ENG 455: Victorian Literature
2 May 2008
“Scampering on the Moors”: The Eros of Narcissism in Wuthering Heights
The sexuality, attraction, and love visible in Wuthering Heights is a sort of je ne sais quoi that once was synonymous with romance; outward signs of debauchery were unwelcome in this culture and would have been condemned, especially from a female author. Where once the veiled relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine was considered lurid and a land of depravity, now it is often interpreted as a tale of jilted lovers, equals yearning to be together if only society would allow them. This opinion is asserted by most readers due to Catherine’s defining statement of “Nelly, I am Heathcliff,” a sentiment which is emulated succinctly in the phrases such as “he’s more myself than I am,” and “he is always in my mind…as my own being” (88). John Allen Stevenson argues that this sense of likeness between Heathcliff and Catherine pervades throughout the novel, “but since Wuthering Heights is a novel that leaves the reader suspicious of every piece of information provided, how can we trust the sentiments expressed by Catherine?” (60-61) Simple, Catherine is not speaking of the love she feels for another being, but the love she feels for her self encased in a shell she nursed and caressed into maturity. I wish to argue that the love between Catherine and Heathcliff was not merely ill-fated, but may not have existed at all. Catherine took what she needed and committed the actions she felt were necessary to reach a status that she believed she deserved.
Catherine Earnshaw is a character synonymous with obsession: as its prey, as its master, and as its fixation. At times she is domineering, controlling and manipulating the gypsy boy that has fallen into her possession; at times she is caring, singing her father to sleep in his final hours; and yet at times she is a monster, reaching from beyond the grave, howling to Lockwood, “Let me in…I’d lost my way on the moor” (43)! This controlling personality of Catherine is felt early on in Wuthering Heights, first seen by Lockwood when perusing her collection of novels during his brief stay at the Heights. She had scrolled notes in nearly every free space of each of her books, “scarcely one chapter had escaped pen and ink commentary – at least, the appearance of one” (38). She was not content with the musings of others; she did not believe something was complete until she had her opportunity to comment on it. This need for control is evident in every action Catherine commits: from her manipulation of Heathcliff to display superiority to her father to the dismissals of her husband’s concerns as unfounded upon the return of Heathcliff from his extended hiatus from the Grange. The little mistress was not content with acquiescing to anyone’s opinions, instead she would push and struggle until her ideas won the day, often perceived as “mischievous and wayward” (53) by her father and a “tigress” (107) by Isabella. Each character in Wuthering Heights has described the evils and manipulations of Catherine at some point in this tale, creating a universally accepted image that she is a “creature” (43) who existed between fits of passion.
When Heathcliff first arrives at the Heights due to the supposed kindness of Mr. Earnshaw, he is a mere object to be scrutinized and abused by all its inhabitants. He was less than a human at his introduction, constantly referred to by the appellation, “it” (51). It was “entirely refused” to be let in the children’s bed, and ultimately deposited “on the landing of the stairs” like a common house pet; he was nothing in their eyes but a worthless vagabond (52). Heathcliff was an empty vessel, a tabula rasai let us say, waiting to be molded and instructed in the manner of a loyal lapdog; a conclusion soon reached by the iniquitous Catherine. She at first treats it with disdain, “grinning and spitting at it” (52), yet within a few paragraphs we learn that Catherine has taken an unexpected fancy to the young “gypsy brat” (51). At first, the reader is affronted at this alteration of loyalties and rightly so. What is it that draws the spoiled Catherine to the demure Heathcliff? She sees her self in it, or more accurately, a chance to create her self anew in it. It can not be said that Heathcliff is without blame or fault; one must willfully open himself to another to be so utterly manipulated.
