"The Dead Are Not Annihilated": Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights

Geerken, Ingrid.
Journal of Narrative Theory, Volume 34, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp. 373-406 (Article)
Published by Eastern Michigan University DOI: 10.1353/jnt.2005.0004

For additional information about this article

Access Provided by UFOP-Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto at 11/12/10 2:23PM GMT

“The Dead Are Not Annihilated”: Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights
Ingrid Geerken
Regret is essentially generative of narrative. It is an emotion that engages the mind in a story-making process that seeks to correct a past experience. Regret can be formulated mentally and verbally through the conditional phrases “If only . . .”; “I wish I had . . .”. In my larger work, I examine three types of regret: martial (regret over killing), marital (regret over marrying), and mortal (regret over the death of a loved one). Here, I will be looking at the psychological, structural and generic features of mortal regret. Although regret is an experience that crosses historical boundaries, my main focus is on the nineteenth century: I will be using Brontë’s Wuthering Heights as an exemplary text of mortal regret. I. Agent-Regret: character and plot Catherine Earnshaw Linton’s death halfway through Wuthering Heights makes an accommodation to her loss a structural necessity. The young Catherine, Brontë’s narrator Nelly explains, “was much too fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment we could invent was to keep her separate from him” (40). The separation of Brontë’s lovers is the motivating event of the novel. Death, the greatest separation of all, is redefined by Brontë as a generative state. Her frustrated lovers not only reunite in the grave (defying extinction), they also leave behind a second generation of
JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 34.3 (Fall 2004): 373–406. Copyright © 2004 by JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory.





survivors to persist in their absence. Even as nineteenth-century society is grieving in epitaphs and mourning practices, Brontë inscribes the wound of mortal loss with words that act as sutures to both mark and repair psychic injury. Her novel incorporates and repudiates two main cultural forms of consolation: the genre of elegy, and the concept of the Christian afterlife, both of which require an acceptance of the limitations of mortality. Instead, Brontë’s particular expression of mortal regret in Wuthering Heights is generated out of a complex of remorse, grief, and resistance that testifies to the persistence of life in the face of loss. The social historian Philippe Ariès designated the nineteenth century as the “era of mourning.” In a revival of excesses not seen since the Middle Ages, mourning was “unfurled with an uncustomary degree of ostentation . . . it claimed to have no obligations to social convention and to be the most spontaneous and insurmountable expression of a very grave wound” (67). According to Ariès, as “survivors accepted the death of another person with greater difficulty,” the fear of death shifted away from one’s own death to “the death of another, la mort de toi” (68). The feeling of intolerance to a loved one’s death that historically gave rise to the mourning industry and the modern cult of tombs and cemeteries is the same feeling, I would argue, that motivated the production of a new kind of novel based on what I call mortal regret. Emily Brontë published her only novel, Wuthering Heights, in 1847. Brontë’s history is replete with the losses that motivate mortal regret: Brontë’s mother, her two older sisters, her aunt, and her beloved brother Branwell all died during her lifetime. Emily ‘catches her death’ at Branwell’s funeral and within weeks was desperately ill. Dismissing all remedies and refusing to take to her bed or nourish herself properly, she died of tuberculosis soon after. Unlike her sister Charlotte, who seemed to find a religious consolation despite her mounting losses,1 Emily rejected the God and the church of her father (Patrick Brontë was a Evangelical clergyman) in favor of what she calls “the God within my breast.” Emily refused to teach at Sunday school and did not attend church regularly. According to Stevie Davies, her attitude towards Christian piety “varied from the cool to the contemptuous” (19). As Christianity could not assuage her mourning, the novel became the medium of Brontë’s reparative work. Authors of mortal regret are deeply interested in the act of putting together a narrative that both contains and expresses intense grief. In The Ve-

In Wuthering Heights. but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud. Catherine constitutes Heathcliff’s “comprehensive mother”: she is the medium through which metamorphosis occurs in the novel.2 According to Bollas. Never was a greater hope disappointed—a more devoted love bereaved’ ” (Richardson 359). Catherine’s death irrevocably alters Heathcliff’s internal and external landscape. the transformational object is initially identified with ‘the comprehensive mother’ who. constitutes the “total environment. Heathcliff experiences the dead Catherine as dismembered and dispersed throughout his world. The appearance of ghosts. Lidian Emerson wrote of her husband: “ ‘How intensely his heart yearns over every memento of his boy I cannot express to you. As an “enviro-somatic transformer” of the subject. In narratives of mortal regret what I call the surge of affect (an emotional rush accompanied by an aesthetic upswell) is directed towards overcoming the limitations of mortality. however. monsters and revenants in such narratives attests to a galvanic effort to reinvigorate the dead through the sheer force of longing. Similarly.” She is existentially identified “with processes that alter selfexperience” (14). after the death of their son Waldo. That limit is mortality itself” (164).” This mother. the memento becomes the ubiquitous trace presence of the longed-after dead one. Mortal regret reverses the Freudian trajectory of mourning in which . in every tree—filling the air at night. The death of someone loved . marks out a fundamental limit to the human will. . Her death also becomes the mechanism or mise en scene through which the “total environment” of the narrative is processed. I am surrounded with her image!” (324). He becomes haunted by her omnipresence as a set of infinite signs: “for what is not connected with her to me? And what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor. Philip Fisher writes: “with losses that set off grief. for the infant. and that I have lost her!”(324).Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 375 hement Passions. . In mortal regret. Heathcliff’s mortal regret transforms his world and that of the narrative into a “collection of memoranda that [Catherine] did exist. Mortal regret acts as what the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas would call a “transformational object” in narrative. and caught by glimpses in every object by day. the insult to the will is unmistakable. is “less significant and identifiable as an object than as a process. The mourner—in an Orphic gesture— imaginatively extends his or her agency past its furthest extreme (death) in order to resuscitate the dead beloved.

I am thinking of authors such as Brontë. (Here. Frankenstein—motivated by the death of his mother—fabricates a monster out of a collection of disinterred body parts.3 In these works mortal regret. This impulse towards reunification is intensified in Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s sense that they share an identity. these authors often have distinctive or unconventional styles. According to the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. For example. Instead. the wish to restore and re-create the lost loved object is the basis of all creativity.376 J N T the mourner divests himself.” In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” of every “one of the memories and expectations” related to the lost loved one (Mourning and Melancholia 39). this produces intricate formal structures. I call the act of putting together the pieces of a loved object Agavic. Mortal regret is metafictionally linked to the process of literary reconstruction that marks these highly wrought texts. she asks “Are all its members pieced together well?” In Sylvia Plath’s “Colossus. In Wuthering Heights.” the speaker laments the disarticulated memory of her dead father: “I shall never get you put together entirely. When. The fantasy underlying these reparative acts is that a perfect assemblage of parts will resurrect the dead. and two houses. and Hopkins). Mortal regret counteracts the helpless passivity of mourning through a surge of affective activity. I am Heathcliff” says Catherine (82). In texts of regret. Mortal regret participates in the Agavic attempt to piece together sundered elements. the act of bodily reparation is paralleled on a formal level by the many layers of narration that envelop the central act of revivification. / Pieced. Emerson. at the end of The Bacchae. the mourner collects and reassembles these “bits and pieces” in a desperate attempt to prolong in the psyche the existence of the dead. Mortal regret may include attempts at bodily reparation in response to mortal loss. And since loss is always a highly personal event. Mortal regret can be distinguished from the fixation of melancholy by its emphasis on restoration. “bit by bit. Agave gathers the scattered pieces of her son’s body and reassembles its parts. Joseph Brodsky notes how . “Nelly. after the image of Agave’s desperate attempts to reassemble the parts of her murdered son in Euripides’ The Bacchae. The work of mourning literally becomes one of restoration. Dr. Dickinson. glued and properly jointed. Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Catherine and Heathcliff. this is expressed at the level of plot in the drive to reunite two lovers.

