Was Heathcliff black?

The latest film adaptation of Wuthering Heights casts a black actor as Heathcliff, and I, for one, can’t help wondering why this hasn’t been tried out before.

In the novel, Heathcliff’s racial origins are not specified, but the indications that he is different, possibly racially different, can hardly be missed. He is referred to throughout as “dark”: admittedly, that does not tell us much, as many white Anglo-Saxons can also be described as having a “dark” complexion, but Mr Earnshaw’s description of him – “as dark almost as if it came from the devil” – does suggest that his skin colour was conspicuously different from that of the others.  When the child is first brought into Wuthering Heights, he is described as speaking “gibberish”. This could, indeed, be Romany (Heathcliff is taken by many readers to be of gypsy origin), or it could be a foreign language: we cannot be sure. But, rather interestingly, the child is initially referred to as “it”: Nelly only starts referring to Heathcliff by the pronoun “he” after he, it, is christened. That Heathcliff, right from the start, was seen very much as an “other”, as “not one of our kind”, seems inescapable.

Later in the novel, Nelly Dean says to him: “Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen?” Nelly may not have known how Chinese people differ from Indian people physically: if she had, she would not have suggested that Heathcliff could be of Chinese or of Indian descent. But her speculation does seem to suggest that she saw Heathcliff as physically different, very different, from the others.

Of course, it may be objected that if Emily Brontë had intended Heathcliff to be black, she would have told us so openly, but I don’t think this holds. In the first place, Emily Brontë tells the story through voices other than her own; and in the second place, this is a novel in which large gaps are quite deliberately left in the narrative: if Emily Brontë is happy to leave unspecified even so important an aspect of the plot as the source of Heathcliff’s wealth, why should we expect her to be specific about such matters as Heathcliff’s race?

We shouldn’t really be surprised that Heathcliff’s racial origins are not made specific in the novel. The characters living in this isolated part of the country, and in that age, would not have been familiar with anyone outside their own racial stock, and would have been unlikely to have had the vocabulary to describe people of different races to any degree of accuracy. I don’t know that we can expect even Mr Lockwood to describe racial differences accurately. But in any case, Heathcliff’s exact racial origin – gypsy, Indian, or black – isn’t really so important: what is important is that he should be different from the others, and be seen as such, both physically and in other respects.

In a film, of course, there is no room for vagueness in the matter of Heathcliff’s race: some decision must be made on this point, and casting him as black seems to me a perfectly reasonable decision, and quite consistent with what’s in the text. Why shouldn’t Heathcliff be black? He was, after all, picked up in Liverpool, which was at the time a major centre of the slave trade: there were many black people in Liverpool at the time. He could have been of Indian origin as well, for that matter, given that Liverpool was a major port, and given further the large number of Lascars working on the ships. (Heathcliff is, indeed, referred to at one point quite specifically as a “little Lascar” – i.e. an Indian, or, more generally, someone from South-East Asia: once again, we shouldn’t expect precision on this point.)

I haven’t yet seen the latest film. Of all the classic 19th century English novels, Wuthering Heights has, perhaps, fared the worst in adaptations: even the famous William Wyler film featuring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, fine though it is in its own right, hardly reflects the intensely violent and disturbing nature of Emily Brontë’s work. Whether this latest version will succeed better than its predecessors, I do not know. What worries me is not that a black actor has been cast as Heathcliff, but that they’d make too much of the racial difference, and make it a drama specifically about race: but I hope I’m wrong. For, despite the countless adaptations that have been made to date, there is a good film – perhaps even a great film – still to be made from Wuthering Heights. But such a film will have to forgo romance; be brave enough to allow its leading lady to die half way through; and look unblinkingly into the dark, demented heart of this extraordinary work.

Advertisements

38 responses to this post.

  1. No, I don;t think Heathcliff was black, from the impression I got from reading it, he was of Eastern European origin. I think Emily Bronte was tapping into the romance of Gypsies, and would not have shied away from mentioning his race if he was from Africa or India.