Heathcliff’s arrival at the Heights presented him the opportunity to be born anew when he stepped forth from Mr. Earnshaw’s cloak, a mental infant seeking a personality to suckle on until he could develop his own unique persona, but Catherine’s personality was too powerful and he was never able to fabricate a self-image that did not include her. His sense of self was missing, there was only her; he was a mere extension of Catherine’s will due to his indeterminate character. He was a mirror that reflected Catherine’s image, ideas, and emotions without interpretation. Heathcliff was the lake that drowned Narcissus, reflecting the image Catherine adored, her self. This reflection is what drove Catherine to the tirades and emotional outbursts that many claim as evidence for her eternal love for Heathcliff. In actuality, it was her self-love that drove her to this level of insanity. She could not decide which self was more important, which self should she focus her actions on to maximize the benefits for her existence. She was not distraught over hurting Heathcliff when she chose Edgar; she was distraught because she drove away the image of herself she had spent years crafting and preening. He was not Heathcliff to her; he was her arm, manipulating events in her favor even from beyond the grave. A singularly devoted force for revenge that thirsted to gain retribution upon those that brought confusion to Catherine. Heathcliff did not even know why he was going through such measures to achieve revenge and when confronted by an equally strong Cathy, he appeared to wilt, confused by the conflicting information assaulting him. The daughter of Catherine who looks very similar to her is acting like her and producing a decently accurate imitation of her obstinate attitude. He could not respond with love, for this is not Catherine, but she was part Catherine and thus this confrontation left him conflicted. He could no longer steadfastly ignore her connection to his obsession; she was his reflection, albeit a bit diluted and distorted.
This growing narcissism did not develop suddenly, but instead was a steadily budding bed of trouble. In the midst of Nelly Dean’s description of Catherine and Heathcliff’s blooming relationship, she believed that “[Catherine] was much too fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment…was to keep her separate from him” (56). This need for constant exposure to Heathcliff was one of the earliest signs of Catherine’s burgeoning narcissistic passion. The object of the individual’s love soon becomes "what he himself is, what he himself was, what he himself would like to be, and someone who was once part of himself.” (Freud 90) In other words, a narcissist directs all his love inward via an object that strongly reminds an individual of his self. Catherine’s object of love in this case is Heathcliff, the boy with no identity. And, by lacking any identity of his own, Catherine was able to instruct him to emulate her personality and be a living, breathing memorial to the greatness that she believed she was.
“Heathcliff wails, ‘I cannot live without my life…my soul!’” (155), this moan is the culmination of years of indoctrination under the tutelage of Catherine. To recreate her image in another, she had to instill an overwhelming sense of adulation and all-encompassing obsession that would override any and all thoughts of individuality. But, how could a single girl instill such an overwhelming emotion in an individual she just met? She provided him a bond that transcended emotions and reached the epitome of physical consummation, sex. "Loving oneself," Freud argues, is the "libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation" (74). Catherine took this need for self-preservation and advancement to a level untouched by any other character in Wuthering Heights. She laid a foundation for obsession that subsisted on and flourished on the actions taken place while “scampering on the moors” (40). The little scamp stole Heathcliff’s future from him and replaced it with an existence of unrelenting blandishment, never to gain an equal level of adoration or even love in return. Heathcliff was the sole parishioner to the church of Catherine and he was a lifetime member to this young woman’s cult of self-indulgence. Robbins and Anthony define a cult as:
“…manipulative and authoritarian groups which allegedly employ mind control and pose a threat to mental health…These groups are usually: (1) authoritarian in their leadership; (2) communal and totalistic in their organization; (3) aggressive in their proselytizing; (4) systematic in their programs of indoctrination…” (1982, 283)
Catherine seamlessly integrates each of these areas into her fondling of the young gypsy, ushering him off on numerous occasions for “scampering on the moors,” (40) supervision-free instances where she was capable of instructing him in the ways of Catherine reverence. These lessons have been an incessant deluge into the mind of Heathcliff, inhibiting any future relationships before they even began, for no one can compare to the perfection that is a Goddess of Catherine’s stature or one that will occasionally leave Mount Olympus to bed a mortal. This inhibiting of emotional attachment to individuals other than Catherine defines Heathcliff’s entire personality throughout Bronte’s novel. He is an emotional shell, refusing to show grief even for himself when “[he] was dangerously sick.” (53) His lack of self-interest at an early age, rampant support of the “little mistress,” and obsessive tendencies that allowed Catherine to control him with “pretended insolence” are characteristic to extremists and the downfall of Heathcliff. He did not choose to be a monster, it is merely the life given to him by Catherine.
