Treatment of Love in Wuthering Heights
Table of Contents
Love at first sight is not a phenomenon in the novel, Wuthering Heights. Neither Heathcliff and Catherine, nor Linton and Catherine experience that passion when they come face to face for the first time. Heathcliff and Catherine are thrown into each other’s company when they were children. They play together and grow together, and it is on account of this all-time nearness that love develops between them. This love is not based on physical charm or attractive looks. Catherine loves Heathcliff not because he is handsome, but his nature is similar to her own.
A spiritual harmony exists between the two groom the very outset, and so close is this harmony that she regards herself as Heathcliff. She tells Nelly that she loves Heathcliff “not because he is handsome but because he is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” She marries Linton not out of love but (as she, confesses to Nelly) because he is handsome, young and cheerful and cherishes love for her. She marries him for his wealth and status. Had Heathcliff not been lacking education and wealth, she would have married him surely. Thus she tells Nelly
“If the wicked man (meaning her brother Hindley) had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it (that is, marrying Linton). It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him.”
So, the love of Heathcliff and Catherine is based on their similarity of nature, their temperamental and spiritual harmony. Such spiritual harmony does not subsist between Linton and Catherine. That is why their marriage is not happy in the true sense. There is nothing in Linton to make Catherine forget Heathcliff; so that when he returns, her former love of him is rekindled and bursts forth into a blazing flame.
Heathcliff and Catherine Relationship
The love of Heathcliff and Catherine is marked by unusual vehemence and force. Linton’s love is no comparison to it being no better than a “moonbeam against lightning.” Comparing Linton’s love for Catherine with his own, Heathcliff says,
“If he (Linton) loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have; the sea could be as readily contained in that horse-tough as her whole affection be monopolised by him. Tush! He is scarcely a degree dearer to her that her dog or her horse. It is not in him to be loved like me, how can she find in him what he has not ?”
Heathcliff’s Passion for Catherine
Heathcliff can readily go in for hellish torture in the name of Catherine’s love. He daily waits for hours on end at Linton’s garden just to catch a glimpse of Catherine. To see her even from a distance is rewarding to him for his arduous labour. Where love is heavenly bliss, separation of lovers is like burning in hell-fire. Heathcliff finds his heaven in the presence of Catherine. When he is away from her, life is to him a loathsome load. In the scene where Heathcliff meets Catherine when she is recovering after a prolonged illness, the intensity of his love is expressed in the one emotion-packed sentence he utters on seeing her,
“Oh Cathy! Oh my life! how can I bear it ?”
It is not a mere convention that he calls here his love, his life. Just as Cathy says that she is Heathcliff, Heathcliff regards Cathy as his own life. Her death, therefore, is the end of life for him, and if he survives her, it is not living but mere existence, perhaps existence in the hope that after his death he would meet her, never to be separated again. Heathcliff utters a truism when he says to Cathy that “misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God and Satan could inflict would have parted us.” Even death cannot separate these lovers, for they are spiritually united to each other after death.
Love of Heathcliff and Catherine Remains Unaffected by Time
Another aspect of the love of Heathcliff and Catherine is that time produces no effect on it. His love for her retains the same burning intensity even when he remains away from Wuthering Heights for long three years on end. His love for her suffers no abatement during this separation. The fact that she married Linton during his stay abroad does not cool his love for her, nor does it lessen its intensity in the least. He views, her marriage with Linton as a wrong step by her, and just as he has forgiven her other mistakes he forgives this wrong also. Like time, death has no effect on this love; it remains alive when she is dead and gone. Just as he went to Thrushcross Grange every day during her life, he goes to her grave every night after her death. He believes that he would somehow be united to her. So strong is this belief that it has become a matter of faith with him. Though he could not get united with her in life, he feels sure that his union with her would be achieved after death. And this belief materializes at last. Heathcliff and Catherine get united as ghosts after death.
No Emphasis on the Physical Side of Love
Like other Victorian novelists, Emily Bronte does not dwell on the physical side of love. Love in her domain of thought is an intense desire of the soul for union with the beloved. It surmounts all obstacles and impediments and achieves its objective at last. It does not end with life and continues even after death. The lover and the beloved in their world have a spiritual and temperamental affinity. It is because of this affinity that they seek union with each other. Sexual gratification has no place in this union which is spiritual in nature. Heathcliff and Catherine are not sexually drawn toward each other. Each finds in the other a counterpart of his own self, his own alter ego as it were.
Thus each is eager to seek union with the other. Love in Wuthering Heights is a craving of the soul, not a desire of the flesh, a carnal hunger or lust. It is not founded on physical charm but rests on spiritual affinity. The way in which Heathcliff and Catherine are finally united at the end of the novel shows that Emily Bronte’s concept of love is spiritual and not carnal.