    I loved your article, by the way. Much better than watching the X-factor!

    Reply

    • I suspect it would be more believable if this was a French novel, but there is certainly enough evidence floating around that might suggest Heathcliff was Creole. Look at Jane Eyre.

      Also, going out to do commerce in the West Indies was the source of more than one fortune in literature as well as history.

      http://mdparker46.com

      Reply

      • West Indies was certainly a major sorce of wealth (it is mentioned explicitly as such in Mansfield Park), and yes, Heathcliff could certainly have been Creole, or of mixed race.

        Heathcliff could, of course, be old Earnshaw’s illegitimate child. there was no shortage of homeless kids in those days – what made old Earnshaw bring home this one? Even if Heathcliff wasn’t old Earnshaw’s illegitimate child, i find it hard to believe that others would not have suspected him of being so. In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda for intance, Daniel is raised by a bachelor, and it is taken for granted by just about everyone (wrongly, as it happens) that Daniel is thi sman’s illegitimate child. Did no-one really suspect that Heathcliff might be a half-brother of Hindley and of Cathy? If so, we have – on top of the various other perversities in this novel – more than a hint of incest. At the very least, the possibility of incest could not have escaped them.

        What a weird and strange novel this is!

    • Hello, and thank you for your kind words.

      I don’t think Emily.Brontë would have shied away from anything: her decision not to be specific about Heathcliff’s race is an artistic decision, as was her decision not to be specific about how Heathcliff makes his money. Heathcliff may certainly be, as you suggest, an East European gypsy, but Emily Brontë isn’t specific about that either. She strongly suggests that Heathcliff is different, but then leaves it up to the reader to decide in what way and to what extent. Each individual reader will naturally have his or her own picture of Heathcliff, but casting a black actor does not seem to me inconsistent with what is in the text.

      Reply

      • Posted by alrighty on May 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

        It is a beautiful story with many nuances. It like good music. You can play it and update it for years. Heathcliff could be black/white, you or me. He is the social conscience of how we treat the unfortunate and how Karma can penetrate generations.

      • Hello,
        The story certainly is like music, as you say. and it is, I agree, more nuanced than it is often given credit for. although I don’t know that i;d go so far as to describe Heathcliff as a “social conscience”: he seems a bit of a psychopath to me!

        To be quite frank, this is one post i mow regret writing. It gets many hits, and I can’t help feeling that there is nowadays an obsession with race that, even when the issue of race is marginal rather than central to the whole, overshadows all other elements of the book. I do feel it important that Heathcliff should be physically different from the other characters, and I still think it is not unreasonable to present him as black or Indian in a dramatisation. But there is so much pointless debate going on about his exact race, that i am now sorry that I have added to it!
        Cheers,
        Himadri

  2. I agree with you that the Wyler film is far too well-mannered to be a successful adaptation. I have on my to-watch pile Jacques Rivette’s 1980s reimagining “Hurlevant”, which I really must get round to viewing; it will be interesting to see what he brings to the story apart from relocating it to pre-WW2 France. There’s also Bunuel’s “Abismos de pasión” from his Mexican period which might be worth tracking down.

    Reply

    • Apparently, Lindsay Anderson had at one point considered filming Wuthering Heights. Instead, he made This Sporting Life, another tale of violent passion set in Yorkshire. I can’t help wondering how much of his thoughts on Wuthering Heights found its way into This Sporting Life.

      Reply

  3. Interesting. It would definitely add an additional undertone for modern viewers, but as you pointed out re: lack of vocabulary, I think ANY degree of difference would have been equally damaging for the characters. Thanks for the food for thought.

    Reply

  4. I have the Bunuel film. Love it but then I’m a Bunuel fan. Like you, I have concerns that this new twist will alter the story. Perhaps it will end up as a decent adaptation, but for me, Heathcliff was, and always will be, a gypsy. Grumble…

    Reply

  5. Posted by open speech on November 18, 2011 at 6:03 am

    No, he was not a black man with african roots. Remember he had a very white, light blond son with his wife. I have seen many children a from black male a white female . These children never look really european/caucasian. They never have typically caucasian features and hairstructure and they are never light blond.