In the previous section, I mentioned the numerous occasions that these ill-fated youths went “scampering on the moors.” (40) But, what does it mean to scamper? Oxford Dictionary defines scampering as “to run with quick light steps, especially through fear or excitement,” which coincides warmly with the universal image one envisions when speaking of children at play. And yet, it deviates from the original usage of scamp during the Victorian age. To scamp once meant to be mischievous, a cheat, and a swindler; each definition denotes a personality trait demonstrated by the dear Catherine and her protégé, Heathcliff. Heathcliff carried on the life of scamp after Catherine’s death, swindling Isabella into marriage and subsequently marrying and raping her to create a brood that will carry on his mission. It is never stated outright that she was raped, but “it does not take much perverse imagination to visualize how she becomes pregnant” (HK Journals, 1964).
From the first moment we, the readers, are introduced to Catherine, it is obvious she is a self-centered, egocentric individual. She was displayed in an overwhelmingly negative light by Nelly Dean throughout the novel, continually committing atrocities that made Nelly’s opinion decrease exponentially as the tale progressed. This state of irreverence for all others besides herself was instilled into Heathcliff, eliminating the idea of kindness for anyone other than Catherine. We bear witness to a brief glimpse of Catherine’s teachings after the sudden demise of her father, Nelly Dean rushes to console the children and finds the “little souls comforting each other with…heaven so beautifully” pictured, that it was unnecessary for her to aid them. These were the images of life under the tutelage of Catherine. If you stick with Catherine, nothing will hurt you, for she has a wonderful paradise waiting to embrace you and comfort you from the harshness that is reality.
Catherine is the true beast of this tale, a wild animal trapped in a cultured world, waiting for any opportunity to show her true colors. Many critics attempt to place the mantle of evil on Heathcliff, all but ignoring the contributions of Catherine. It is true that Heathcliff had committed many atrocities and was responsible for torture, murder, and numerous other crimes, and yet I believe he was merely the tool that carried these actions out as ordered by the true mastermind, Catherine. Her status as a woman did not grant Catherine the freedom to advance economically, seize land by marriage, or even hold a higher status in society outside her husband. She knew that only through another could she attain the levels of grandeur that her animalistic side yearned for. This need to conquer and control destroyed many lives in Wuthering Heights and was the primary reason for Catherine’s deep connection with Heathcliff. He was the means to her ends. And her ends was to be the “greatest woman of the neighbourhood” (84).
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Freud, Sigmund. “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” Ed. J. Stachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 14, (1957): 74, 90
The New Oxford Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005
Robbins, Thomas and Dick Anthony. 1982. “Deprogramming, brainwashing and the medicalization of deviant religious groups.” Social Problems 29, (1982): pp. 283
Stevenson, John Allen. “Heathcliff is Me!”: Wuthering Heights and the Question of Likeness.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1 (1988): pp.60-61
“Wuthering Heights: The Devil and the Critics.” Hong Kong Journals. Vol. No. 6 (1964 Sep). 6 April 2008. http://sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/article.jsp?book=34&issue=340006
Bell, Vereen. “Wuthering Heights as Epos.” College English. Vol. 25, No. 3, 1963, 199-2008
Bell claims that the epos/ballad style is the central and/or most important aspect of this novel. The reader is removed an extra dimension due to the Lockwood-Nelly relationship, causing the reader’s information to lack depth and emotional context whenever Nelly speaks. This lack of emotional context allows Bronte to produce a love relationship and comment on its actions through Nelly without having to making a sweeping God-like judgment.
Campbell, Keith. “Narcissism and Romantic Attraction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 77, No. 6, 1999, 1254-1270
Campbell argues that narcissists will tend to focus their affections on individuals that can embody the traits they adore in themselves rather than someone they can possibly develop a sense of intimacy with. He drew his information from 5 in-depth studies on differing forms of narcissism and provided concrete evidence that narcissists are generally self-destructive individuals.
Freud, Sigmund. “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” Ed. J. Stachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 14, 1957, 67-104
In this paper, Freud discusses narcissisms place in sexual development and three unique ideas called the “ego-libido,” “object-object,” and the “ego-ideal.” Finally he comments on alternative views to narcissistic theory expressed by Jung and Adler.
Madden, William A. 1972. “Wuthering Heights: The Binding of Passion.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 27, No. 2, 1972, 127-154
William A. Madden discusses the importance of Lockwood’s first dream and its relation to story he narrates. He elaborates on the importance of Joseph and his biblical rants disfiguring the burgeoning love of Heathcliff and Catherine, the anti-thesis that develops in Cathy-Hareton, and finally the implications and psychological impact of Bronte’s double novel.
Richardson, James T. “Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative.” Review of Religious Research, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1993, 348-356
Richardson discusses the origins and modern-day definitions of a cult. He outlines what a cult consists of, how it is run, and the purpose it poses in society. He concludes by discussing the impacts cults have on our modern society and that he believes the term cult is actually outdated and should be dropped from use.
Robbins, Thomas and Dick Anthony. 1982. “Deprogramming, brainwashing and the medicalization of deviant religious groups.” Social Problems 29, 1982, 283-285
The authors discuss the up-and-coming cult indoctrination and mind-control methods used by a “cult.” This indoctrination supposedly can lead to future mental illnesses, leading to the loss of personality and the rendering of mental comprehension outside their teachings as rationally impossible. Robbins and Anthony go on to discuss the formation, general format, and modern cult examples that prevail throughout the United States. This article provides foundational information for Heathcliff’s obsession with Catherine even beyond death.
Solomon, Eric. “The Incest Theme in Wuthering Heights.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 14, No.1, 1959, 80-83
Solomon discusses the origin of Heathcliff and the lies that surrounded his birth into the world of the Heights. Mr. Earnshaw did not provide reasons for his travel, gathering of the child, or even adequate reasons to aid him. The reader only gained opinions from Nelly Dean who was expressing doubts towards each aspect of his tale and an underlying suspicion that this strange child may be a natural child of Mr. Earnshaw.
Sonstroem, David. “Wuthering Heights and the Limits of Vision.” PMLA, Vol. 86, No. 1, 1971, 51-62
Sonstroem takes a unique look at Wuthering Heights, expressing his belief that it has been misread/misinterpreted as being a story of passion that relates to the ideals of Bronte. He argues that the key element disregarded by the majority of readers and critics is the effect that the confusing actions, morals, and personalities of the characters has on the reader’s comprehension of the novel.
Stevenson, John Allen. “Heathcliff is Me!”: Wuthering Heights and the Question of Likeness.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1, 1988, 60-81
Stevenson goes in-depth on the similarities between Catherine and Heathcliff and how they tied each other body and soul. He continues this argument by concluding that these two individuals are actually part of the same whole, even acknowledging the incestuous connection the two demonstrated by their closer than lover emotions.
Watson, Melvin R. “Wuthering Heights and the Critics.” Trollopian, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1949, 243-263
Watson analyzes the general overview of literary criticism on Wuthering Heights, agreeing or disputing concepts ranging from comparisons between Emily and Charlotte to similarities to other great works like Hamlet. Most importantly, Watson discusses the criticism that arose immediately after the books publishing, relating these analyses to Bronte herself.
i Tabula rasa – A term coined by Ibn Sina in the 11th century which means “blank slate,” referring to the concept that the human mind is empty at birth and develops from all outside stimuli.