rings. Typically. mourning was indubitably generative: it gave rise to an entire industry of hair working that produced objects as astonishing as the full tea set (made entirely of human hair) exhibited in the 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition.5 In the making of memorial hair wreaths. Nelly will interweave the two locks together before replacing them inside Catherine’s locket. thus contextualizing an individual’s personal loss within the larger structure of an evolving kinship. For authors of mortal regret. And Emerson’s biographer Richardson writes that “virtually all of Emerson’s creative life was lived in the twenty-five years” between the death of his son Waldo in 1857 and his wife Ellen in 1832 (540).Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 377 Hardy’s Poems of 1912–1913. Heathcliff removes a lock of Edgar’s fair hair from a locket hung around the neck of Catherine’s corpse. Later. lockets) either contained a lock of hair or were made with the hair of the dead. in Thomas Hardy’s terms. the formal intricacies of such texts of mortal regret are paralleled by the mourning artifacts produced by Victorian society to remember the dead. thus ensuring that the lovers’ fates will be forever intertwined. and replaces it with a jet-black lock of his own. pieces of jewelry (brooches. These mementos were worn by grieving survivors as a symbol of an absent love: Queen Victoria. these mourning artifacts recorded. Brontë transforms this historical phenomenon of hysterical mourning into a literary treatise on wild grief. into dozens of two. In Wuthering Heights. . overcome with anguish after losing both her mother and her beloved husband in 1861. In Victorian culture at large. At the heart of the novel is a “very grave wound” that testifies to the experience of an apparently irredeemable loss. In Wuthering Heights. are characterized by a remarkable formal diversity that contrasts with the typical tonal and metric uniformity of most elegies (44). survivors interwove the hair of deceased family members through several generations. motivated by the death of his estranged wife. Mortal regret both structures and organizes the novel on every level. the dead were never truly part of “the past” but were instead resurrected in art.or three-page . purportedly wore a piece of jewelry made with Prince Albert’s hair every day after his death. Fisher observes how the time-schemes in Wuthering Heights. Emma Gifford. “the genealogical passions” of nineteenth-century society. Like Wuthering Heights. In the nineteenth-century. . For example. “break up .4 These included jewelry and other ornate objects made from the human hair of the deceased.

in a chapter entitled He desperately clutches the Form. the grief-stricken bereaved will exhume the corpse in an effort to regain physical intimacy with the beloved’s body. Fourth. for Emerson. the protagonist frantically attempts to stop the transmigration of his lover’s spirit into the body of another woman.378 J N T scenes. Second. the revitalized monster reaches out to clutch his creator just before it is repulsed. The act of corpsing is pivotal in this narrative sequence because it determines the extent to which the process will be taken literally. 2) what I call corpsing. In Emerson’s Experience. violent release. clutching Farewell! Forgive me! Of these limbs. Lockwood’s early nightmare of a sermon “divided into four hundred and ninety parts” (21) underscores the discontinuous or dismembered state of the narrative.6 . and dissipation of a passion” (89). “the most unhandsome part of our condition”(288). each of which tracks the explosion. The Bacchae) Clutching can be experienced equally as an intimate gesture or a violent seizure. enactment. and in Hardy’s The Well Beloved. Mortal regret is an experience of profound object loss. In Shelley’s Frankenstein. the mourner will attempt to use prayer or incantation to raise the dead. he laments “the evanescence and lubricity of all objects. First. Similarly. each act of mortal regret stands alone and is imprecated in the others. a person threatened by the loss of a loved one will clutch the other’s body in an attempt to prevent separation. a mourner will identify with the dead loved one by corpsing. Third. or playing dead. blood-stained And mangled. written two years after the death of his son. or.” The human act of clutching becomes. Four major acts that express mortal regret are: 1) clutching. The multi-part structure of Brontë’s novel expresses formally this temporal and libidinal process of putting together what has broken apart. in either case it is motivated by the desire to counteract the threat of loss through physical attachment. and 4) incantation. which lets them slip through our fingers when we clutch the hardest. Nevertheless. in lieu of that. which one shall I mourn the most? Why not this hand? Is it what I seized first? (Euripides. 3) exhumation.

and leant forward to gaze more at his ease. but the hand clung to it” (ital.7 It is the act of clutching. forgetful of their aim” (331). Heathcliff’s mortal regret. clutch. Brontë allows the lovers one scene of reciprocal clutching—or clasping—before their final separation (158–163). . even as her desperate act of clutching links Lockwood to its internal plot. Heathcliff. Catherine’s ghostly apparition smashes through her bedroom window and clings tenaciously to Lockwood’s outstretched arm. cites the many instances of pulling. mine. pinching.” Heathcliff’s visual rapture is accompanied by an attempt to grasp Catherine’s form: “if he stretched his hand out to get a piece of bread.] which exists independently of the need for nourishment. Heathcliff ‘sees’ Catherine not “two yards” in front of his face: “with a sweep of his hand. tearing. his fingers clenched before they reached it. his rage over losing her is neatly expressed in his clenched but empty fist.” which duplicates Catherine’s own refusal to eat before her death. becomes a moral imperative: “I’m animated with hunger. In the famous opening scene of Wuthering Heights. and grabbing that take place in Wuthering Heights (139). 23). . .Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 379 Brontë’s exquisite attentiveness to the image of the human hand links passion and violence early on in the novel. He says. Just as Freud posits a “grasping instinct” [. as Heathcliff wrenches away. he cleared a vacant space . on the other hand. Heathcliff’s helpless gesture of clenching and unclenching acts out his failure to (grasp. Elaine Scarry. “I tried to draw back my arm. and. Brontë’s focus is on the precise gestures of the lovers’ hands and arms: Heathcliff approaches Catherine and “grasp[s]” her in his arms. hearing that Cathy is ill after his elopement with Isabella Linton. Catherine’s act of smashing through the window pulls the reader into the novel’s frame. demands that Nelly arrange a meeting between them. and remained on the table. . Catherine’s desire . His “anorexia. retaining in her fist a lock of his hair. As he approaches death. In this scene. seemingly. that I hardly remember to eat and drink” (323). take hold of) Catherine. Heathcliff grabs Catherine’s arm so tightly that he leaves four bruises on her colorless skin. that sets the standard by which mortal regret will be expressed and exchanged in the novel. I must not eat” (328). so Heathcliff’s hunger for Catherine is greater than his need to eat: “I take so little interest in my daily life. Catherine “seizes” him by the hair. is based on his failure to take hold of Catherine. While raising himself with one hand. for example. however.

Catherine’s acts of corpsing are almost always preceded by the threat of a separation from Heathcliff and anticipate actual death. and unfixed her fingers by the act. speaking. “No! .380 J N T is to hold Heathcliff “until we are both dead. Catherine loses consciousness (she is described as being either “fainted or . and even. .” Catherine’s eyes and hands become the locus of Heathcliff’s distress: “It is hard to forgive. Oh. In their final scene. she is expressing an indifference to her physical self characteristic of mourning.” As Nelly tells it: “they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive. standing bonnet-less and shawl-less to catch as much water as she could with her hair and clothes” (85). . Heathcliff I shall die! I shall die!”(162). Catherine is also corpsing when—as Heathcliff cradles her body—her arms suddenly relax. and from actually being dead.” before “stretch[ing] herself out stiff. she is engaged in an act of corpsing. Acts of corpsing are distinct from suicidal behavior. after Heathcliff’s abrupt departure from Wuthering Heights. She is not. assumed the aspect of death” (118). sensing. and her head hangs down (163).” The violence of this forced separation is duplicated in the novel’s opening scene. It is the last time! . or pretending to be dead. while her cheeks. . corpsing. gasping” even as Heathcliff “would have risen. don’t go. an agent imagines his or her death while still retaining the lifelike capacities of feeling. loosens Catherine’s grip by rubbing her wrist on the windowpane until “the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes” (23). . and to look at those eyes. and turn[ing] up her eyes. gets “thoroughly drenched for her obstinacy in refusing to take shelter . . on the other hand. and grinding her teeth. When. Catherine clutches desperately to Heathcliff as he tries to extricate himself from her arms. . When Catherine. she is described as “dashing her head against the arm of the sofa. however.” The scene culminates in Catherine’s tenacious refusal to let go of Heathcliff even as her husband Edgar appraoches: she “clung fast. At the end of this scene. Catherine shrieks. in which Lockwood (as a stand-in for Heathcliff). corpsing The next form of mortal regret is the act of corpsing. blanched and livid. and feel those wasted hands. In the experience of corpsing. don’t. the act of clutching is rapidly transformed into one of corpsing. at times.

or the metaphor of Death as teacher and deliverer). is erased. for example. Nelly. but unrisen. Catherine’s corpsing is portrayed as an act of self-assertion that distinguishes it. are depicted as deliberate acts of will.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 381 dead”) just before Heathcliff places her “lifeless-looking form” in her husband’s arms. Brontë desentimentalizes the typical features of Victorian deathbed accounts (such as the visible rising of the soul or mist. expresses a state of disembodiment in which not only the material body. Catherine’s acts of corpsing. in another register. In this way. all that remains after a series of negations is “one even plain” through which “the sluggish air [b]roodeth. “are dead.” Poems such as Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral. So. the last look. The act of corpsing empowers the imagination to go beyond what can be truly known or remembered. downplays the severity of her illness to others. and smells even as she inhabits what Rossetti calls the “death apartment. Emily Dickinson can begin a poem (remarkably) by saying. buried but unhopeful”(159). The image of Heathcliff cradling Catherine’s body (so reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pietá) is a dress rehearsal for the scene of her coming death.” and Rossetti’s After Death describe the sensation of death in material and empirical terms. in my Brain. Catherine and Heathcliff have opposite strategies for expressing mortal regret. in Cobwebs. His “paralytic passivity” is typical of vehement grief. hears. as Angela Leighton describes. Heathcliff’s mourning pays honor to Catherine’s death by simulating many of its effects. Catherine’s preternatural energy combined with Heathcliff’s longing animates her corpsing and prolongs her existence past death. “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—. corpsing is motivated both by a desire to simulate a state close to that of a dead loved one. . and to experience our own death—paradoxically—in a way that we can communicate and remember. from the ‘posthumous’ women of Rossetti’s poetry. Corpsing makes the experience of death accessible by representing what it feels like to be dead. The agent—in an expression of impossible agency—still sees. who repeatedly accuses Catherine of premeditation in her exhibitions of frenzy. transforming them from the inside out through empirical observation.” Like these poets. leading some critics to blame Nelly for contributing to Catherine’s death. In this way. on the other hand.” Christina Rosssetti. but the entire physical world. who.

