Hell and the devil

Heathcliff – man or demon?

Diabolical images are common throughout Wuthering Heights, and provide clear examples of typically Gothic language. Generally they are associated with Heathcliff in some way. His behaviour is often described as ‘diabolical’ and when we see what Heathcliff says of his own behaviour to Isabella, for example, it is hard to reconcile this to the norms of human behaviour:

The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails! … I've sometimes relented, from pure lack of invention, in my experiments on what she could endure (Chapter 14)


The way in which Heathcliff is depicted adds to his mystery and gives him a supernatural appearance. Describing him in Chapter 8, Nelly says:

it appeared as if the lad were possessed of something diabolical at that period.

Heathcliff is often described as ‘black’ or ‘dark’, and this links with his devilishness. In Chapter 11, he is called ‘the black villain’. Isabella, believes her husband to be ‘a lying fiend! a monster, and not a human being!’

Medieval illustration of hellVocabulary

Heathcliff’s dialogue frequently invokes the devil. Lockwood interprets his attitude as ‘Go to the Deuce’ on the first page of the novel (‘Deuce’ being a euphemism for devil), and before the end of the chapter Heathcliff asks, ‘What the devil is the matter?’.

Due to Heathcliff’s conditioning of Hindley’s son, Hareton is associated with similar vocabulary. When Nelly visits him as a very young child in Chapter 11, she witnesses:

from the stammering lips of the little fellow, a string of curses, which, whether he comprehended them or not, were delivered with practised emphasis, and distorted his baby features into a shocking expression of malignity.

Although Hareton refers to his ‘devil Daddy’, he has in fact been taught to curse by Heathcliff. In Chapter 18, an older Hareton says to Cathy, ‘I’ll see thee damned…’ and then calls her ‘a saucy witch’, which Nelly criticises sarcastically as ‘Nice words to be used to a young lady!’

The hell of separation

Brontë rejects a conventional view of hell, as taught by the church.

More on conventional teaching about Hell?

When Catherine dreams that she is thrown out of heaven in Chapter 9, she ends up on the Yorkshire moors rather than ‘hell’. For her and Heathcliff, hell is about separation from one another. She declares:

if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger:

On Catherine’s death, Heathcliff applies conventional hell imagery to the idea of continuing without his beloved, when he declares, ‘DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!’ (Chapter 16).

As Heathcliff nears his end, Nelly does wonder if ‘conscience had turned his heart to an earthly hell.’ (Chapter 33) and Joseph is delighted when death finally overcomes his master:

Th' divil's harried off his soul,' he cried, 'and he may hev' his carcass into t' bargin, for aught I care! Ech! what a wicked 'un he looks, girning at death!' (Chapter 34)

However, we feel that applying such conventional judgements is an inadequate analysis of Heathcliff’s fate.

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