Loyal and Devoted Servant
Wherever she happened to go and serve, she worked sincerely for the welfare of her masters. She strove to make life smooth for others. She was filled with sorrow when Hindley became reckless and neglected his son Hareton. At the time of his death she came to Wuthering Heights and arranged for his proper burial.
At Thruschross Grange she endeavored to reconcile Catherine with Edgar Linton. Whenever there was a misunderstanding she tried to clarify it. For instance, when Catherine was angry at Edgar’s jealous behaviour towards Heathcliff she tried to explain it by saying,
“What use is it praising Heathcliff to him? As lads they had an aversion to each other, and Heathcliff would hate as much to him praised; it’s human nature. Let Mr. Linton alone about him, unless you would like an open quarrel between them”
She always opposed Miss Catherine Linton’s visits to Heathcliff and whenever she consented in order to please her young mistress she tried to conceal it from Edgar lest he should be worried in his ill-health. But whenever she sensed danger she did not hesitate to report.
Nelly Dean: Affectionate and Sympathetic by Nature
Nelly had a warm heart. Giving due concession for human nature she took interest in the people around her with deep affection and genuine sympathy. Everybody reposed confidence in her. Catherine Earnshaw, Isabella, Catherine Linton, all opened their hearts before her. Even Heathcliff valued her genuine affection and was never harsh to her. It was she who brought about reconciliation between Cathy and Hareton and inspired them to sympathise; understand and love each other. She was very happy that they had decided to marry. “The crown of all my happiness will be the union of those two,” said she.
“I shall envy no one on their wedding day, there won’t be happier woman than myself in England.”
Nelly Dean’s Realistic Outlook
In all her actions and talk she shows a keen sense of reality. Loyal servant as she was, sincere service was her ideal, and she did not let any notion of hazy idealism cloud her sturdy common sense. She always took realistic view of worldly affairs. She understood the relations of Cathy, Edgar and Heathcliff more clearly than Cathy did. She did not mince words in frankly telling Cathy that in marrying Edgar Linton she was guided by other considerations than love. She also told her that Heathcliff would be the last man, to be maintained with his rival’s money.
After the marriage of Catherine with Edgar Linton she went about sincerely and whole-heartedly to make Thrushcross Grange an abode of harmony. She warned Isabella and Cathy of the designs of Heathcliff and made all-out efforts to protect them. When Linton had died and Cathy was suffering tortures at Wuthering Heights, she desired that Mr. Lockwood might marry her but when the circumstances were changed she said,
“You see Mr. Lockwood, it was easy enough to win Mr. Heathcliff’s heart. But now, I am glad you did not try.”
Nelly Dean: Not Mere House-keeper
The whole story is a testimony of the fact that she is much more than a mere house-keeper. She enjoyed the confidence of every main character in the novel and was a friend, philosopher and guide of every one of them. Every main character in the novel could call her the nurse, the guardian, the guide of his or her moral being. She had not merely her native intelligence to draw upon. In her talk and behaviour there is much more that is peculiar to her class. Mr. Lockwood observed about Nelly:
“Excepting a few provincialism of slight consequence you have no marks of the manners which I am habituated to consider as peculiar to your class. I am sure you have thought a great deal more than the generality of the servants think.”
In reply to this she told that she had not only thought, but also read quite a lot.
“You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into and got something out of also. Unless it be that range of Greek and Latin, and that of French, and those I know one from another, is as much as you can expect of a poor man’s daughter.”
And nobody will doubt her own estimate about herself when she says,
“I certainly esteem myself a steady, reasonable kind of body.”
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