Heathcliff. After being overwhelmed by “utter blackness. and Edgar are all tormented by insomnia as a result of Catherine’s death. however. As Catherine’s coffin remains uncovered in the great drawing-room of Thrushcross Grange. remarks that it was not until dawn that she had “recovered sufficiently to see and hear” (125). Corpsing is also simulated in sleep. writes “to be gnaw’d out of our graves is a tragical abomination. “She’s fainted or dead . 1). Edgar spends his days and nights there. Corpsing. Emily Dickinson left instructions that she was to be buried in “one of the costliest caskets—five feet. at the same time. Catherine’s resuscitation is a practice-run for an imaginary—and arduous—resurrection. who.382 J N T Fainting is mimetic of corpsing because it involves a loss of consciousness. by that sleeper. so much the better” (163). six inches long lined in white flannel” (Farr. Brontë describes how Heathcliff’s subsequent desire to be buried alive with Catherine is based on a denial of her death: “If she be cold. .G. In the nineteenth-century. if she be motionless. and my cheek frozen against hers” (289). It is only as he approaches death that Heathcliff dreams that he is “sleeping the last sleep. In The Rings of Saturn. as an act of identification with the dead. In Wuthering Heights. with my heart stopped. Just as a fainting fit simulates a miniature death. W. But . spends his nights just outside. . Sebald contemplates the fate of the seventeenth century physician Thomas Browne. . who is to know the fate of his bones. . When Catherine collapses in Heathcliff’s arms.” Catherine. . in a treatise entitled The Urn Burial. in a traumatic revival. I’ll think it is this north wind that chills me. or how often he is to be buried?” Uncannily. while Heathcliff. authors of mortal regret are keenly aware of the material context of their bodies after burial. Accompanying this process is a curiosity about the material afterlife of the body. a “sleepless guardian” of her body. Brontë emphasizes the heightened sensation and magnified awareness of a fainting or corpsing agent by focusing on the painful stages involved in a return to consciousness. leads to a rehearsal of one’s own death. “equally a stranger to repose” (167). and Christina Rossetti informed her executor that she “wished to be buried in the nearest approach convenient to a perishable coffin” (Leighton 158). it is sleep”(289). Browne’s body was dug up several times before its final internment almost a quarter of a millenium later (10–11). the mourner is denied simultaneity with the dead loved one through sleep: Lockwood. Nelly coldly observes.

In a journal entry. At that time. like the act of corpsing. Camille Paglia has condemned some of Dickinson’s poems as “so necrophilic as to seem disgusting or mad. According to Ariès. the possibilities of consciousness. sensation. Thus the act of disinterring the dead becomes motivated less by a fear of sacrilege than by a survivor’s intolerance to loss. “He said he had looked into the coffin. although never as adults. Then he did a remarkable thing. In mortal regret. he now ventured a gaze into that of his son Waldo’s. In these respects. and the chance to formulate beliefs about the afterlife of their loved ones quite apart from the Christian concepts of immortality and salvation. but he said no more” (Richardson 540). these entombments were motivated by “the survivor’s unwillingness to accept the departure of their loved one” (70). exhumation Exhumation became a literal and figurative problem in the nineteenthcentury. rather. an afterlife that reduplicates and corrects the wounds of life itself. grief becomes a problem with a plausibly manual solution. exhumation could become an expression of mortal regret.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 383 In Wuthering Heights. and revival—in short. a cultural movement away from church-burials and towards cemeteries gave the living greater access to the dead. Heathcliff attempts to exert control over death by remodeling Catherine’s casket (replacing one side with a sliding panel like the one in her bedroom) and by constructing an identical coffin for himself. Heathcliff’s alterations to Catherine’s coffin and the ingenious assembly of his own ensure that the lovers will share a grave-bed that resembles the bed they shared as children. 138). Emerson describes how he moved the coffins of his wife and son Waldo to a new plot in Sleepy Hollow.” but most critics agree that these acts are best understood as versions of love (Farr 96. accordingly. Heathcliff then bribes the sexton to pull the sliding panels away when he is dead and buried next to Catherine. In Dickinson’s poems to her sister-in-law . an immediate and unmediated redress of loss. mortal regret offers neither the acquiescent consolation of elegy nor the promissory recompense of the Christian afterlife. The feverish psychic and physical activity of mortal regret perpetuates the belief in an afterlife that retains. As his daughter Ellen remembers. Corpsing seeks. Just as he had looked into the coffin of his dead wife Ellen twenty-five years ago.

Catherine. Similarly.384 J N T Susan. By exhorting Catherine to . may you not rest. Heathcliff disinters Catherine’s body only to reveal that her corpse has not yet begun to decompose. God! It is unutterable ! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” (167). as I will describe momentarily. . Words which. Incantation is often linked to the power of words to invoke the dead and implicate the living in this act of resuscitation. Catherine Heathcliff . “did she die like a saint?” (in other words. motivated by a yearning for a lover who cannot be claimed or repossessed until death. who appears in the novel’s opening pages as a ghost. While at Wuthering Heights. On the day of Catherine’s funeral. Eighteen years later. .” Heathcliff’s pointed question to Nelly. the speaker’s desire to embrace her beloved’s corpse is. He is deterred only by the feeling that Catherine is “not under me. the reader is implicated in this dynamic of resurrection by bringing the words on the page to life. Brontë reverses the trajectories of life and death as embodied by Catherine and Heathcliff: Catherine is revived as a ghost even as Heathcliff becomes a corpse: “Oh. Heathcliff responds to news of Catherine’s death by crying out. Lockwood’s repetition of the names inscribed on the window’s ledge—“Catherine Earnshaw . as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me then!” (167). prophecy. but on earth” (290). that the buried “face is hers yet. . In Wuthering Heights. or incantation that transfigure the body. like Heathcliff’s. incantation Mortal regret is also expressed through acts of prayer. I said to myself—‘I’ll have her in my arms again!’” (288). appears to fulfill Heathcliff’s vehement request. as one immune from the natural laws that define mortal life) is answered by the immaculate preservation of Catherine’s body in this final act of exhumation. “I pray one prayer—I repeat it until my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw. repeat like a metrical incantation a single aspiration of redeemed love. . Heathcliff exhumes Catherine’s corpse with the intention of burying himself alive with her: “being conscious two yards of loose earth was the sole barrier between us. Catherine Linton” (17)—and his perusal of Catherine’s childhood diary invokes Catherine’s ghost.

