The Surprising Other in Wuthering Heights

In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is a prime example of the Other, perhaps one of the most potent in all Victorian literature. However, due to both her early relationship with Heathcliff and her drastic break from it, Catherine is also a form of the Other in the novel. Through Catherine’s delirious speech to Nelly during her fatal illness, Brontë uses the framework of the Gothic to convey the impossibility of escaping her role as the Other.

In her lament to Nelly, Catherine speaks plaintively and earnestly about the state she finds herself in. It is plain she regrets her choice to leave the Heights, “’…I had been wrenched…and been converted at a stroke into Mrs. Linton, the lady of Thrushcross Grange, and the wife of a stranger, an exile and outcast thenceforth from what had been my world…” (Brontë 125). By marrying Edgar Linton to escape her perception of a “dehumanizing” attachment to Heathcliff, Catherine has only persisted in again othering herself, just in a different setting. She identifies herself as a “stranger”, “exile”, and “outcast”, plainly demonstrating the detachment she feels from the life she has chosen for herself. However, in bemoaning the loss of her past, Catherine also represents that former status as Other. She says, “I wish I were out of doors. I wish I were a girl again, half savage, and hardy, and free…” (125). Her use of the word “savage” particularly emphasizes her perception of the otherness of her past as well as her present. Heathcliff, her former “all in all” (125), is also described as savage or less than human throughout the novel, mirroring Catherine’s vision of herself. Earlier in the novel, she declares “I am Heathcliff” (Brontë 82), suggesting that her original perception as herself as the Other stemmed from her association with Heathcliff; she is now realizing that she cannot escape this Otherness as she holds this attachment with her always. Despite Catherine’s best efforts to escape her liminal existence at Wuthering Heights, she only succeeds in thrusting herself into a different form of liminality, a very Gothic concept. The Gothic, as described by Richard Altick, “…is obsessed with establishing and policing borders, with delineating strict categories of being” (Altick xii). When one doesn’t fall into a category of being, they become an Other. The border between Catherine’s past and present is impermeable, but the border of her future as Mrs. Linton also remains closed–once Heathcliff’s return reinforces their relationship–resulting in “the abyss” (125) of liminality. Aided by this Gothic border trope, Brontë solidifies the line between Catherine’s wild childhood and her role as a wife. She is alienated into no man’s land, an internal crisis which is so powerful that it culminates in her illness, and eventual death.

3 thoughts on “The Surprising Other in Wuthering Heights”

  1. I like your take on how Catherine sees herself as the Other along side with Heathcliff and how she is constantly on the border of the Other and an English wife of a respectable man. I wonder what you think about Catherine’s grave, as it is not in a chapel nor in any household graveyard. Her grave, which is decided by Edgar, is on a hill looking at the moors. Despite his jealousy and objection to Catherine’s Otherness, in the end, it seems that Edgar chooses to accept that Catherine is the Other who doesn’t belong in the English society.

  2. Moonjuice, your comment about the impossibility of escaping Otherness made me think of Esther, from Mary Barton. Esther doesn’t belong to the working class or the bourgeoisie, but to the void of the streets. Taking into consideration what Luckhurst said in his article, I think Esther is one of the most powerful elements of the Gothic in Gaskell’s novel, because she embodies a moment of transgression, which, however, never dares to go beyond the borders. The borders are strictly policed in the Gothic. Esther never returned to her old life. She was destined to be the Other, like Cathy.

  3. I like your take on “otherness” being inescapable. I wonder if you would agree with me in thinking how through this interpretation, “otherness” is can be seen as a disease that can spread from person to person. Heathcliff is labeled as “other” and is incurable from that moment until the end of the book. His “otherness” infects Catherine due to their physical and emotional proximity, and in the end, their diagnoses are terminal. If it weren’t for the role of “otherness” in this book, would Catherine and Heathcliff have died as they did? Even Edgar, who was closely involved with Catherine, suffered a deadly fate. Although “otherness” loses its power as it transmits from person to person, it is still potent.

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