Monday 19 October 2015

Book Review: I See You, by Aindrila Roy

This review has been republished in 'Unbound E-magazine, Issue #3' along with another story by me, and several excellent contribution by other authors.

You may buy the magazine at Amazon at this link.

I remember a discussion with Ana a while ago, when I said,

“It’s a tough business being an author these days, if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it.”

To which she replied,

“But everyone IS doing it, Percy. So how tough can it be?”

As with everything that Colombian beauty says, this too, was a statement that led me to think. How difficult is writing, really? Most people are functionally literate now, even in India, and all it takes to write a novel these days is to hammer enough words together. A knowledge of language has become dispensable, and nowhere is this more evident than in the rash of romance and thriller novels that are doing the rounds. Thankfully, the horror genre is a little more difficult to pollute, perhaps because it’s harder to write. A writer has to be able to use the words to create not just pictures, but a psychological state of mind in the reader’s mind, a state that is not only one of fear but also anticipation.

I See You, the debut novel by Aindrila Roy, succeeds in doing exactly this.

The book follows a short period in the life of the protagonist Liam Redmond, a young man who is the heir to a restaurant-chain fortune. We are introduced to Liam as a disturbed young man whose hitherto fairly-placid life is thrown into upheaval by a series of inexplicable events. Despite the assistance that his friends Max, Griffin and Brandon try to offer, Liam’s troubles show no sign of abatement, and as the days progress, his grip on reality seems to become looser and looser. Thrown into the mix is a vindictive ex-girlfriend, Lilly and the brilliant cat, Nyx. Coming into the narrative a little later are Liam's boss, Dave and his presumably-cuckoo girlfriend, Yvonne.

Using these characters, the author weaves a story set in the heart of suburban America. Beneath the ordinariness of the parks, the malls and the parking-lots, lurk forces that are either psychological or metaphysical, and Liam is left wondering which of these is truly impacting him.

It is a strongly plot-based novel, so I shall avoid getting too deeply into the story, but suffice to say that despite the relatively short length of the novel, Ms Roy succeeds in fleshing out her characters to a large extent. Liam’s mental landscape and the changes that occur in it over the course of the novel are depicted with an attention to detail that is heartening in a world where too many novelists think the ‘story’ is all that matters. Ms Roy’s style is reminiscent of King, without getting into the digressions that the master is known for. The use of language is razor-sharp, with hardly a word out-of-place, and the pacing of the plot is handled exceptionally well. The second half of the book leaves the reader glued to the page, and interruptions during this phase may well result in the reader barking angrily at the miscreant (as this reviewer’s family members would attest).

There is little to find fault with. A niggling editing error or two, at most. If anything, I came away thinking the author might have developed this even better and added about fifty pages to the narrative that would only have enhanced my enjoyment of it.

Characters, as I have said before, are distinct and believable. From Liam’s bosses to his room-mates, to the model of feline behaviour, Nyx, each one has a voice and story. In a genre where bringing in an entirely new element is almost impossible, the language and story-telling skills of Ms Roy are sufficient to capture and hold the reader’s attention and that is no mean feat.

TL:DR: I See You is a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon (you don't want to read this at night. No, really.) read, with a pacy, flowing narrative that is definitely worth the money and time invested in reading it.

Disclaimer: While I am acquainted with Ms Roy through social media, the book has been purchased and reviewed of my own accord, and without any prodding, gentle or otherwise, from the author. 

Friday 16 October 2015

A killing, Chetan Bhagat, and the importance of knowing when you're out of depth.

That Mr. Bhagat is a below-ordinary writer is not a secret. His prose is utterly pedestrian and apart from the mildly autobiographical works (5.someone and 2 States), his plots are like a cliché sandwiched between a banality and a platitude.

Nonetheless I've admired his ability to tell a story that panders to the masses and market the hell out of said story subsequently. Moreover, as bad is his prose is, the opinion pieces he sometimes writes are quite coherent and he makes his point, even if it is one I don't often agree with.

But his stand on the recent troubles the NDA government has had with Indian authors returning their awards has been baffling. It began with a snide remark, and has led to the tweet attached with this post (Screenshotted by me from his feed). And with this, he has gone from being an author who leans left to a logic-less Bhakt.

He uses the 'What about’ argument, which never makes sense. No, Mr Bhagat, just because someone is angry about Issue A and not Issue B does not de-legitimise their concern about Issue A. I might be vocal about animal rights and not human rights, Ana might be vocal about human rights in Africa and not South America, and my cats may be vocal about the increasing price of fish in Mumbai. Each of these are independently legitimate concerns, and should be recognised as such. Saying ‘Why didn’t you complain when’ is bad logic, bad debating and only shows you do not really have a point.