“splash[ing] . Her material existence is proven when. a longing. Brontë generates a dream-like fugue expressive of mortal regret. II. and disliked the involuntary nature of their emotional response to the work.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 385 “wake in torment. Brontë has made life-in-death (Catherine) and death-in-life (Heathcliff) an aesthetic possibility. . early reviewers complained that the novel “cast a spell over them”. Agent-regret produces the acts that express mortal regret on a level of plot and character. 157). the surge of affect accompanying this emotion generates techniques that are expressive of mortal regret on a formal level. In Wuthering Heights. . Brontë’s power to mesmerize has been felt since the publication of her novel in 1848. which has left behind it a regret. like regret narratives. displacement. and . Upon Catherine’s death. nightmares. Heathcliff. are often an expression of wish fulfillment. dramatization. reverts to a pre-verbal stage. In Wuthering Heights. in the opening scene. The representational strategies in Wuthering Heights are analogous to those described by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams as “dream-work” (condensation. Below is an enumerated array of formal effects specific to mortal regret. Freud writes that a dream “is a reaction to an experience . I will give a brief inventory of these structural features in Wuthering Heights. a wish that has not been dealt with” (Intro. the two lovers energetically exchange places in the narrative. blood” about the bark of the tree. . .” Heathcliff endows her with lifelike qualities. 1) Aural and visual hallucinations (including ghosts. on the other hand. exhumation. she bleeds as a ghost. Brontë’s novel is stimulated by mortal regret and represents the fulfillment of a wish (“that the dead are not annihilated”). Many believe that Emily heard the “voices” she records in her poetry and in her fiction (Chitham 43). Surge of Affect: formal effects Mortal regret is expressed in an array of structural features that transfigure the form of Wuthering Heights and complement its internal acts of clutching. and incantation. and howling “like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears”(167). corpsing. secondary revision). The connection between regret and dreaming is deceptively straightforward and functions on the level of desire: dreams.

the ghost “discloses the way in which the past has the power to haunt us in the present[. According to the sociologist Janet Landman. Brontë gives us the . the dead assume more weight and density than the living. Catherine hallucinates as she approaches death. and future of the novel. her marital present with Edgar. The narrative neatly encapsulates this psychic tension when Catherine identifies herself to Lockwood as “Catherine Linton” (not Catherine Earnshaw). (In the plot. For example. Lockwood’s first nightmare is directly related to the second. Her combined marital and mortal regret produces an identity that encompasses her childhood past with Heathcliff. Catherine’s apparition contains within it the past. In Lockwood’s first nightmare. 2) Mortal regret is expressed in the reversals of embodiment that take place in the narrative: in Wuthering Heights. Although the story passes through many bodies. Catherine.” who preaches specifically “from the text. In Wuthering Heights. and her maternal future in Cathy.” delivers the sermon in a chapel “near a swamp whose peaty moisture is said to answer all the purposes of embalming on the few corpses deposited there” (21). She imagines that she is back in her childhood room. This power to conjure the dead parallels Nelly’s act of storytelling and duplicates the image-making activity in which we as readers are already engaged. is a failed dream. A nightmare. Nelly’s meditation on her childhood playmate Hindley produces a vision—“fresh as reality”—of him lifting up his face and staring straight into hers (108). Lockwood has two nightmares linked by the theme of mortal regret. Structurally. according to Freud. the past and the present” (80). she is immaculately preserved in her grave for eighteen years). even though her apparition is that of a young child (23). Hallucinations splice memories into the real-time of the narrative. Similarly. too. the famous “Jabes Branderham. present. ‘sees’ Heathcliff and speaks aloud to his apparition. The act of embalming preserves a corpse from decay.386 J N T visions) are reproduced in the structure of the narrative as well as in the plot. A ghost is an economical metaphor for regret. the “rappings and counter-rappings” in the chapel transmute into the rapping on the lattice that signals the arrival of Catherine’s ghost (22). is preserved from oblivion by Lockwood’s act of invocation.]” it brings together “the actual and the possible.

scenes of mortal loss are placed over each other like a set of transparencies. Regret means re-visiting a situation. if flexible. Poor Heathcliff! Hindley . Catherine’s pivotal experience of mortal regret is expressed in this fragment from her childhood diary: “My head aches. he and I must not play together. my father was just buried. and threatens to turn him out of the house if we break his orders” (20). the amplitude of Catherine’s presence in the narrative. a substantial body in the dark (290). Each retelling of the story adds to. Catherine’s initial two losses—the death of her father. Nelly. and her separation from Heathcliff—are superimposed in the narrative. Heathcliff experiences the dead Catherine as though she were a “living thing in flesh and blood . the entrance and exit of characters gen- . and structural re-visitation. In Wuthering Heights. Brontë reverses the process whereby the mourner experiences the loss of a loved one as a diminishment of her world. For instance. rather than subtracts from. though the voices of Catherine and Heathcliff reach us only through others. 3) Mortal regret is expressed in acts of duplication and superimposition.” In this second version of events. Catherine remembers corpsing: “I was laid alone.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 387 impression that her narrators—Lockwood. Similarly. . The combined effect of these layered perceptions exceeds their individual significance. experience of the same (125). they become central to the novel in a way that others do not. hence. and my misery arose from the separation that Hindley had ordered between me and Heathcliff. till I cannot keep it on the pillow . mental. . This earlier scene is then overlaid with Catherine’s memory of the event: “I was a child. . 4) Mortal regret is expressed through acts of physical. Narratives of mortal regret proceed. . Isabella. says. The transparency of these narrators is in direct contrast to the physicality of Catherine’s ghost. Zillah—are mediums simply channeling the story to the reader. for the first time. . In Wuthering Heights.” anticipating her final. Wuthering Heights begins with a ‘transparent’ figure (Catherine’s ghost) that is solidified through a gradual process of accretion: Heathcliff’s desperate desire to “see” Catherine—fulfilled upon his death at the end of the novel—is the central animus of the plot. then. Although each layer constitutes a loss. . both linearly and cumulatively. it means repetition and circling back. the collective effect of the overlaid scenes is one of increasing plenitude.

the turning of Catherine’s mind brings the shards of her regret to the surface of the narrative. Lockwood’s “unobstructed admittance” on his second visit to Wuthering Heights augurs the great improvements he finds inside (308). Linton. duplicates Heathcliff’s own act of exit and reentrance. the lady of Thrushcross Grange. In a pivotal point in the novel. an outcast. Catherine’s marital regret (over marrying Edgar) is combined with her mortal regret (over losing Heathcliff). too. the plot. Through the acts of departure and return.” This thought—that she was back “in her oak-panelled bed at home” (125). Similarly. who records the story’s sequel when he returns to Wuthering Heights a year later.388 J N T erates the narrative frame. 5) Mortal regret can be registered in the narrative as moments of structural aporia. mortal regret is expressed in mental flashbacks: Heathcliff’s yearning produces Catherine’s apparition as desire takes form: the appearance of ghosts at the beginning and end of the novel emphasizes the “rewind” or “replay” aspect of the narrative. Catherine recounts: supposing at twelve years old I had been wrenched from the Heights. Lockwood. and the wife of a stranger. Mortal regret can be intensified by combining two or more formal effects: structural flashbacks can participate in the acts of superimposition and subtraction. “collapses”: as she fantasizes that her marriage to Edgar and her rise as mistress of Thrushcross Grange have been expunged. the narrative expresses the fantasy motivating mortal regret: that the departed do return to life. . and my all in all. the narrative suspends the distinction between the past and present scenes of her regret. Catherine’s “paroxysm of despair” is brought about by a thought that “kept recurring and recurring till [she] feared for her reason. are expressed as symbolic lapses in the narrative. as Heathcliff was at the time. the reader is repeatedly asked to revisit scenes of mortal loss. As a psychic form of re-visitation. This mental flashback—instigated by a quarrel between Edgar and Heathcliff—causes a fainting fit that leaves her corpsing on the floor. and been converted at a stroke into Mrs. and every early association. Catherine’s fainting fits. connects the past and future scenes of her loss. an exile. for example. As Catherine faints. thenceforth.

7) Mortal regret can be expressed by acts of addition and subtraction that affect it at every level. These intermingling voices produce images that move forwards and backwards in time. These echoes reverberate in a plot that doubles back on itself (returning to the same place at different times). the elder Lintons. to exist simultaneously in the text. Brontë thus mimics the mental pattern of agents experiencing mortal regret: the act of retrospection (flashback) is combined with acts of restoration (superimposition. Hindley.” and Cathy and Hareton.” In Brontë’s novel. many overheard or imagined. the second reduplicating the first. In my analysis of mortal regret. repeat what has already been heard. A carefully calibrated sequence of deaths whittle the plot to its final skeletal structure. as their physical representatives. are left in the text. two acts of imagistic assertion. Frances. only a bit condensed. and Mrs. doubling) that ‘resurrect’ a dearly loved person.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights from what had been my world—You may fancy the abyss in which I groveled! (125) 389 Catherine’s loss of consciousness is expressed by an “abyss” in the story: Brontë records a lapse of three days (the length of time that Catherine and Heathcliff take to die) before Nelly resumes the narrative. bang. and is doubled by a second generation that shadows the first. bang. as “spirits that walk the earth. . two pairs of lovers. Isabella. By allowing both Catherine and Heathcliff. Ultimately. Brontë reaffirms the persistence of love beyond death. In Wuthering Heights. Lockwood’s written account of Nelly’s oral account is interspersed with his attempts to tell the story “in her words. and Linton are all instrumental to the novel’s final outcome. these vanishing images leave a ghostly impression in the text that can be revivified. Such acts of mental or affective reproduction are paralleled in Wuthering Heights by acts of biological reproduction. Earnshaw. 6) Mortal regret can be expressed by the polyvocality of a narrative. layers of voices. The deaths of Mr. with the second simply erasing or subtracting the first” (103). Using a process Scarry calls “dyadic subtraction” Brontë produces the impression of “violent movement” in the novel by juxtaposing images in a compressed temporal sequence: “two pictures appear in the mind.

