Catherine Earnshaw

Note: Throughout this text guide, the convention has been used of calling the first Catherine by her full Christian name, and her daughter by the name ‘Cathy’, even though Emily Brontë does not use either version of the name consistently.

The ‘natural’ Catherine

Catherine loves the moors and has a rather uncontrolled upbringing – she is what might be called a ‘tom-boy’. She is not easily scared or dominated and can be naughty. However, she has a charm which rescues her from getting into too much trouble. As Nelly sums her up:

A wild, wicked slip she was - but she had the bonniest eye, and sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish: and, after all, I believe she meant no harm. (Chapter 5)

However, this lack of self-restraint means that Catherine can be selfish and impetuous in both words and actions. As the novel progresses, she is seen increasingly to behave in a spoiled way, often resorting to tears or sulking in order to get her way. Whilst such characteristics are overlooked in a child, they become less appealing in an adult.

The constraints of civilisation

When, in her early teens, Catherine experiences the finery of Thrushcross Grange, she begins to be torn between two styles of living. She is attracted to the social prestige of wealth and refinement despite it making little allowance for the expression of natural instincts. When she asks Nelly about marrying Edgar Linton, the clichés she employs to portray her attraction highlight the unreality of her expectations, and, ironically, also ensure the dislocation of her ‘true love’, Heathcliff. She is unable to comprehend that wealth imposes restraint rather than freedom; that she cannot used her husband’s money to ‘raise’ and empower her lover. Despite Nelly’s protestations to this effect, she demands only that Nelly agrees with her.

Catherine never solves this dilemma and in a sense, it is this inability to reconcile her preferences which leads to her death. However, even beyond the grave, her tempestuous nature continues to haunt Heathcliff, and the novel.

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