Read from: December 2nd 2013 to January 3rd 2014
The Hero of All Anti-Heroes
Human soul is not necessarily beautiful even when it is hurting, love does not have to be unrequited or forbidden to be cursed, reason wide awake does not always keep monsters at bay, a strong will does not always mean a noble heart and weakness is not always to be pitied.
Or so Emily Bronte seems to tell us, in this strange story that keeps scattering old myths of star-crossed lovers that haunted the imagination of the mankind from Tristan and Isolde to Romeo and Juliet and beyond. What if, the author challenges us, love does not excuse everything? Moreover, what if it does not make us better, nobler, worthier, but rather reveals the darkness of our souls? What if the reasons of the heart are not reasons at all, but blind nature forces, wuthering winds that rise the soul to impossible heights only to let it fall more deeply into the abyss? And what if the soul not only accepts that but welcomes it?
“If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable. (…) I dreamt once that I was there. (…) heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights…”
"Thus spake" Catherine, this intriguing characters of Wuthering Heights, however not as intriguing as Heathcliff, a hero-anti-hero with powerful and destructive passions. Whereas Catherine is, after all, not quite difficult to understand, a typical case of, to put it bluntly, wanting to have the cake and eat it too, Heathcliff’s actions and motivations are not so easy to untangle.
One cannot help but admire him, for he has the same grim dignity the brute force of nature unleashed has got, in both his love and his hate. Furthermore, he has little patience for the fool and for the weak (“It’s odd what a savage feeling I have to anything that seems afraid of me!”) and he punishes accordingly those who try and reduce him to a cliché and an infatuation:
“She abandoned them under a delusion, (…) picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion. I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character and acting on the false impressions she cherished. (…) It was a marvellous effort of perspicacity to discover that I did not love her. I believed, at one time, no lessons could teach her that!”
I’ve always suspected that Emily Brontë created Heathcliff as a malicious representation of the Romantic ideal hero, as a parody of the triumph of the sentiment over the reason, of the nature versus nurture and so on. For his exceptional qualities are not crushed by a haughty society (rather stimulated by it) but by himself. He betters himself firstly to be worthy of Catherine’s love, and after that to take revenge on those who stole her from him. He has no mercy, he despises everybody but Ellen Dean and Hareton, he is cruel and violent without apparent reason. True to his name, he is desert, he is acid and he is alone.
He could be, and this is the most interesting feature of the character, he should be a villain. But he is not. It is hard to explain why he is loved. By Catherine’s father and Hareton and Nelly. And above all, by countless readers. Redeemed by his love? Too easy an explanation, although he expresses his feelings unforgettably:
“In every cloud, in every tree – filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day - I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women - my own features - mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!”
Unpredictable like the weather, inflexible in his likes and dislikes like an unforgivable god, always proud to reveal himself as he is, warts and all, Heathcliff is one of the most fascinating characters literature has given us, through a little English lady who, with this one and only novel she wrote, was to become one of the greatest writers of all times.