no transformative event is accomplished without an equally transforming loss: whenever someone is added to the immediate plot (Frances. they converge in narrative time. By limiting the setting of Wuthering Heights to the Yorkshire moors and two intermarrying families. Linton. These physical enclosures produce sensations of entrapment and enclosure that mimic those of a living burial. Catherine never leaves its geographical bounds. Lockwood. and when Cathy is forced to marry Linton as her father Edgar dies. immortal. Isabella. so that even when critical events diverge at the level of plot. Brontë places external constraints on her narrative in order to intensify the emotions within it.390 J N T 8) Mortal regret is expressed in the spatial shape of the novel’s structure. the walls enclosing Thrushcross Grange—are contained within this larger narrative structure. the sliding-door casket. Mortal regret accelerates the processes of novelistic evolution. Cathy) someone else is subtracted (Mr. For example. Brontë’s box-in-a-box narrative and the “geographical fixity” of its setting gives Wuthering Heights the spatial shape of a grave. Earnshaw. In contrast to the closed and limited space of Yorkshire society. Instead. funerals converge with weddings and deaths coincide with births: Hindley introduces his wife at his father’s funeral. Brontë ensures that each person who dies is kin and must be mourned. Many smaller boxes—Catherine’s closeted bed. Narrative time is ordered by grief and grievances. Hareton. In Wuthering Heights opposing events are juxtaposed so that one affective state (such as joy) exists with its opposite (such as grief). Brontë’s slamming together of joy and grief reaches an apotheosis when Catherine dies while giving birth to her daughter Cathy. specifically describes the younger Cathy as being “buried alive in Wuthering Heights”(11). for example. Brontë never portrays events beyond the boundaries of this narrative frame. the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff is portrayed as infinite. The temporal overlap be- . Catherine). and the death of the elder Lintons is told consecutively with Catherine’s marriage to their son Edgar. 10) Mortal regret is expressed in the temporal and spatial condensation. even after death. Frances. and unlimited by the wills of others. the boundaries crossed in Wuthering Heights are largely metaphysical. the attic garret. As a result. the reader is enclosed within its limits.

Catherine explicitly repudiates Christian conventions of salvation: I dreamt once that I was [in heaven] . As the ends and origins of the narrative become reversed.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 391 tween lives rapidly shortens. And leaping from place to place Over oblivion (Hardy. The appearance of Catherine’s ghost in the opening scene places the ‘afterlife’ of the story before its inception. which tracks the moving away and moving together of Catherine and Heathcliff from their initial separation to their final union in death. and gradually lengthening as the novel reaches the reparative quiescence of its ending. In Wuthering Heights. Projecting trait and trace Through times to times anon. death and hell—existence. coalescing midway at Catherine’s death/Cathy’s birth. into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights where I woke sobbing for joy (80). and the angels were so angry that they flung me out. the afterlife exists within the temporal structure of the narrative. after losing her. Reparation : narrative closure I am the family face. III. This equation reiterates the central dynamic of the novel. replacing them with an afterworld that can accommodate earthly passion. death is re-imagined as a generative state. would be hell” (149). . heaven did not seem to be my home. Brontë’s narrative reverses the traditional concepts of heaven and hell. . Flesh perishes. The act of inheritance in the novel transfers both physical resem- . “Heredity”) Brontë uses biological reproduction in Wuthering Heights as a generative process that preserves the past in the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff and perpetuates the future in the second generation of Cathy and Hareton. I live on. Catherine’s vision of heaven can be compared with Heathcliff’s epiphany of hell as a life without Catherine: “Two words could comprehend my future. and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth.

It is starkly . Darwin is “haunted by irredeemable loss . Brontë transforms what Phillips calls “the by now commonplace ideas” that childhood and sexuality are a locus of human suffering and that daily life is a competitive struggle for survival (13) into the genealogical equation that produces the narrative. brothers. While acknowledging the success of Cathy and Hareton’s marriage at the end of the novel. links the bloodlines of the first generation to the second. lovers) alter the structure of the plot.8 The fact that most editions of Wuthering Heights include a genealogical table is evidence of the integral part kinship plays in the plot. while at the same time remaining faithful to the passage of time in the novel. descent and kin” (6) is borne out by the plot of Wuthering Heights. the second generation acts to repair the mortal regrets of the first. sisters. then. Brontë uses what Hardy. Brontë uses heredity to produce characters that resemble each other. Brontë shows how specific deaths (of mothers. readers regret that the deaths of Catherine and Heathcliff are necessary to a satisfactory resolution to the plot. in The Well-Beloved. We thus experience regret and reparation simultaneously. That this same adaptive process is at work in Wuthering Heights is evident from the painful nature of the plot. Gillian Beer’s observation that “evolutionism” tended to authorize “narrative[s] which emphasized cause and effect. both physically and structurally. establishing a direct line between cause and effect in the novel. and irrevocably change the life of survivors. calls “hereditary persistence” to launch an attack on the limits of mortality. In general. By tracing the mortal regrets of the bereaved. wives. . Reproduction. however. even if successful. sons. Catherine suffers mortally from marital regret. Brontë anticipates Darwin’s own obsession with mortality. Through this simple evolutionary mechanism. The success of the generation represented by Hareton and Cathy is predicated on the loss of that represented by Catherine and Heathcliff. In a process I call reproductive reparation. involves suffering the loss of previously successful adaptations” (8–9). Brontë uses childbirth to replenish the plot with a new generation of characters that will carry out the reparative process. fathers. . . adapt or die. in-laws. According to the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. and the adaptation itself. one generation usurps another’s place in the narrative. as literal childbirth.392 J N T blance and symbolic affinity between generations of characters. In Wuthering Heights. . .

overseeing the “work of embodiment” at the level of the text itself.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 393 it is her daughter and namesake Cathy who is given the opportunity of a second marriage. becomes what the psychoanalyst D. Instead. the first two die shortly after giving birth and the third—who lives for twelve years after the birth of her child—is never shown in her maternal role. Isabella weeps to go home the “very morrow” of her wedding to her husband (150).10 Brontë first presents us.W. Heathcliff can’t possess Catherine after her marriage to Edgar Linton. Catherine Heathcliff. Expectant mothers are not attuned to their bodies or to an infant’s distress. Catherine behaves irresponsibly (becoming agitated. Catherine. his symbolic son Hareton will marry Cathy. and this capacity is linked to her reparative function as our narrator. Mothers as living presences are noticeably absent in Wuthering Heights. Parturition in Wuthering Heights is a potentially deadly experience. the novel’s two inscriptions—the date 1500 and the name Hareton Earnshaw carved over the door at Wuthering Heights. however. and his stepmother. and the names “Catherine Earnshaw. with a family romance that is internally disordered: Lockwood’s prescient confusion over the kin relations at Wuthering Heights emphasizes the current disordered state of the Earnshaw family. she cannot tolerate the “constant wail” of . Isabella) do not live long enough to usher their children into adulthood. Children who cry in the novel are almost never consoled.11 Men (fathers.9 Hareton’s restoration of the Earnshaw line and Cathy’s symbolic reversal of her mother’s life-path ultimately fulfills the promise of reproductive reparation in the text.” dies soon after his arrival (35). who is “ready to fling him out of doors. Catherine Linton” etched into the ledge of Catherine’s bedroom window—offer a key to the resolution of the plot. however. starving herself) while in the last stages of her pregnancy. Although Isabella is herself pregnant. Linton). Heathcliff is an orphan. Winnicott calls “a good enough mother” to the orphans of the second generation (Hareton. The reparative riddle of Wuthering Heights is already embedded in its opening sequence. the housekeeper. Cathy. The three mothers who give birth in the text (Frances. husbands) who ordinarily inspire trust instead cause fear and dread: Hareton sobs with terror when his father attempts to touch him (75). the widow of a “Linton” (Linton Heathcliff). the mother becomes a metaphor for the artist. In Wuthering Heights. Together. only Nelly.