And then the issues he uses to prove his point! The Commonwealth Games – yes, unfortunate corruption, that was acted upon. Was free speech stifled? Was an eminent litterateur murdered? No, Mr Bhagat. It was a financial scam, of the sort that every goddam Government engages in. 2G – another financial scam, and one whose proportions were bloated by a malicious auditor. Perhaps Chartered Accountants should have surrendered their degrees at that display of astonishing incompetence by Mr Vinod Rai. Coalgate – again…Adarsh…the point is, these were all bad things, no doubt. Stealing from the state is a crime, of course, and it led to a movement in opposition to it. A little thing called India Against Corruption. It also led to the electoral downfall of the UPA government. Yes, a lot of the votes the NDA got had more to do with disgust at the financial shenanigans of the UPA than a naïve hope that a white knight in a kurta would come and take India into a golden age.

Why does any of that have to be conflated with the present crisis of conscience – the attacks on citizens of the country who happen to have a different dietary preference, or question the gods that you believe in? This is a serious issue, you know. The fact that you can be killed with impunity and not have the government stand up for you. That you could lose a father, a brother, and be blamed for harming some mythical animal-mother-figure. And if some people have the guts to make a gesture, however symbolic, against it, more power to them.

Look, I’m not sure returning awards is the best way to go. If anything, Amitava Ghosh seems to articulate a sensible stand here. But seriously, Mr Bhagat, you’ve lost the plot, and whatever respect you had.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Wuthering Heights

The cover of the edition I first read

[Like most of us, my teens and early twenties were wasted years. I was studying (the word should be interpreted in the broadest possible terms) at a college whose idea of culture was ‘Bollywood Nite’ at the Annual Day. I was sitting in classrooms with people whose preferred appellations for women were ‘chhavi’, ‘item’ and ‘chamiya’ and considered any girl who wore jeans to be a slut.
However, at some point in my post-graduation, we were given the opportunity to write a 'Book Review that brought out the various power equations and conflicts that could happen within human relations'. While I didn't really understand what that sentence meant, I caught the first two words and went on and wrote a Review of 'Wuthering Heights', a book that, to me, has a near-holy status.
It was a story that grew in the telling, and by the end of it, I had a review that was over six thousand words long. It got me a good grade, but that was never the point. I was writing a review of a Book that’s part of the standard syllabus across schools wherever English is taught, and despite having no formal education in ‘Literature’ as it is taught in colleges, I gave it a shot. This is, in fact, my first-ever ‘Book Review’.
Having nothing better to do, I shall now proceed to put up this monster of a review on this Blog. The longest single post ever, I think. The only editing from the original review as written is in the last paragraph under the first section.
If you have spoiler concerns, stop here.]

The Author, the Times and the Place
It is impossible to place Wuthering Heights as a book into perspective without first knowing a little about its author, Emily Brontë. She was the fifth of six children of an Irish Reverend, whose mother died when she was three. Educated mostly at home by her father, Emily grew up in the company of her two sisters, Charlotte and Anne, both of whom also went on to become famous novelists, and her brother Branwell, a dissolute artist who was, nevertheless, much doted on by his sisters. She spent most of her life in the bleak moors of Yorkshire, which are the inspiration and backdrop of Wuthering Heights. This isolation from the world outside proved surprisingly conducive to the creative genius of the girls – the time spent with each other and in solitude proving a fertile ground for the growth of their imaginations. They wrote poetry and prose from a young age, and making up stories to fill in the idle time rambling on the lonely moors must have been a necessity. Emily and Anne had even created a whole fantasy world in their poems (commonly referred to as the ‘Gondal’ Poems) – the world of Wuthering Heights is often considered to be drawn from the Gondal world.
Wuthering Heights was the only book its author ever wrote. She died at the age of 30, never living to see the success and adulation her work would receive. Living most of her life with her family or teaching at a school in Haworth, Emily lived what can only be described as a very cloistered existence.
So perhaps it is remarkable that she could have written as intense a book as Wuthering Heights. It is remarkable that a woman in the prime of youth could have written a book of the morbid splendour of Wuthering Heights. It is remarkable that a woman could have created a character of such violent, wicked power as Heathcliff. But then, Wuthering Heights is a remarkable book.

