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Gothic Romance: Cathy and Heathcliff


Tragedy in the Classroom

In the seventh grade, Honors English class was divided into parts, one part assigned to read an interesting adventure novel and another part, a sixth-grade level romance novel.

The romance novel was of the mediocre type sold in grocery stores and written at the usual boring pitch of low-end sixth grade mastery. We all hoped we would not be assigned this book.

Many of us were reading at grade 14 (college sophomore) and studying the Russian language. The romance book was an insult to us, in our minds. A few students cut class rather than read the book. One young woman threw it down and said it was the stupidest thing she had ever read.

After surviving that first romance novel, I saw Dracula with Bela Lugosi for the first time and decided that Gothic romance was much better than the pulp of seventh grade.

Tragic romance grabbed many girls in junior and senior high school classes. Today, it is to see the attraction of middle- and high-school youth to the Twilight and New Moon series. These stories are dark, but not overly so, full of fantasy and lovely people.

Dracula itself led me to other Gothic stories and Wuthering Heights was one of them. It is far more engaging and exciting than the massed-produced grocery store romance novel. And it is tragic.

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's 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.

— Catherine, Wuthering Heights, Ch 9

Dusk on the moors.

Dusk on the moors.

Non-relationships and Dysfunction

Emily Bronte offers in Wuthering Heights a fresh perspective on the concept of romantic love in her time, with psychological complications and cruel actions that can destroy the human heart. It was quite successfully dark and intriguing and several period critics did not like the physical and emotional cruelty it described.

First published in 1847, Ms. Bronte used a male pen name for it - Ellis Bell, a tragedy itself that several women of this era were not accepted as able to write and publish. After Emily's death, her sister Charlotte edited the book and published a new edition of the story.

The book contains many supernatural elements and is violent in parts, woven with lesser desirable human qualities. It is not about self-sacrificing love. Main characters Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff (adopted into the Earnshaw family as a child) are not able to function in an adult relationship and this dysfunction may be highly recognizable in 21st century societies.

As long as we recognize it as dysfunction and not the ideal, we readers can enjoy the story and the range of emotions and horror the novel elicits.


The stars of Wuthering Heights are protagonists, rather than heroes; they’re anti-heroes and this makes them flawed and interesting. Catherine (Cathy) and Heathcliff seem to be self-centered and really rather petty overall, having known one another and bonded after a fashion in childhood after an inauspicious start. Social status, duty, and “marrying well” were major considerations of the time, rather than love, and as an adult, Cathy could not marry Heathcliff.

Further, Cathy's brother Linton always hated Healthcliff and abused him in childhood and as a hired hand after the death of their father.

Interestingly, Healthcliff left home and became rich, using his riches to turn abuse onto the next generation in revenge, because he had been abused by Linton. This is classic inter-generational abuse, perhaps not much considered in the early to middle 1800s.

In the story, Cathy does not marry Heathcliff, breaking his heart. He and she both, in fact marry other people without much joy resulting. Heathcliff and Cathy never admit that they are in love with one another, a tragedy with which many readers can identify. As unconfessed lovers they fight tooth and nail to the end in order to maintain contact, even though they are married to others.

At least they are buried side by side - a romance in itself.

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...Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you--haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts HAVE wandered on earth. Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!

— Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights, Ch 16


Unknown Origins

The unknown usually becomes romantic in some way and Healthcliff is an unknown from the beginning of the story. He is described as a gypsy in appearance, probably to portray darkness and romantic mystery with dark eyes, hair, and skin coloring; and his parents were never revealed.

Perhaps he was left by the side of the road or perhaps he is magic. Later in the story, detractors claim that he is related to Satan and the appearance of ghosts in the story adds another dimension of the supernatural. An aura of sinister mysticism surrounds Healthcliff, making him romantic to readers. One film version fo the story, released in 1970, suggested that Healthcliff may be Cathy's illegitimate half-brother. This is an other element of mystery and romance.

Healthcliff is the dark, mysterious hero that is not a hero - rather an opposite of the Spanish hero, Zorro. Both are equally as romantic.

Painting of children stolen by gypsies, a widespread legend.

Painting of children stolen by gypsies, a widespread legend.


  • Masterpiece Theater Productions of Wuthering Heights; 1950s
  • Wuthering Heights - A Musical Adaptation Based On The Novel By Emily Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights (1939)

    Directed by William Wyler. With Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven. V

  • Wuthering Heights (1970)

    Directed by Robert Fuest. With Anna Calder-Marshall, Timothy Dalton, Harry Andrews.

  • Wuthering Heights (1992)

    Directed by Peter Kosminsky. With Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer.

  • Wuthering Heights (2009) (TV)

    Directed by Coky Giedroyc. With Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln. Foundling Heathcliff is raised by the wealthy Earnshaws in Yorkshire but in later life launches a vendetta against the family.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


Silent hurricane from Israel on January 10, 2012:


JasonPLittleton on July 31, 2011:

Wonderful hub! You have great insights here. Thanks.

lifewellspoken from Vancouver BC on January 19, 2011:

What a very interesting hub. Thank you very much for showing me a true smile.

Ocean on July 10, 2010:

I'm surprised to see that you don't have THE "Wuthering Heights" film on your films list!

It's the only one that has any excellence in its' casting, acting, settings, and interpretation of Bronte's novel into a moving screenplay.

Starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall, (the absolutely perfect Heahcliff and Cathy!), it is the movie released in 1970.

As someone who loved the book as a preteen, and who also writes books in this vein, I urge everyone to see it.

By the way, the score by the genius, Michel LeGrand, is the most beautiful one ever composed for Emily Brotne's classic by far.

rmcrayne from San Antonio Texas on January 25, 2010:

Our middle school teacher opted for Charlotte instead of Emily. I was a good student, but it was way too dry for my ADD I'm afraid.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 14, 2010:

It is such a masterpiece and because it is still relating to today's life it makes it even more grant.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on January 13, 2010:

I haven't given much thought to Gothic novels in many years, since my English Literature course in the about 1960. I remember that along with classics like "Wuthering Heights" we also read a small collection of the "pop" literature of the times. It made me aware of the influence on some modern day writers. One such, if I remeber correctly was Daphne du Maurier, who ifI recall correctly wrote a short story "the Birds" on which Alfred Hitchcock made a successful movie.

dusanotes from Windermere, FL on January 13, 2010:

I, too, write reviews at times. But this - this was a staggeringly difficult and complex book to take on, and you did a great job, Patty. I can only applaud you for your great versatility and ability to grasp difficult personal relationships and concepts. Thanks for doing so, Don White

Veronica Allen from Georgia on January 13, 2010:

Though I did not read the book, the 1992 movie rendition was really good. Hands down, this is my all-time favorite drama/romance.

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on January 13, 2010:

Great insight to a classic. Thanks.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 13, 2010:

@Dolores Monet - I surely agree with you on all that. I wonder what she saw at home and among visitors? The book is actually riveting, I think.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on January 13, 2010:

One of my all time favorite books! Every time I read it, I gain a new perspective. The characters are fascinating and so complex, as is the plot and the back drop of the English moors. As old as the book is, the psychological themes are totally modern. While Emily may have been a near recluse, she certainly had an excellent grasp of the human psyche.

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