Despite her expostulations “the infant ruffian continued sucking . Brontë must generate a set of emotionally stable characters capable of integrating into the community at large. . In response. Ultimately. mine 142). In order to achieve final reparation in the narrative. Heathcliff complains that his biological son has been reared on “snails and sour milk” (207). in the sense that it operates within an excessively closed circle. . Earnshaw and Hindley both introduce a stranger (Heathcliff and Frances. the current housekeeper complains that he must have “always milk. Of Cathy’s birth. this does not occur until its many variations are played-out through the interactions of characters. poor thing! It might have wailed out of life. the second generation overcompensates for the neglect of their parents with acts of greedy desire. the death of Brontë’s main protagonists will liberate resources that secondary characters (namely Cathy and Hareton) need to survive and flourish in the narrative. their identity with each other “is bred in the violence and threat of childhood” (Sedgwick 11). In order for Brontë’s generational plan to be successful. respectively) into Wuthering Heights. Linton Heathcliff insists on drinking “boiled milk” instead of the customary porridge. Even Lockwood complains of the “dearth of the human physiogamy” in Northern Yorkshire (90). as he slavered into the jug” (ital. “An unwelcome infant it was. during those first hours of existence” (164). milk for ever” (211). she must import characters from outside this tightly-knit community. Brontë portrays a population that is homogenous and even incestuous. and no one knows “what [Frances] was [nor] where she was born” (41). Heath- . The frustration of primary instincts in Wuthering Heights threatens the safety of the characters and interferes in the processes of reproduction so necessary to a satisfactory resolution of the plot. Nelly remarks. Mothers die in childbirth. babies cannot bond with their mothers. Heathcliff is picked up in a Liverpool slum. The origins of these strangers are obscured.394 J N T Catherine’s infant (169). Although the reproductive processes at work in the plot eventually creates balance and order in the text. Mr. Brontë emphasizes Isabella’s disgust when Hareton “commence[s] drinking and spilling [milk] from the expansive lip” of the pitcher. and nobody cared a morsel. Catherine and Heathcliff’s orphaned status and the hostility of their home environment intensify their need to cling to each other for survival.

it is not a question of whether or not the incest taboo is operative between Catherine and Heathcliff. . Brontë challenges biology by privileging symbolic substitutions in her narrative. . . Nelly is a surrogate mother for both Hareton and Cathy after the death of their mothers. These symbolic substitutions generate possibilities that test the limits of social and moral propriety. When his wife Isabella taunts him with Catherine’s death. which only the cold prevent[ed] from flowing freely” (181. Heathcliff “snatches a dinner knife” and inflicts a “deep cut under her ear.13 Because Brontë gives equal weight to symbolic and biological factors in determining kinship. 170). the love between Catherine and Heathcliff has such strong connotations of incest that some critics see its prohibition as the major obstacle separating the two lovers. On the other hand. Heathcliff strikes Cathy. His acts of violence are motivated by his grief over Catherine’s death. Heathcliff’s bloody attacks against himself and others. Heathcliff “dashes his head against the knotted trunk [of an old ash tree] . the flow of blood . Heathcliff supplants Hindley as Hareton’s surrogate father. splash[ing] blood about the bark” (167). Catherine’s bleeding apparition. but how. Heathcliff substitutes for Mr. but not in the way these analyses suggest. Heathcliff transforms his longing for Catherine into a visceral experience by acting violently on his own body and the bodies of others. During an anguished vigil as she dies. gush[ing] from an artery. After viewing Catherine’s corpse.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 395 cliff and Frances are brought into the insular community to insure an exogamous propagation of the plot through the birth of a second generation. Later. or a large vein” (177). because she refuses to relinquish a locket with portraits of Catherine and Edgar inside. Hindley. “her mouth. The strength of their attachment is made manifest in the bloodlines of the narrative. Catherine is closer to Heathcliff than to her natural brother. He leaves his adversary Hindley “senseless with excessive pain .12 Although Brontë keeps the genealogical link between the two families as close as possible without overtly violating any incest taboos (the final marriage that occurs is between two first cousins). Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights only to foil an assassination attempt. . filling with blood” (281). . Heathcliff is both the central mourner and the central moral problem in . Earnshaw’s dead son. and Heathcliff’s bloodless corpse all point to a relationship between the lovers that produces consanguinity even as it transcends this relation. .

voyaging to Hades to consult with the soothsayer Tirêsias. Heathcliff and Catherine must exorcise the regrets that haunt the narrative and impede plot resolution. and speak the truth. mother and son. she must first imbibe the blood: “Any dead man/ whom you allow to enter where the blood is/ will speak to you. Only Heathcliff ever draws blood in the novel. she remains seemingly aware of his presence. These injuries constitute a sacrificial offering to the dead.396 J N T Wuthering Heights. These regrets are those that separated the lovers in life. . Heathcliff and Catherine transcend the blood relation that would incriminate them while at the same time symbolically fulfilling its requirements. and he does so in order to entice Catherine’s shade to appear to him. blood becomes both a marker of kinship and a verification of life. After “letting their black blood stream into the well pit” (XI. father and daughter).52). Heathcliff and Catherine must act to engender and restore the narrative through their final union. Heathcliff repeatedly draws blood to make Catherine aware of his presence and to be able to converse with her extraterrestrialy. In this way. must first assuage the dead by slaughtering a ram and an ewe. As Tiresias explains. He feeds Catherine’s ‘soul’ with the nourishment it needs to remain a vivid presence in the narrative.164–7). In their many incarnations. Odysseus learns of his own mother’s death in this episode. His prolonged anguish over Catherine’s death and his meticulously executed plan of revenge produce the novel: the violence he inflicts on secondary characters is made necessary to a successful outcome to the plot. the shades gather in such numbers that Odysseus must draw his sword “ to keep / the surging phantoms from the bloody pit” (XI. Similarly. however. however. Grief saturates this episode in the Odyssey: first. 39). because they must confront and grieve for their own dead. By so doing. because Odysseus and his men are yet again deviated from their homeward course. This multiplicity of experience gives them privileged access to the future. the threat of incest inherent in the relationship between the two lovers is tied to the supernatural fact of Catherine’s bleeding apparition. Together. Homer specifically describes such a practice in the Odyssey: Odysseus. Heathcliff and Catherine share an array of intimate relations (brother and sister. In Wuthering Heights. To his grief. Before reparation can occur. but those/ deprived will grow remote and fade”(XI. Brontë creates lovers who confound all conventional boundaries. and secondly.

but I won’t upbraid you! I forgive you. become “godparents” to the three offspring. This scene of forgiveness clears the way for the reparative acts that follow. Linton. “chaste” has two meanings. Forgive me!” (161). rather than a crime. and Cathy marries Edgar Linton despite the fact that she’s convinced it’s wrong. In this scene of mutual chastening. the thing that is lost must be duplicated or re-instituted. Cathy. Although Catherine and Heathcliff were forcibly separated as children. “You left me too. making reconciliation between the lovers a possibility for the first time. In order for reparation to occur. but also displays her spirit in defying Heathcliff. The transgressions of Catherine and Heathcliff are those of love. In the context of Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship. “Why did you betray your own heart Cathy?” Catherine sobs in response. Although Catherine and Heathcliff do not reproduce biologically. As we have already seen.14 When Catherine and Heathcliff are reunited after their estrangement. Heath- . Although the symbolic affinities between the first and second generation do not outweigh hereditary persistence in the novel. Hindley and Frances. The first refers to Catherine and Heathcliff’s sexual restraint: their regrets are first directed towards the missed opportunity represented by their unconsummated love. and even Catherine. and Hareton must reenact the love triangle of the first generation comprised by Catherine.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 397 Brontë ingeniously refashions the chasteness of her lovers into an impediment. And young Cathy not only physically resembles her mother Catherine. both lovers take responsibility for the actions that caused each other anguish and produced the marital regrets (Catherine and Edgar/ Heathcliff and Isabella) that obstruct the narrative’s flow. not sex. they are suggestive of a figurative process whereby Heathcliff. their reconciliatory reunion generates the symbolic and structural resemblances that characterize the relation of the first generation to the second. Hareton’s physical resemblance to both Heathcliff and Catherine is stronger than that to his natural parents. Brontë uses the trope of resemblance to express the continuity between the two generational plots. Therefore. each bitterly reproaches the other: Heathcliff asks. Brontë makes it clear that they alone are responsible for their second separation: Heathcliff departs Wuthering Heights. The act of reproach links the drives of regret and reparation together. The second meaning of chaste is connected to the act of chastening. Edgar.