The woman who, to combat gender prejudice, had to write her book under the pseudonym 'Ellis Bell'

If ever a tragically short life was fulfilled, Emily Brontë’s was. What she left behind is immortal; it is a part of the collective conscious of the English-speaking world.

I was young when I first read it – about twelve or thirteen, I can’t quite remember – and have read it several times since. Each reading has been a source of endless pleasure to me as it has to generations before me. It is not just about the tragic, almost spiritually intense love story of Catherine and Heathcliff – as Bonamy Dobree puts it, “After a hundred years, the verdict goes that Wuthering Heights is itself an experience, a part of our sense of existence, it colours our view of what life is about.”

As legacies go, that of Wuthering Heights should be, and is, immortal. It is still being made into television and movies, 160-odd years after publication. The characters have lost much in the marketing that goes with such resilience. Heathcliff is portrayed as a brooding hero – a Gothic Edward Cullen, and the character of Catherine Earnshaw has also been whitewashed. Such portrayals, inspired partly no doubt by how Sir Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon (who so perfectly looked the part on screen and yet managed to do little justice to the story) portrayed them way back in 1939.
The book that lies on my bookshelf today

The Setting

Wuthering Heights is set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire. The action confines itself to a small geographical area – the eponymous House of the Earnshaw family, Wuthering Heights, and that of the Lintons, Thrushcross Grange. There are occasional references to the nearby village of Gimmerton, but it hardly impinges on the narrative. The landscape Brontë describes is of wild, uncultivated hills and crags, of cold wintry plains, and the warm comfort of Thrushcross Grange. The houses are isolated – four miles separate the Grange from the Heights, and the village is even further away. It is in this close isolation that she traces the fortunes of the two families – the Lintons and the Earnshaws, and the effect the foundling Heathcliff has on them. The houses themselves are indicative of the occupants – Wuthering Heights located at a high altitude amidst cold biting winds and the Grange in the calm, gentle plains.

It is the wildness that lends the book that flavour that leaves its mark, I think. The title itself is aptly chosen – ‘Wuthering’ literally refers to the effect of atmospheric tumults, a word describing the setting as perfectly as it does the story. Long after you close the book, you carry the image of the stony moors, the moss on the ground, the forbidding exterior of the Heights, the grim, brooding figure of the ‘hero’ and the light-footed, wild step of the heroine walking along paths only known to themselves, in your mind.

The Characters

Mr Earnshaw: Landowner, master of Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff: A foundling, raised by the elder Mr. Earnshaw.

Catherine Earnshaw: Daughter of Mr. Earnshaw

Hindley Earnshaw: Catherine’s elder brother

Edgar Linton
: Master of Thrushcross Grange

Isabella Linton: His sister

Catherine Linton: daughter of Catherine Earnshaw (to avoid confusion, I shall refer to her as ‘Cathy’, the name by which her father referred to her)

Linton Heathcliff: Son of Heathcliff

Hareton Earnshaw: Son of Hindley

Ellen ‘Nelly’ Dean: Housekeeper and trusted servant of the Earnshaws and Lintons at various times.

Lockwood: Heathcliff’s tenant

…and other minor characters

The Book

Wuthering Heights begins in a dramatic fashion.

Lockwood, the tenant at Thrushcross Grange, calls on his landlord Heathcliff at his house, the titular Heights, where he observes the taciturn protagonist, the uncouth Hareton and the beautiful but haughty child-widow, Cathy. Forced to stay overnight by a violent snowstorm, Lockwood finds himself sleeping in a tiny garret that obviously was once the refuge of a certain Catherine Earnshaw, whose name is scrawled multiple times on the wooden desk. Falling into a fitful sleep, he dreams that he hears a knock on the window, through which the ghost of a little girl unknown to him tries to enter the house. 

Begone!”screams Lockwood, “I’ll never let you in, not if you beg these twenty years!”

“It is twenty years,” replies the apparition, I’ve been a waif these twenty years!”

Lockwood’s screams bring to the room none other than his landlord himself, who, on hearing what just transpired, throws open the window in a fit of desperation and implores the ghost to 

“Come in! Come in! Cathy, do come. Oh do – once more. Oh my heart’s darling, hear me this time, Catherine, at last!”

The ghost of Catherine fails to respond.

This passage sets the tone for the narrative, in its way. On his return to Thrushcross Grange, where he has taken up his abode, Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, if she knows anything about the strange happenings and behaviour of the residents of Wuthering Heights. From here begins the story of Catherine and Heathcliff, as told by Nelly –

She takes Lockwood back some forty years, and tells of her being brought up at the Heights, the daughter of the then-housekeeper, where she was a favourite of the elder Mr. Earnshaw and a close friend of his son, Hindley. One fateful night, Mr Earnshaw returns from a trip to Liverpool, whence he brings back a dark, unknown boy, presumably an orphan whom he names ‘Heathcliff’ and proposes to raise as his own.

