2. Denial

Decorated initial H

ow, exactly, does Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship come to be denied during their lifetimes? Ironically, it is exactly at the point of their greatest interdependence that a wedge is first driven between the two children. They are now in their early adolescence (Catherine is twelve and Heathcliff about thirteen), a period which is generally accepted in the twentieth century to be marked not by a swift conversion to more civilized behaviour, but by its egocentricity, nervous and/or daring ventures into adult society, and, above all "temporary oscillations" (Piaget 60). At this critical point in the maturation process, Hindley banishes Heathcliff from Catherine's lessons with the curate, and sends him out into the fields. "He bore his degradation pretty well at first," recalls Nelly (87); but his new status troubles Catherine deeply. This is one occasion when the reader is (pace Brown 149) given "direct access" to her thoughts: in the makeshift diary which Lockwood reads years afterwards, she writes:

How little did I dream that Hindley would ever make me cry so! ... My head aches, till I cannot keep it on the pillow; and still I can't give over. Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won't let him sit with us, nor eat with us any more; and, he says, he and I must not play together, and threatens to turn him out of the house if we break his orders. [64]

To lose the only source of her companionship and comfort during a time of general developmental stress is almost more than Catherine can bear; as for Heathcliff, after making some attempts to keep up with her ("Cathy taught him what she learnt" [87]), the boy despairs, and becomes subsumed into the role of a labourer in the very family where he was once the father's favourite. Thus, he looks like "an out-and-outer" by the time the servant at Thrushcross Grange catches him at the window (90). An "out and out rascal" is, of course, one whose wickedness knows no bounds. But Heathcliff is hardly this — yet. Rather, he is "out" in another sense. He is "out" of the Lintons' social sphere, in a way in which Catherine, as the pretty daughter of a neighbouring family is not. And so he is now on his way "out" of Catherine's social sphere, too. For, once she has been exposed to the refinements of the world beyond the Heights, sympathy and indignation for her foster-brother are displaced by something shallower — not mockery exactly, but amusement at least: "how very black and cross you look! and how — how funny and grim!" Again, Hall was perhaps the first to note how bitterly youth (between the ages of about eight and fourteen) recoils in the face of ridicule (II: 103). Then, the psychic blow to Heathcliff becomes literally unendurable: "I shall not stand to be laughed at, I shall not bear it!" he cries when asked to shake hands with her (94).

The moorland scenery in which Catherine and Heathcliff once ran free.

What is happening to Heathcliff here is in some important respects what Freud claims must happen to every child:

Society must defend itself against the danger that the interests which it needs for the establishment of higher social units may be swallowed up by the family; and for this reason, in the case of every individual, but in particular of adolescent boys, it seeks by all possible means to loosen their connection with the family.... ["Transformations of Puberty," 148]

The same process of "loosening" is, of course, now happening to Catherine too; but again, the pain is so severe that the process is not to be borne. It is from just this time, when she is "confounded" by the contrast between Heathcliff and her rather effete new friend from the Grange, Edgar Linton (99), that Catherine's self-division grows. She is "wrenched" from Heathcliff, her "all in all" up until then (163), by her ambition for the way of life which Edgar offers, and by some genuine feelings of tenderness for him; it is an entirely natural movement outwards on her part, such as every early adolescent might be expected to make, yet she does not want to leave her old companion behind. Thus she begins to "adopt a double character without exactly intending to deceive anyone" (107) — except, it would seem, herself. "Oh, I'm burning!" she cries later, tormented both by her "exile" from the world she shared with Heathcliff (163), and her desire to return to it. The rift between them is at once deeply wounding and too incomplete to allow for the possibility of healing.

Ever since Hall's exhaustive pioneering work on adolescent psychology characterized this transitional period of life as one of psychic upheaval, it has been widely accepted that it is normal for adolescents to experience feelings of discontinuity and confusion as childhood is left behind and adulthood looms. These were the very feelings which, as mentioned earlier, the novel's early reviewers picked up and condemned as qualities of the literary work itself. Modern readers, however, who have been made fully aware of the precise and elaborate structure of Wuthering Heights, should be able to identify their true source. Clearly, this period is peculiarly painful for both Brontë's protagonists. It might be argued that Catherine's position is better than Heathcliff's — that, for example, far from being flogged and sent out to labour in the fields, she continues to enjoy her privileges as a member of the Earnshaw family; far from having her field of activities compulsorily narrowed, she is accepted outside her immediate family as an equal of the neighbouring Lintons. However, quite apart from her strong feelings of affinity with Heathcliff, which cause her to suffer when he suffers, there is in Catherine's history just the kind of "accumulation of stressful experiences" which child psychologists suspect, over a period of years, to be as devastating and as conducive to later disturbed behaviour as actual physical abuse (Widom 215-16).

Similarly, it must be remembered that although Catherine's division is to some extent self-imposed, it is also largely unavoidable: Hall said long ago that "[e]arly youth is always and necessarily more or less under the influence of great expectations," (I: 376); and present-day psychologists go further, maintaining that this should in fact be the time of "an expanding domain of things that matter" and an "increasing mastery of some segments of experience" (Larson and Asmussen 36). Not only does life generally open up socially and emotionally now, with the first romantic attachments being formed, but, as a consequence, this period becomes typically a time of choices, of testing others' "loyalties in the midst of inevitable conflicts of values" (Erikson 133). Hall's word "necessarily" and Erikson's word "inevitable" are obviously significant here.

Created 8 December 2017