In order for reparation to occur. specifically that of his departure from Wuthering Heights and Catherine’s marriage to Edgar Linton. to encounter [him]” because their eyes are “precisely . rather. rather. and Catherine and Heathcliff are reunited in the afterlife. through the figures of Cathy and Hareton. . . she chooses to reconstruct the state of affairs caused by their second separation. “It will be odd. will reconfigure the plot so as to correct it. seeking to prevent the repetition of their tragedy. Cathy must first marry Linton in order to reduplicate the circumstances of Catherine’s marital regret. Heathcliff is increasingly agitated by Cathy’s and Hareton’s resemblance to Catherine. Catherine and Heathcliff must together generate . The structural similarity between the two generations allows for a symbolic correction of past experience. Thus. Catherine directs Heathcliff’s actions from beyond the grave. This reenactment constitutes a correction of Heathcliff’s prior experience. Since Catherine is dead. Cathy marries her true love Hareton. Gazing after Hareton. Heathcliff yells out. with those infernal eyes? Down with them! And don’t remind me of your existence again” (318). it is not sufficient that Cathy marry Hareton straight away. Instead. But when I look for his father in his face. Heathcliff is further disarmed when the pair of Hareton and Cathy “lift their eyes together. .398 J N T cliff. In this replay. a situation for which they must accept moral responsibility. . “What fiend possesses you to stare back at me. I find her everyday more! How the devil is he so like? I can hardly bear to see him” (303). the “resemblances” between characters transform Heathcliff’s plan of revenge into one of reparation. While surveying Cathy’s face. Thus. this opens up the reparative possibility of a second marriage. if I thwart myself! . The generations are inextricably linked: Catherine and Heathcliff’s reunion in the afterlife depends on the successful resolution of their mortal regrets. however. As the novel draws to a close. he mutters. When Cathy’s first husband (Edgar/Linton) dies. Brontë does not choose to revise the initial scene of Heathcliff’s separation from Catherine in their childhood. Heathcliff acts as Bronte’s agent when he manipulates the marital arrangements of the second generation. those of Catherine Earnshaw” (322). continually. Brontë recreates the circumstances that caused the regrets of her original pair. Catherine/Cathy will not die before reparation can be achieved. Through Hareton and Cathy. Catherine and Heathcliff. reparation can only be achieved through their living proxies.15 Through Heathcliff’s revenge plan.

After death. and social position is another way that Brontë increases the alternatives available for a reparative resolution of the plot. Catherine—“incomparably beyond and above” it all (164)—becomes privy to the structure of Brontë’s overall plan. Heathcliff explains that in his singleminded pursuit of Catherine he has “lost the faculty of enjoying [the] destruction” of Hareton and Cathy (323). The reproduction of a second generation that parallels the first in name.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 399 a happy ending for Cathy and Hareton. . deter Heathcliff from inflicting physical violence against the pair.” and that his “startling likeness to Catherine connect[s] him fearfully with her” (323–324). yonder. . These two viewpoints—one alive. At one point when Heathcliff seems “ready to tear Cathy into pieces. even mine” (334). She offers a transcendent view that complements Heathcliff’s earth-bound perspective. damn it! Its unutterably too much for flesh and blood to bear. On another level. and Catherine in Cathy. number.17 Catherine’s mortal regret in the first half of the novel sets in motion the reparative possibilities of the second. The vision of the little sheperd boy—“They’s Heathcliff and a woman. Heathcliff later confesses to Nelly that Hareton seems “a personification of [his] youth. These moments of identification. un’ Aw darnut pass’ em”(336)16—suggests that the lovers have already escaped their graves to haunt the moors. Oh. which come thick and fast in the last chapter of the novel. too. begins to realize the existence of an intelligent design that transcends his own. the reproductive reparation at work in Brontë’s novel . referring to Catherine: “By God! She’s relentless. her decline. Heathcliff cries out. Heathcliff. The New Year’s Day wedding between Cathy and Hareton marks the successful completion of their reparative task. Finding himself unable to react with vengeance. Heathcliff’s mourning over Catherine’s death the subject of its second. and death are the subject of the novel’s first half. the imaginative act of generating alternatives or “practice-runs” is integral to this process. not a human being. one dead—generate the tension between freewill and predetermination in the novel. Catherine’s mortal regret.” he controls the impulse as he “gaze[s] intently in her face” (320). Heathcliff begins to see himself in Hareton. Drawing closer to death. under t’Nab . Both parts taken together are essentially generative and reparative: Brontë extends the working-through of their mortal regrets into the second generation.

the winter. the spring of sickness and suffering to be gone through—I should have thought—this can never be endured. Brontë turns vehement grief into a perpetual process of renewal and revitalization: by resisting the limits of mortality she proves. “that the dead are not annihilated!” (334). in Heathcliff’s words. The ancient mariner. though not assimilated. Catherine’s apparition. and by portraying a passionate love that exceeds materiality. and on the moor. One by one I have watched them fall asleep on my arm—and closed their glazed eyes—I have seen them buried one by one and—thus far—God has upheld me. Queenie Leavis believes that Brontë made a number of “false starts” in writing the novel. and that these “have become submerged. It is over. Charlotte writes.400 J N T is paralleled by the generativity of its internal structure. Like Heathcliff. Wuthering Heights has long been seen as “in some sense generically problematical” (Gilbert and Gubar 249). even metamorphoses. and usually with more than one. Brontë enlarges the scope of the nineteenth-century novel by extending the education of her heroine past her death. and even within th[e] house” (336). death in Wuthering Heights is not an ending. Brontë examines transformation. are evidence that death does not necessarily signal closure. Mortal Regret is procreative in multiple registers. and the sighting of Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s ghosts “near the church. . the ancient mariner cannot 2. In Wuthering Heights. within the context of human mortality. From my heart I thank Him” (Fraser 326).18 The multiplicity of generic structures within the novel is another aspect of the essential productivity of the regret form. “A year ago—a prophet warned me how I should stand in June 1849—how stripped and bereaved—had he foretold the autumn. like Heathcliff. Most critics identify Wuthering Heights with a number of different genres. Branwell—Emily—Anne are gone like dreams—gone as Maria and Elizabeth went twenty years ago. In Wuthering Heights. Notes 1. In a letter written after Anne’s death. I consider the albatross in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a straightforward example of a “transformational object” because the unmotivated killing of the sea-bird physically alters the environment and causes mass death aboard the ship. in the final work” (205). Unlike in the traditional bildungsroman. is subsequently cursed by the spirit of “Life-in-Death” who “thicks man’s blood with cold” (11).

. two contemporary reviewers (Atlas. Brontë . Catherine and Heathcliff act out at the level of plot what Elaine Scarry calls Brontë’s technique of “hands-on instruction” (139). Moreover. The central core of Hardy’s story is about a young sculptor who pursues throughout his life a migrating spirit he calls the “Well-Beloved” embodied serially by three generations of women identically named “Avice Caro.21–22) objected to the “painfulness of the story” (41). as “the quality of suffering” (156). 8. becomes romantically involved with the grandmother. . According to Melvin Watson. 59. symbolically creates the hairwork that determines the novel’s plot. . Characteristically Brontë resists and revises contemporary mourning conventions in her novel: it is the dead Catherine. These riddling inscriptions contribute to Gilbert and Gubar’s assessment of Wuthering Heights as a “famous nineteenth-century literary puzzle” (249). fittingly. 9. a shroud enveloped her form. in G. mother. and Dorothy Van Ghent refers to the quality of feeling in Wuthering Heights. These similarities will become more evident as my essay progresses. in her function as narrator. I am indebted to my colleague Judy Smith for this reference. The Well Beloved as a novel in 1897. Hardy wrote two versions of the same story produced in different formats: The Pursuit was published serially in 1892. According to Scarry. who reappears in a dream just as the monster comes to life: “I thought I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms. rather than the living Heathcliff.D. Frank Kermode de- 4. January 8. 5. 1848. that will possess the memento mori. it is at the funeral of each successive woman that Pearston senses the transmigration of the “Well-Beloved” into another genetically similar body. which. . 7.” The sculptor. . and daughter of the same Portsmouth family sequentially. concentrates on the susceptibility of mental images to being reached and acted on by the human hand (139). 6. the violence of Brontë’s writing extends to the way in which mental images are generated in the novel: “the folding. Klingopulos’s words. and I saw the grave -worms crawling in the folds of flannel” (57). includes repeating his narrative of mortal regret to the “Wedding Guest. Shelley links Frankenstein’s galvanic experiments to the death of his mother. stretching. . and Examiner.” Coleridge’s poem bears many thematic and structural similarities with Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. and shaking seem as though they are carried out on live persons rather than on images. pp. Nelly. This kind of reproduction is paralleled at the authorial level. Pearston (1892)/ Pierston (1897). XXIII. 3.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 401 sleep or die until he does penance for his act. 1848.