Through his quiet, uncomplaining nature, Heathcliff quickly establishes himself as a favourite of the old man, much to the annoyance of Hindley. Catherine, on the other hand, develops a close bond with the boy. As children, the brutish nature of Hindley is already evident, as is the headstrong, capricious nature of his sister. Heathcliff’s true nature, however, awaits revelation.

What is interesting here is the effect on Hindley, who realises that in his own house, he is subordinate to a foundling in his father’s eyes. Heathcliff knows he can get anything from the old man, and that gives him a power over Hindley. Hindley responds to this loss of power by resorting to physically beating Heathcliff whenever opportunity affords. The latter never actually complains about this to his benefactor, however, reserving his revenge for later.

The elder Earnshaw’s death is followed by the marriage of Hindley to Frances, a pretty but empty-headed girl from the city. Now in charge of Wuthering Heights and having power over Heathcliff, Hindley looks to exact revenge on Heathcliff for perceived slights. Reducing the boy to a common labourer, subjecting him to beatings and ensuring his utter degradation become Hindley’s tools for doing so. Heathcliff falls into a life of rustic drudgery and all-round decay. His association with his tormentor’s sister, however, continues as before. Catherine and Heathcliff are still close confidantes, friends and lovers – two against the world.

A significant event takes place while Catherine and Heathcliff are about fifteen – on a ramble across the moors, the twosome stray into Thrushcross Grange, where one of the Lintons’ dogs bites Catherine. On recognising Catherine as their neighbour’s daughter, the old Lintons invite her to stay with them until she recovers her health. This stay lasts a month, and Catherine makes her acquaintance with Edgar and Isabella Linton. The Lintons are a sharp contrast to the Earnshaws – they are exceedingly genteel, living in an atmosphere of luxury and elegance. The Earnshaws, no less rich, live in much harsher conditions, partly because of the location of the Heights at the high altitude and partly because they are more rugged by nature. Even physically the families are very different – where the Earnshaws and their household are dark-haired and strong, possessed of strong constitutions (a characteristic that extends to Heathcliff), the Lintons are blond-haired and delicate. The nobler, ‘superior’ Catherine quickly establishes herself in a position of dominance over the Lintons. The boy adores her, she fascinates the girl and the old couple dotes on her. It doesn’t take long for Catherine to realise that she has this ability to dominate people through the force of her beauty and will.

The Catherine who returns to the Heights is quite different from the wild gypsy-like creature who left it. Dressed in the finest clothes the Linton’s could give her, she now looks like quite the little lady and acts the part when she returns to her home – until she meets Heathcliff. Then the acquired elegance is forgotten and she flies to his arms even as he returns from a long tiring day at the fields, dirty and shoddy. Noble or rustic, for Catherine, he still remains in ascendance.

But the visit to the Linton’s is not forgotten. Hindley, recognising the advantages that association with the Lintons would bring, takes steps to further restrict the contact between his sister and his enemy Heathcliff, even as he encourages visits from the Linton family. Yet, the ties between Catherine and Heathcliff continue as strong as ever.

Several years pass. Catherine is now grown to a true beauty of a woman; Heathcliff to a near-savage farm labourer. Edgar Linton is now a close friend of Catherine’s and she finds herself torn between the handsome, gentle Edgar, the life of easy comfort that he epitomises - and the dark, rough, impoverished Heathcliff. The contrast between them, as Brontë describes it, as the contrast between a “beautiful, fertile valley” and a “bleak, hilly, coal country”. The death of Frances Earnshaw in childbirth leaves Hindley devastated. He becomes an alcoholic, violent in temper and dissolute in behaviour, even as Hareton, his son, grows up in constant fear of his father. It is here that Hindley, in fact, loses control over his son – Hareton hates his father, who gives him only beatings and abuses, and becomes closer to Heathcliff – this fact is significant as the story progresses. The power that Hindley exercises over his son through physical coercion is also much inferior to that which we later find Edgar Linton exercise over his daughter.

Matters come to a crisis when Edgar eventually proposes to, and is accepted by, Catherine. The subsequent conversation between Catherine and Nelly, which is overheard by Heathcliff, is the central passage of the book. Catherine, acutely aware that the man she has just accepted is not the one she considers her soul-mate, is racked with doubt as to whether she has done the right thing, and tries to convince herself, much more than Nelly, in this regard.
Nelly and Catherine (played by Merle Oberon in the 1939 movie)

"I love the ground under his feet,” says Catherine of Edgar, “and the air over his head, and everything he touches, and every word he says…so tell me Nelly, am I doing right?”

“Perfectly right,” says Nelly, “And now, let us hear what you are unhappy about. Your brother will be pleased, you will escape from a disorderly, comfortless home, into a wealthy, respectable one; and you love Edgar, and Edgar loves you. All seems smooth and easy: where is the obstacle?”

“Here, and here!” responds Catherine, striking her forehead and breast, “in whichever place the soul lives. In my soul and my heart, I am convinced I am wrong.”

The explanation follows swiftly as Catherine relates to Nelly a dream she had:

“…I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry they flung me out into the middle of the heath on top of Wuthering Heights where I woke up sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I do to be in heaven; and if my brother had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him, and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s and mine are as different as a moonbeam from lightening, or frost from fire…I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this life had been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and HE remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. My love for Linton is a little like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff. He’s always in my mind, not as a pleasure, any more than I am a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

In these words does the headstrong Catherine express her love for the man whose fate she has just sealed by promising to marry his rival, and brings out the searing intensity of their feelings for each other. It is a love beyond love, a feeling of belonging, of oneness that they share, an almost supernatural depth that will eventually consume both.

Heathcliff, unable to bear the insult of Catherine’s words that it would degrade her to marry him now, runs away from Wuthering Heights. A traumatised Catherine suffers a stroke and brain fever from which she makes a slow recovery. It is three years before she and Edgar get married, by which time the elder Lintons have succumbed to the ravages of time. Nelly moves with her mistress to Thrushcross Grange, hoping for a brighter, quieter future than the past has been. And this, indeed, seems to be the prospect. Edgar is a devoted husband, bending to his wife’s caprices, his sister dotes on her as well, “honeysuckles embracing the thorn”, as Nelly puts it. There is no bending from Catherine, who is as headstrong as ever, but her husband and his sister are so careful of her tempers and of ruffling her feathers, as it were, that life at the Grange settles into a form of domestic bliss. The domestic life of the Lintons is entirely subservient to the whims of the woman of the house. Catherine Linton is the queen in her domain, lording it over the gentle natures of her husband and sister-in-law. And just as absolute power can sometimes be generous, she lets them have their own way when the fancy takes her, and considers herself very magnanimous indeed for doing so.

There is a difference here between the power exercised by Heathcliff over Hindley while old Earnshaw was alive, that exercised by Hindley over Heathcliff after his death and that now exercised by Catherine over her husband’s family. The first was power emerging from influence – the influence that Heathcliff had over Hindley’s father. The second flowed from authority. Hindley was the master of the house; he fed and clothed Heathcliff, and the option before Heathcliff was to accept this authority or leave – with leaving Catherine not an option, Heathcliff was effectively in Hindley’s control. Here, however, the control is voluntary – Edgar allows Catherine to have her own way for the love he bears for her and the fear he has of crossing her.

This state of affairs does not last for long. Heathcliff makes his long-awaited (and feared) return, a quite different man from the one who had left – the plough-boy is now a wealthy gentleman. The text is deliberately silent on where and how he made his money and got his education – Emily Brontë presumably wanting readers to make their own judgement based on their own temperament.

The first meeting of Heathcliff in his new avatar, Catherine and Edgar Linton is described in great detail. On seeing her old playmate, Catherine reverts to her old self – it is as though the years and the layers of reserve have peeled away again. Nelly points out to Lockwood the marked difference between her new master and her old acquaintance – the effeminate, peevish Linton and the manly, solid Heathcliff. Catherine, dominant as always, persuades Edgar to accept Heathcliff as a friend. Heathcliff confides to Nelly later that he had not planned on staying long; being uncertain of the reception he would receive from Catherine. The effusiveness, the excitement, the emotion of her reception to him convinces him that the love she once felt for him is far from dead; his own burns as strongly as ever. Finding Hindley has dissolutely gambled away most of his inheritance, Heathcliff installs himself as a tenant of his old tormentor at Wuthering Heights and cunningly plots his landlord’s downfall, taking advantage of his gambling habit. A new side of Heathcliff is also revealed here – his avarice, as he moves towards taking over the home where he was once brought as a waif.

Before long, Heathcliff is a more and more familiar visitor at the Grange, and he and Catherine resume their former relations as nearly as they can. The long walks on the moors are resumed, in spite of Edgar’s resentment. To Heathcliff, this is a triumph over his hated rival. To Catherine, this is a vindication of her earlier stand that he should never have left. She does not believe she loves Edgar any less for loving Heathcliff more. But then her feelings for Heathcliff are not love as we understand it – it is something well beyond that.

In his new position, Heathcliff is not Catherine’s greatest comfort, but rather her greatest torment. His presence reproaches her every moment with that she could have had. His constant accusations to her of not loving him, of tormenting him drive her near the edge mentally even as her pregnancy weakens her physically.

A complication arises when Isabella Linton falls in love with Heathcliff, much to the despair of Edgar and Nelly. A misguided affection, a childish infatuation with that which she cannot comprehend, Isabella, who commonly accompanies her sister-in-law and Heathcliff on their rambles, believes herself well and truly in love with her brother’s enemy. There is an essential difference between her feelings for him and Catherine’s. Whereas Isabella is in love with an idea of Heathcliff, of a ‘black knight’, as it were, Catherine has no such illusions. Where Isabella builds up an idealized image of a person who does not exist, Catherine plaintively and honestly says,

“Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation: an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. It is a deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath that stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond, a pearl-containing diamond of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man. He’d crush you like a sparrow’s egg, Isabella, if he found you a troublesome charge. I know he couldn’t love a Linton; and yet he’d be quite capable of marrying your fortune and your expectations.”
Rosalind Halsted as Isabella Linton from the 2009 TV adaptation

Tragically for her, Isabella Linton disregards this advice from the person who knows Heathcliff best; they elope some weeks later.

But before that, takes place the big confrontation between Edgar and Heathcliff that precipitates Catherine’s decline. Edgar, returning from a Church service, finds his wife and his bété noire engaged in a heated argument about Isabella. Already smarting under the accumulated insults of his situation, the enraged husband tries foolishly to evict Heathcliff from his home permanently. The physical confrontation that ensues between the two leaves Edgar hurt, Heathcliff furious and Catherine a mental wreck. She suffers another stroke, followed by delirium and brain-fever. Edgar, crushed by his wife’s illness and sister’s desertion, becomes a recluse. He cuts off ties with his sister entirely and even Heathcliff desists from repeating his visits to the Grange.

It is worth observing here that Edgar is unable to assert his rightful authority as the master of his own home in the face of Heathcliff’s overwhelming physical superiority. Already he has ceded control in his relationship with his wife to her; and to her, there is no tinge of unfaithfulness in what she’s doing. It is worth recalling that there is no hint of a sexual relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine – the battle is always on the plane of the mind and heart. To Catherine, this is insignificant – it is Heathcliff who rules her heart and mind; she can identify with him, she feels what he feels, she hurts when he hurts, but her duties to Edgar as a wife are distinct from this. To her, there is place in her life for both Edgar and Heathcliff, but neither of the men in her life sees it that way. Heathcliff resents the loss of physical possession of Catherine, Edgar cannot bear his loss of Catherine’s spirit.

Letters from Isabella to Nelly reveal her quick disillusionment with her husband. His brutish nature shines in full force on her, and the witty, laughing girl is reduced to a depressive cynic who hopes that her husband’s hatred will eventually lead him to kill her, delivering her from a fate she believes worse than death. She describes domestic life at the Heights with Hindley, Hareton, the fanatical servant Joseph and of course, her husband. Hindley and Heathcliff are always at each other’s throat – the former constantly plotting ghastly revenges on the latter – plots he is never sober enough to undertake. The only thing standing between Heathcliff killing Hindley is Catherine – as long as she lives, Heathcliff knows he cannot harm her brother. Meanwhile the child Hareton is growing up without ever learning to read or write, doting on his father’s tormentor. The house is now a dark, dingy hell-hole, frequented by Hindley’s drunken companions by day and by the spectral Heathcliff at night.

Whatever love Isabella may have felt for her husband is crushed by him. 

“He’s not a human being,” says the unfortunate girl, and he has no claim in my charity. I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back at me. People feel with their hearts, and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.”

Catherine’s recovery is slow but she does, eventually, come to. Her condition is still delicate, and the doctor warns Edgar that they have only delayed the inevitable. Under Edgar’s care she does, however, return to consciousness, though her mind is still, as Nelly says, seemingly fixed on a point well beyond what she can see.”

Heathcliff, hearing of her recovery, insists on a meeting with her – his soul’s torment’ as he calls her. Through threats of forced entry, he coerces Nelly into facilitating a meeting – him Catherine recognises. The final meeting of the two is portrayed in a moving, often wild conversation, as they accuse each other of causing the other misery, all the while clasped in a tight embrace.

“I wish I could hold you,” says the dying woman, “till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffered! What care I for your sufferings? Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do! Will you forget me? Will you be happy when I am in the earth?”

“Don’t torture me till I am as mad as yourself!” is his only response.

Here it might be worthwhile to try and examine the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. There is something unnatural about their feelings for each other – it reaches the point of obsession in him, to her he is a need as fundamental to her as breathing. Where and when who has the greater power in their relationship is difficult to say. Certainly Catherine seems dominant – she gets her own way most of the time. Without her restraining influence, Heathcliff’s savage nature would have, no doubt, expressed itself in a much more violent way on his enemies. He has a power over her too – the power to make her feel guilty and miserable through constant reproaches and accusations, which eventually lead her to her death, but Catherine’s power is more ‘absolute’ – she gets what she wants by commanding it, the tragedy is that she rarely knows what she really wants. He ends up exercising his power to destroy the one thing he loves most. In their complex relationship, power equations shift like the shifting tides; and the force of their love, like a force of nature, takes with it not just their own destinies, but those of all who associate with them – Edgar, Isabella, Hindley and their children.

The arrival of Edgar at this tryst results in their sudden parting – Catherine faints, never to rise again, Heathcliff flees the scene. That night, the elder Catherine dies in childbirth, leaving her husband devastated and her lover desperate. She leaves behind the prematurely-born Cathy Linton, a forgotten child, her birth as tragic as that of her cousin Hareton’s.

The same night, Isabella takes the opportunity to escape her torture, stopping at the Grange on the way, telling Nelly of her intention to go to a place where her husband can never find her, which she does, raising their son on her own, without ever telling him who his father is or that he even has one.

Edgar’s reaction to his wife’s death contrasts sharply with that of Hindley Earnshaw’s. Where the one plumbs the depths of despair, taking to drink, neglecting his estate and his son, the other raises his daughter in memory of her mother, as doting and loving a parent as child could ever wish for. Hindley dies soon, possibly murdered by Heathcliff, mourned by none but Nelly Dean. Edgar lives on, though he confesses that he would be much happier interred with his beloved wife. Cathy grows up a pampered child, beautiful like her aunt, but with her mother’s fascinating eyes, accustomed to having the world bend to her will, though she is far more sweet-tempered than her mother. The tranquillity of her existence is broken one evening when, out on a ride, she trespasses into the land belonging to Heathcliff, who is now the owner of Wuthering Heights. There she and Nelly encounter Hareton Earnshaw (Heathcliff is away on business) who, to Nelly’s great anguish, has been made by Heathcliff what Hareton’s father had made him – a handsome but uncouth, rustic boor, unaware of his own lineage, rights or place in society. Ironically, Hareton, who has the most right to feel wronged by Heathcliff, dotes on him. The meeting jars on Cathy’s consciousness – the realisation that this boor is her cousin is treated by her with disbelief; it is the first notice she has of the roughness that she will have to endure.

The death of Isabella Heathcliff when Cathy is about thirteen results in Edgar bringing her son Linton to the Grange, but Heathcliff claims him as his own property, and Linton is sent to Wuthering Heights. There is little of Heathcliff in Linton physically – Nelly describes him as a puny weakling, lacking his father’s strength or his mother’s wit and spirit, though he has his uncle’s elegance. But in his mean, vindictive nature is a pale reflection of his father’s diabolical menace.
Cathy reads Linton's letters

A few years pass in peace until Cathy once again passes by the Heights. This time she meets Linton and is instantly attracted to him. Heathcliff senses in this an opportunity to avenge himself completely on his own enemy Edgar, and encourages this romance. Nelly and Edgar’s efforts to thwart the budding affair prove to no avail as the children fall into a violent infatuation. Edgar Linton’s health begins to fail, much to Heathcliff’s pleasure. But so does Linton Heathcliff’s – and this is a source of worry to his father. Not because Heathcliff bears any love for his son – he scorns him – but because he cannot bear that Linton should die before a marriage takes place between him and Cathy. Finally he resorts to kidnapping the girl and forcing her into a marriage even as her father lies on his deathbed. Her protestations that she would marry Linton of her own accord, if only she could be allowed to see her father one last time are ignored by the brute, as he and his son conspire to keep her incarcerated at Wuthering Heights. Cathy loves her father – he is the leading light of her life to the end, and perhaps that is the only comfort Edgar Linton carries with him when he eventually dies in his daughter’s arms.

The only tinge of regret that Heathcliff has in this whole business is borne out in his words to Nelly on seeing Hareton’s brutishness – a condition he himself has consciously engendered, “One is gold put to the use of paving-stones and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. MINE has noting valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. HIS (Hindley’s) had first rate qualities, and they are lost: rendered worse than unavailing. And the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me!”

The end is swift and despairing for Edgar Linton, as he realises his rival’s final triumph over him. His nephew follows him a few months later, leaving Heathcliff sole master of the Heights and the Grange, his triumph over both his enemies – Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton complete – the property of both in his hands, the son of the one reduced to a labourer in the house where he should have been master, and the daughter of the other treated like a house-servant in the house where she is, by rights, the mistress.

Nelly Dean’s narrative ends here. Lockwood makes a final visit to his landlord before leaving, where Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy have a physical altercation over her scorn of him and his mean treatment of her. Almost afraid to fall in love with a woman with such a past, Lockwood determines to leave the county.

Lockwood’s return a year later brings to a close the story of Wuthering Heights. He finds Heathcliff dead, Cathy mistress of the estate, Hareton her fiancé and Nelly re-installed as the housekeeper at the heights.

Nelly’s description of Heathcliff’s final days is a revelation in itself. It is as though he has finally seen the ghost of his long-dead love. He sees her phantom everywhere. He starts going alone on rambles across the moors, across the well-trodden paths that he and she had taken together in happier days. His conversation too, seems directed at some unknown spirit – he shuns company ever more than before. Hareton, a living image of his aunt, is unbearable for him to look at, Cathy, thought but a little like her mother in appearance, is still a shadow of her. “Those two are the only objects which retain a distinct material appearance to me,” Heathcliff says of them, and that appearance causes me pain, amounting to agony. About HER I won’t speak; and I don’t desire to think; but I earnestly wish she were invisible: her presence invokes only maddening sensations. HE moves me differently: and yet if I could do it without seeming insane, I’d never see him again! In the first place, his startling likeness to Catherine connected him fearfully with her. O God! It is a long fight. I wish it were over!”

It does get over soon enough - the end comes suddenly, with Nelly finding him dead in the little garret where he and Catherine had played together as children and where Lockwood had first seen her apparition. Even as a spirit, Catherine’s power over Heathcliff is absolute – the apparition of his idée fixée leads him on to his death. Perhaps she calls him to her. Hareton and Nelly are the only mourners at the funeral. The courtship of Hareton and Cathy, which begins some time before Heathcliff’s death, blooms into a happy relationship.

It is interesting that even after they are betrothed, Cathy is never able to turn Hareton against Heathcliff. No stories of his wickedness, of how he as wronged both her and him can convince Hareton that his idol was false. This relationship is perhaps the most incomprehensible – the deep love that Hareton bears for the man who has deprived him of land and lordship and possibly killed his father. The power Heathcliff exercises over the son of his old enemy is that of a cunning manipulator over an innocent victim. Yet, for all Heathcliff’s exultation, he bears a grudging affection for Hareton, seeing in him a personification of himself when under Hindley’s power, an affection that he never bears for his own son. Heathcliff’s power over his own son is almost purely that of a physically stronger man over a weaker. Filial ties are non-existent between the two. Hareton, on the other hand, willingly subjects himself to Heathcliff, and through his own obvious qualities gains a place in the affections not just of Heathcliff but also Nelly and of course, eventually Cathy. Linton never earns anyone’s affection – scorned by his father and Hareton – but Cathy’s, and even that, Heathcliff avers, would not have survived long if Linton had not died before he showed his wife his true nature.
Cathy and Hareton

As Lockwood leaves Wuthering Heights, Nelly tells him of how the country folks insist that Heathcliff’s ghost still lingers – Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen the two of them (when he was) looking out of his chamber window, every day since his death; and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange one evening, and I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly. ‘There’s Heathcliff, and a woman, yonder, and I dare not pass them!’ he said!”

Lockwood makes his was back to Thrushcross Grange to spend one last night before he moves on in his travels. As he passes by the Churchyard, he stops to look over the graves of the three people whose history he is now so well acquainted with. They lie side by side, together in death as they were in life - Catherine’s in the middle, grey, covered by heath, Edgar’s only harmonised by the turf, Heathcliff’s still bare.

“I lingered around them, under that benign sky, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for sleepers in that quiet earth.”

Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon

 After reading all that, if you’re still up to buying it, this is where you do it.