    Reply

    • Hello, and sorry for having taken so long to respond.

      When Heathcliff’s lad Linton first appears in Chapter 19, he is described as a “pale, delicate, effeminate boy”. He is not described here as blond, and, flicking through the novel, I cannot see him described as such. But I am probably wrong on that: I’d need to read the whole novel again to be sure on that point. The boy is, in every respect (including physically), everything his father isn’t, and I agree that the description quoted above does make it unlikely that such a boy’s father could be black with African origins. But I don’t know that this description rules out the possibility of Heathcliff being of mixed race. And it does not rule out the possibility of Heathcliff being Indian (Lascar, as he is called at one point), as I have certainly seen children of mixed Indian/European origins who can very easily be described as “pale”.

      I don’t know that it matters too much what Heathcliff’s precise racial origins are – whether he is Mediterranean, gypsy, Indian, or even black. But it does, I think, matter very much that Heathcliff is physically different from those around him – sufficiently so for this difference to be commented upon.Just how different is left up to the reader to decide, but I don’t think a racial difference can be ruled out. I have not yet seen any production that depicts Heathcliff as being noticeably different physically (whether the difference is racial or otherwise), and I do think this difference is important.

      I must admit, though, that what I am hearing about this latest version isn’t exactly encouraging me to rush out to see it. Unfortunately, we live in times that seem obsessed with the issue of race, and it appears impossible to touch upon this issue without making it the principal point. Whatever else Wuthering Heights may or may not be about, it is not primarily about race.

      Reply

      • Posted by Linda Cartwright on June 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

        Hi,
        I agree with your theory about Heathcliff being of a different race to the Yorkshire locals BUT the issue of his sons appearance does seem to suggest otherwise, as already mentioned. There is actually a chapter (can’t remember the number) where Cathys daughter was stroking young Lintons hair and describing it as ‘flaxen and much lighter than her own’ Also he had light blue eyes like the Lintons. I am no expert on genetics but this seems more likely that Heathcliff was eastern European…also, Heathcliff is described as having a ”sallow” complexion, which I believe means pale and jaundiced. But perhaps those of Afro-Carribean or Indian descent can appear this way..again, I am no expert. I guess we will never really know for sure and Emily Bronte intended to leave the subject open to speculation.

      • Hello Linda, and welcome to this site.

        I must admit that I’m no expert on genetics either. And neither, I suspect, was Emily Brontë. That in itself makes me somewhat suspicious about arguments on either side of this question that are based on genetic evidence. But it does seem to me that Heathcliff was physically very different from the around him: this is mphasised quite clearly in the text. And this physical difference has not been apparent in any of the earlier adaptations I have seen of Wuthering Heights. I am not claiming that Heathcliff was certainly black, or Indian: Emily Brontë leaves ths issue vague, and this vagueness is surely deliberate. But I do feel that saying a black actor in the role, far from being a misreading of the novel, is closer to the text than casting the lies of Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton or Ralph Fiennes (to ae some regions Eathcliffs off the top of my head). Emily Brontë does not tell us what the physical differences are – as you say, she was happy to leave this to speculation – but she most certainly tells us that they are there.

        Readers often seem very sharply divided over Wuthering HEights: many feel it’s an immature schoolgirl fantasy. It is also often criticised for the alleged clumsiness of the storytelling & of construction. I must say that I am a fan of this novel?