a strong bond of love between a servant and her master’s son (Nelly and Hindley). and his persistent claim to the family property. John Wheatcroft writes a novel. Linton. (as readers. Frank Kermode gives a fine description of the significance of the ordering of Catherine’s names: “when you have processed all the information you have been waiting for you see the point of the order of the scribbled names. and Edgar. within the plot (as Lockwood does) and externally. Queenie Leavis believes that “clearly. and a “free-love” sexual arrangement (Catherine. read from right to left. Thomas Moser even suggests that Heathcliff is the biological father of all three children (Hareton. Read from left to right they recapitulate Catherine Earnshaw’s story. Catherine never really thinks of him as a possible lover either before or after marriage” (206). 11. Hillis Miller calls them “materials inviting interpretation” (43). that elaborates on the possibility of a sexual relationship between Hindley and Nelly. Although Brontë never makes any of these conjectures explicit in the novel. McGuire. I prefer to describe them as the “blueprint” or “genetic code” of the novel. Catherine. at first. The possibilities include that of incest between brother and sister (HeathcliffCatherine). makes the love between Catherine and Heathcliff explicitly adulterous. and Patsy Stoneman links Catherine’s proposal of a love triangle between herself. Cathy) of the second generation. to the “famous manifesto of free love in Shelley’s “Epipsychidion” (45). Eric Solomon points to Heathcliff’s abrupt and ill-explained arrival at Wuthering Heights. . as Lockwood gives them. the story of her daughter. because they encapsulate events that will unfold gradually over the course of the narrative: 10. Luis Buñuel’s 1954 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. explanation” (216).The capacity of Wuthering Heights to generate conjecture both internally. 12. Kathyrn B. 13. Heathcliff). critics and artists have done) is a characteristic feature of the regret genre. as a spirited and occasionally naughty child. Heathcliff. For example. Earnshaw’s illegitimate son (80). . on the other hand. J. as evidence that he is Mr. Catherine tries to “make it up” to her father. he rejects her by telling her he cannot love her: “That made her cry. and then. . her book. being repulsed continually hardened her” (41). and perhaps after some delay provides.402 J N T scribes the inscriptions as a “‘hermeneutic code. Abismos de Pasión. which would explain why . Edgar. believes that the issue of whether Catherine and Heathcliff are related by blood is irrelevant because “what is essential is that they were “raised as brother and sister”(217). an adulterous love between a married woman and her adopted brother (Heathcliff-Catherine). Heathcliff was originally the illegitimate son and Catherine’s half-brother. Catherine Linton” (218). they have been the basis of much critical and aesthetic speculation. When.’ something that promises.

and Victorian Domestic fiction. In his analysis. respectively. and being left alone at the Heights (337). Isabella. Edgar. Cathy. 15. including some that have already been set in motion by Catherine’s death. The use of “chasten” as a religious term seems consistent with Brontë’s transfer of divine properties to Catherine and Heathcliff throughout Wuthering Heights. 17. or purifying. and Heathcliff. . Trans.” she admits to being afraid of going out after dark. his basic argument confirms my view that the two parts of the novel are split between regret and reparation. The OED links the adjective chaste (“Abstaining from unlawful or immoral or all sexual intercourse. Works Cited Ariès. Ranum. is that Heathcliff ensures that “the situation is going to come out properly” by turning Linton into a gentleman (as Edgar is). Mitchell. however. since Linton isn’t much of a gentleman.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 403 14. George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Beer. 1974. Wuthering Heights is in no way a conventional novel for its time (11). Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin. Although Nelly dismisses the scene as “nonsense. in his Introduction to Readings on Wuthering Heights writes. and others. of God: discipline. pure. Nelly. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press. To cite just one typical example. 16. Gillian. punish by inflicting suffering. Nonetheless. and Linton take the roles of Catherine. As Gilbert and Gubar observe. and Heathcliff has vanished. One of Lavers’ claims. by inflicting suffering seems integral to the scenes of chastening between Catherine and Heathcliff. In its combination of these traditions. virginal”) to the verb chasten: (1. . Gothic fiction in its demonic portrayal of Heathcliff and the themes of imprisonment. in character or style”). . 2. [is] examined in a number of parallel stories. chastise. as if Brontë were working out a series of alternative versions of the same plot (287). Norman Lavers focuses on “the moment at which Catherine has married Edgar Linton. in which idyllic family and community relationships are the ultimate goal. Phillipe. 18. 2000. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. This seems unconvincing. “It contains elements of Romantic fiction in its emphasis on folklore and the supernatural. The idea of punishing. Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. and Catherine II—in one way or another all these characters’ lives parallel (or even in a sense contain) Catherine’s. “Esp. Patricia M. Heathcliff. Hareton. Hayley R. Render pure.” He argues that in the second generation. Catherine’s fall .

New York: Columbia UP. Judith. 1995. Johnson. 1968. 1966. Fisher. 1982. “Mourning and Melancholia. Ed. Coleridge. and Susan Gubar. Donald Sutherland. Fraser. Brontë. Samuel Taylor. Emerson. Ed. New York: Collier Books. and Ed. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. Introduction. Norton & Co.. “Mourning and Melancholia.404 J N T Bollas. 2002.1988. Sigmund. Sandra M. Patricia Ingham. Ralph Waldo. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems. Hardy. Boston: Little. 1989. Whicher. Stephen E.. Philip Rieff. James Gibson. New Jersey: The Ecco Press. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. New York: Dover. New York: Basic Books. Oxford: Oxford UP. The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known. Thomas. Rebecca.and Introd. The Complete Poems. Cambridge: Harvard UP. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Trans. Freud. Emily. New York: Penguin. Christopher. 1979. 1997. Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press.1953. The Essential Hardy. Thomas H. Ed. The Vehement Passions. and Introd. James Strachey.” ——— . Trans. “Experience. Emily. ——— . 1957. Dickinson. Ed. New Haven: Yale University Press. The Complete Poems. 1992.” General Psychological Theory. The Interpretation of Dreams.” Selections. James Strachey. Princeton: Princeton UP.W. 2002 ——— . Ed. Wuthering Heights. Farr. 1963. The Passion of Emily Dickinson.. New York: Fawcett Columbine. . Philip. Gilbert. Euripides’The Bacchae. 1995. The Brontës: Charlotte Brontë and Her Family. Joseph. Trans. The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved. Brown. Brodsky. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 1960. New York: W. 164–179.

Sylvia.” Readings on Wuthering Heights. Rossetti. Sources. New York: Penguin. Darwin’s Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories. 2000. Upper Saddle River. Mitchell. Hayley R.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Wuthering Heights. Thomas John Winnifrith. 1982. Sebald.W. 205–215. Flowers. Lavers. The Complete Poems. Criticism. Frank. . 1962. Plath.G. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. “The Action of Wuthering Heights. “The Incest Theme in Wuthering Heights. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 205–215. R. Queenie. Eds. Solomon. 1997. Literary Companion Series. 1995. Crump. Thomas John Winnifrith. Robert D.” Critical Essays on Emily Brontë. Adam. 61–68. Leighton. Hillis. Christina. New York: Harcourt Brace.2 (Summer 1998): 217–24. Ed. 2001. 1962. Oxford: Blackwell. New York: Farrar. Oxford: Blackwell. Phillips. Thomas.. “Wuthering Heights.W. NJ: PrenticeHall. Readings on Wuthering Heights. 1982. J. Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels. 1968 Miller. Scarry. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.” American Imago 45. Thomas Volger. ed. Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels. New York: Basic Books. Angela. McGuire.” Critical Essays on Emily Brontë. Dreaming by the Book. Leavis. Hayley R. Rings of Saturn. 1999. Kathyrn B. Literary Companion Series. The Colossus and Other Poems. New York: Random House. 1999. Mitchell. Giroux. Richardson. Miller. Betty S.Mortal Regret in Wuthering Heights 405 Kermode. “The Incest Taboo in Wuthering Heights: A Modern Appraisal. “A Fresh Approach to Wuthering Heights. 1992. Strauss. Ed. 1999. Hillis. Ed. 1999. Berkeley: U of California P. Ed. Boston: Twayne. Victorian Women Poets. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. Elaine. Norman. J. Wuthering Heights: Text. Moser. Eric. New York: New Directions.

Oxford: Oxford UP. Watson. Dorothy. Frankenstein. 1995.” Wuthering Heights: An Anthology of Criticism.406 J N T Shelley. Stoneman. John. Van Ghent. . Wheatcroft. Ed. New York: Penguin. 1993. 1992. “On Wuthering Heights. Lesley Brown. Patsy. Ed.” Wuthering Heights: An Anthology of Criticism. 156–171. Melvin R. New York: Cornwall Books. Maurice Hindle. Ed. Alastair Everitt. “Wuthering Heights and the Critics. 1983. Oxford: Clarendon Press.111–117. Introduction. Catherine: her book. Alastair Everitt. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Mary.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful