Wuthering Heights Summary

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Important Quotations Explained

1. But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure—and rather morose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling—to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate, equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again—No, I’m running on too fast—I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him.

This passage, from the first chapter and spoken in the voice of Lockwood, constitutes the first of many attempts in the book to explain the mysterious figure of Heathcliff, his character and motivations. Outside of the novel, when critics and readers discuss Wuthering Heights, the same question arises repeatedly. How is Heathcliff best understood? We see here that the question of his social position—is he a gentleman or a gypsy?—causes particular confusion. The situation of the reader, just beginning to enter into Wuthering Heights as a novel, parallels the situation of Lockwood, just beginning to enter into Wuthering Heights as a house. Like Lockwood, readers of the novel confront all sorts of strange scenes and characters—Heathcliff the strangest of all—and must venture interpretations of them. Later illuminations of Heathcliff’s personality show this first interpretation to be a laughable failure, indicating little beyond Lockwood’s vanity. Lockwood, in claiming to recognize in Heathcliff a kindred soul, whom he can understand “by instinct,” makes assumptions that appear absurd once Heathcliff’s history is revealed. Lockwood, while he rather proudly styles himself a great misanthrope and hermit, in fact resembles Heathcliff very little. In the many misjudgments and blunders Lockwood makes in his early visits to Wuthering Heights, we see how easy it is to misinterpret Heathcliff’s complex character, and the similarity between our own position and Lockwood’s becomes a warning to us as readers. We, too, should question our instincts.

2. The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw—Heathcliff—Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres—the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin.

In this passage from Chapter III, Lockwood relates the first of the troubling dreams he has in Catherine’s old bed. The quotation testifies to Lockwood’s role as a reader within the novel, representing the external reader—the perplexed outsider determined to discover the secrets of Wuthering Heights. Upon Lockwood’s first arrival at the house, no one answers his knocks on the door, and he cries, “I don’t care—I will get in!” The same blend of frustration and determination has marked the responses of many readers and critics when facing the enigmas of Wuthering Heights. The connection between Lockwood and readers is particularly clear in this passage. Catherine first appears to Lockwood, as she does to readers, as a...
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