        Cheers for now,
        Himadri

  6. Posted by alan on November 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I had previously thought that Lascar was a nautical term for any non-European ‘hand’ on board a ship.
    I don’t have a proper source for this, I’ve just read some historical novels which have used the term.
    Wikipedia, also not a source, seems to say that they were mostly Indian, but could mean any seaman on board from East of the Cape.
    Some people think Romanies were originally from Northern India.
    I also don’t think that a rural community at the time this was set would necessarily have had the vocabulary of the pseudo science of 19th century racial theories – I read somewhere that the word race didn’t even start to become more widely used until used in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. If anything Bronte’s presentation of that part of the country seems to suggest an attempt to make it and its indigenous inhabitants seem very alien to an audience elsewhere.

    Reply

    • My understanding of “Lascar” is consistent with what Wikipedia says – usually Indian, but any seaman from East of the Cape.

      I think you’re right that the characters in this novel would not have had the vocabulary to specify racial difefrences in the way we understand it. I am not, of course, insisting that Heathcliff was black, or Indian, or whatever; but I do feel that his being non-whirte in some sense is consistent with the novel. The problem is, though, that modern commentators and interpreters seem unable to touch upon the theme of race without seeing it as the most important theme that overrides everythong else. So it’s perhaps worth my repeating that while I think it is reasonable to present heathcliff as racially different from the other characters, I do not think race is among teh most important themes of the novel.

      Reply

  7. Posted by Silas on November 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I think it’s worth remembering that, between the 16th and 18th centuries, the term “black man” was used to describe Englishmen with black hair and dark eyes regardless of their light complexion. It’s a phrase that crops up quite frequently in Aubrey’s Brief Lives; “I saw him[Sir Edward Herbert] severall times with Sir John Danvers: he was a black man”.

    Even if Bronte had described Heathcliff as explicitly “black” we would be wrong to assume that she intended it to be understood that he was Afro-Caribbean or even mixed race as her readers would be more likely to associate that desription merely with having black hair.

    I think what seems “racially ambiguous” to a 21st century reader would have been less so to one of the 19th.

    Reply

    • Hello Silas, and thank you for that. I quite agree – even if Emily Brontë had explicitly described Heathcliff as “black”, it would not necessarily have followed that he was “black” in the sense that we nowadays understand the term. As well as example you give from Aubrey, one may cite Shakespeare sonnets to the Dark Lady: Shakespeare writes (in Sonnet 131) “Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place”, but the dark lady to whom the poem is addressed is almost certainly not racially “black”.

      I am certainly not suggesting that Heathcliff was necessarily “black” in the modern sense of the term: but I am suggesting that he was physically different from the others – sufficiently so for it to be noticed – and the possibility (possibility, no more) of racial difference cannot be ruled out.

      Reply

  8. “The characters living in this isolated part of the country, and in that age, would not have been familiar with anyone outside their own racial stock”

    I’m not sure that’s true. Anyone who’d been near a large country house may well have seen black servants, as they were highly fashionable around the late 18th and early 19th century. It’s not uncommon to see them depicted in paintings of the era, in footman’s livery, for example – and the presence of black people in rural England is evident in placenames such as “Blackboys”. There was a fascinating article on the history of black people in rural England in the Sunday Times many years ago. Wish I could remember it in more detail!

    Reply

    • Yes, I am no expert on the subject, but it is my understanding also that there were far more black people in england in those times than is often realised today, although whether people living in a remote & isolated backwater would have known them is another matter; and even if they did (as you say, they were present in rural England also), they certainly would not have used the vocabulary we use now to distinguish rac: as Silas says in his comment above, the term “black” or “dark” was used simply to denote a person with dark hair & dark eyes.

      The presence of black people on England at the time possibly makes it more likely, not less, that heathcliff may have been black. I once again emphasise “may have been”, as Emily Bronte is not specific on this point. the possibility, I think, is there, but it’s only a possibility, and no more, and, reading through my post again and many of teh comments, I can’t help thinking that I have possibly made more of this issue than I should have done.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Linda Cartwright on June 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Hi,
    As you say…it is not Heathcliffs ethnicity that makes the book so controversial…..but the cruelty and selfishness that is depicted throughout the story. We have digressed….

    Reply

  10. Posted by Linda Cartwright on June 27, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Hi Himadri,
    Thanks for your reply. You are correct in saying that Emily Bronte may have been naive herself about genetics and perhaps young Lintons appearance was a blunder or sheer lack of understanding. I think it is irrelevant anyway….the novel was a revelation at the time because it stood out from the rest of the genre at the time. As for being criticised for being childish fantasy….couldn’t it be argued that Jane Austens Sense and Sensibility was the same..if not moreso? Wuthering Heights is raw and to the point. Blast the critics…just because it doesn’t fall into their catagory of what is deemed respectable and acceptable English Literature. This is what I love about the novel…Emily was indeed a rebel…she chose to write a story where love, prejudice cand ruelty go hand in hand

    Reply

    • Hello Linda,

      I think Wuthering Heighs is about as respectable and as acceptable as any book in the anon of English literature. It isn’t’t the critics, but many ordinary readers who think of Wuthering Heights merely as. Schoolgirl fantasy. Needless to say, I disagree: I wrote a post on the novel here.

      As for Austen, she is about as different from the Brontës as can be imagined. She is often presented these days as a writer of period chick-lit, but tat does her an immense disservice, I think: she is a novelist of tremendous subtlety and sophistication. Where the Brontës were direct – sometimes disconcertingly so – Austen employed various levels of irony, to such an extent that nothing is, perhaps, quite as it seems.

      I do agree with you, though, that Wuthering Heights is a masterpiece, but a work as idiosyncratic as this will not be to everyone’s taste. And I agree also that the enigma surrounding Heathcliff’s ethnic origins is an intended artistic effect, and is an aspect of Emily Brontë’s originality.

      Cheers for now, Himadri

      Reply

  11. Posted by Linda Cartwright on June 27, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Sorry…computer was supposed to put..”…and cruelty go hand in hand” And before I prematurely pressed the POST COMMENT button, I was going to add that the fact that Heathcliffs ethnic origin is obscure and an enigma, makes the novel even more of a masterpiece in my mind.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Lauren Walker on September 15, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Race? Was he part dog?

    Reply

  13. Posted by Lauren Walker on September 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Human Race… Was his character part dog? I just want to know. Really??? I’m confused. I can understand the ignorance then…not now. Race? Ethnic background ??? Webster = Where are you? I get it then..just not now.

    Reply

    • Hello Lauren, and welcome.

      I’m finding it difficult to understand your point. Of course Heathcliff wasn’t “part dog”. If he were, he would be a different species, and no-one has suggested that.

      I assume (and I can only assume, because I am not sure what point you are trying to make) that you consider the concept of race to be meaningless. Since, as I understand it, there is no genetic criterion that distinguishes between “races”, I sympathise with you. However, socially, the appearance of different races gives rise to various types of prejudices and discriminations: scientifically, race may not matter, but socially, it does; and fiction, which depicts humans as social beings, cannot very well ignore this. Heathcliff is frequently described quite explicitly as being physically different in appearance, so the question of whether it is at least possible that he was of African or of Indian descent seems to me a not unreasonable question to pose.

      Best wishes,
      Himadri

      Reply

  14. Hello, and thank you for your very interesting comments. I’m afraid I only have very limited access tithe net right now, I’ll certainly respond in detail early in the new year.

    All the best till then,
    Himadri

    Reply

    • I’m not against the things you’ve said by the way. We mostly agree.

      Reply

      • I think we’re mainly agreed on this, but I’m not too sure that I understand what you mean by “spiritual novel”. Certainly, yes, Heathcliff is physically, possibly racially, different, and that is among the reasons why he was persecuted (although that is not to detract from Hindley’s resentment that an outside should enter into the family circle: that too is a strong motive for the persecution); and it is also true that Cathy’s tomboy ways are disapproved of. But these are elements of the plot: they’re important only insofar as they get the mechanics of the plot moving. They’re not among the central themes of the novel: the novel is not about racism, or gender stereotyping. Neither is it about the economics of farming in the moors, although that is the economic basis of these characters’ lives.

        What the novel [i]is[/i] about is, as with any great work, not so easily said. I’d say that at the centre of this novel is violence, both emotional and physical; there are dark obsessions, hatred, spite; there is passion so intense that the dividing line between love and hate becomes blurred; it is about a sense of yearning that for something that defies understanding. (I tried to write something here of what I make of this very strange novel.) Now, I don’t know if you count any of this as “spiritual”. The plot is, I agree with you, rooted in the real world; but its depiction of passion untrammeled by any controlling influence is, I think, a stylized depiction; and its focus on two households on the moors, to the virtual exclusion of everything around it, strikes me as being very stylized indeed. These are not elements one would expect from “realistic novels”. But the themes it deals with, in its uniquely stylized manner, are indeed the themes of this real world.

    • Hello, and thank you for your very interesting comments. (My apologies once again for the late reply!)

      There are a number of points you raise that I think are worth discussing. The first is the separation I am making between plot and theme. You say:

      …you seem to believe that there’s a core to human beings that is unaffected by social conditions and the world around them…

      I don’t think that I do believe that: clearly, human beings are to a very great extent (though not fully) shaped by their environment, and Cathy and Heathcliff are no exceptions. I accept that. But I do think that the novel’s focus of interest is what these characters are rather than how they came to that state.

      You may well counter that one cannot explore an effect without depicting the cause, and that is undoubtedly true; but, it seems to me, it is true only up to a point. The chains of cause and effect in human behaviour are difficult, possibly impossible, to discern fully. An effect can have a very large number of causes, many (or most) of which remain mysterious and inscrutable to human perceptions. The circumstances of Heathcliff’s and Cathy’s upbringing undoubtedly are some of the causes that make them what they eventually turn out to be, but can we really be certain that these were the only causes? Can we be certain that there were no innate features in their personalities that also had their parts to play? Or are we subscribing to a strict determinism, and saying that any people with such childhoods such as theirs would inevitably end up like this?

      I think it is indeed reasonable to consider separately the thematic aspects of the novel, and the mechanism of the plot. And it is reasonable because Emily Brontë herself separates them out: famously, she left a large gap in the plot (Heathcliff’s years between leaving penniless and returning wealthy) because she calculated, correctly, that a gap even as large as this doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because it is not the plot that is at the centre of the novel.

      Of course, we can all interpret a novel such as this in different ways, and I certainly find your interpretation of the novel – as being essentially about Cathy’s yearning for childhood – intriguing: it is a particularly interesting point that the ghost of Cathy that appears at the window is that of a child. However, it does seem to me a bit of a stretch to conclude from this that the novel is essentially about yearning for childhood. After all, we must also remember that the boy who claims to see the ghosts at the end sees Cathy as a fully grown woman:

      ‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’

      We may conclude, perhaps, the Cathy only blossoms out of childhood once she is reunited (after death) with Heathcliff, but that seems to me too too schematic a reading. Cathy’s ghost certainly appears as a child to begin with; but the ghost isn’t always a child.

      For me, at the centre of the novel is not so much a yearning for childhood (although that theme is undoubtedly there), but, rather, obsession, cruelty, violence, and that strange and intense twilight region where love and hatred seem to co-exist. How did all this come about? you may ask. Ultimately, it’s a mystery. All human beings are ultimately mysterious. That is not to suggest this is a “spiritual” novel, but that, beyond a point, the chains of cause and effect that determine human behaviour – in reality or even in fiction – are not fully available to us.

      The novel, as we both agree, is rooted in reality: the author tells us the back-stories, and gives at least a partial explanation for these characters being as they are. But if the roots of this tree are in down-to-earth reality, the wild and waving branches seem to me to exist in some other sphere entirely. It seems to exist in some feverish, nightmare mind that is purged of all restraint, and in which our passions – the id, if you like – are let loose, utterly unrestrained. It is this that affects me most powerfully when I read the novel.

      Best wishes,
      Himadri

      Reply

  15. I agree with you fully that neither Cathy nor Heathcliff are metaphorical – i.e. they do not represent anything other than themselves. Neither are they disembodied passions or emotions or feelings. They are indeed, as you rightly say, real human beings. But the fictional world they inhabit is, it seems to me, a very stylised version of the real world. There are many very great novels that present us with stylised fictional worlds – Dead Souls, Moby-Dick, Bleak House, The Idiot, etc. That is not to say they don’t depict reality – they do: but they do so in a very stylised manner, with various deliberately contrived foreshortenings and distortions. In Wuthering Heights, while the characters are, as we agreed, real characters, the author isn’t necessarily interested in all aspects of their reality: there’s nothing there, for instance, about the economics of farming on moorlands, which would, in reality, have been very important in theirlives. The focus of the novel is almost single-mindedly on the passions and obsessions and the often feverish and delirious states of mind.

    I agree with you also that these emotions and passions didn’t just come out of nowhere. But tracing the causes of them does not seem to me to be among Emily Brontë’s primary purposes. Some causes she depicts; others she hints at; and there are other still that are left blank, because they’re inscrutable. No-one can get to the bottom of every single facet of human motivation: even Shakespeare and Tolstoy couldn’t! And Dostoyevsky seemed to me to refuse to see human actions in terms of causality at all, so determined was he to present his characters with complete freedom of choice. Even without going to Dostoyevskian lengths, we are, I think, forced to admit that, beyond a point, humans are endlessly mysterious beings. This is what makes them so endlessly fascinating.

    For me, Emily Brontë’s interest is in depicting certain aspects of human experience – obsessions, passions, delirium. These aspects are by no means disembodied: she places them all in a realistic framework, and the depiction of that framework is, I agree, most convincing; but it’s not this framework that is the principal focus of her interest. Her interest seems to me focussed not so much on “How did these characters become what they are?” (although that question is by no means neglected), but, rather, “Given whatthese characters are like, how to they act, and feel, and develop from this point onwards?”

    ***

    Incidentally, I hope I am not appearing overly argumentative (despite the title of this blog!) I do enjoy debate on books that I love, and i have thoroughly been enjoying this, and learning from it. Many of the things you say are forcing me to rethink my own views.

    All the best,
    Himadri

    Reply

  16. Thanks for that. I don’t know that essay at all. I’ll try to look it up.

    Reply

  17. Oh – you haven’t sounded “weird” at all! What are books blogs for if not to discuss books?

    And no – I certainly wouldn’t wish it on myself either. When I read Wuthering Heights, I find myself transfixed by it all – but I am glad to view it all from teh outside, as it were!

    Cheers, Himadri

    Reply

  18. Thank you for that. I do think that it is important for Heathcliff to be conspicuously different from others physically, and that a racial difference makes perfect sense in this context. However, I do get tired of seeing literature used as a battle ground for identity politics, and try to avoid going in that direction!

    All the best,
    Himadri

    Reply

  19. Posted by Breah on March 13, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I know this is an old article, but I just finished reading the book and I also wondered if Heathcliff was maybe not black, but definitely not solely white. He mentions to his son Linton, at their first meeting ‘where is my share in you?’ And that ‘it is something to see you have not white blood’. When he talked about Isabella not mentioning Heathcliff to Linton at all. Along with what you mentioned I came to the conclusion that he was not white. I couldn’t decide though what exactly he was. She never commented on his hair texture or described his features in great detail.

    Reply

    • Hello Breah,
      I read the novel again since writing the above, and I am even more convinced now that Heathcliff was not white. It does not perhaps matter so much exactly what race he was, but I do think it important that Heathcliff is physically different from the others. That is not to say that this is a novel about race: I don’t think it is. But I do think it important that Heathcliff is an entirely alien figure, in every imaginable respect = a complete outsider – in the very closed world presented in this novel.

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: