Inquiring Readers: This tongue in cheek review of Wuthering Heights, showing on PBS January 18th & 25th, has been written in the spirit of fun (and illumination!). In it Dr. Phyl, Oprey’s favorite tele-psychobabbler, analyzes Heathcliff and Cathy. My more serious analysis of Heathcliff (Review Two) sits on Remotely Connected, a PBS blogger site. Enjoy.
Dear Dr. Phyl,
Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have had a long and stormy relationship. After Cathy’s death, Heathcliff dealt badly with her loss, seeking revenge. One might say he handled himself in a most ungentlemanlike manner. Miss Emily Brontë, an interested bystander, wrote a book about this unique tale, which I am sending on to you. After you have read Wuthering Heights, would you mind answering a few questions? Wouldn’t you agree that loving someone too much is a bad thing? And aren’t women more prone to going crazy over a lost love than men? In other words, how realistic is this story?
Thanking you in advance, Ms. Place
Dear Ms. Place,
To answer your second point first, let me state categorically that in this day and age men have as much right to go crazy as women. Males might exhibit this character trait differently, but crazy is as crazy does.
In my long career as a tele-psychobabbler, I must say that I encounter an assortment of juvenile behaviors among my featured guests, but few possess even 1/10th of Heathcliff’s charged and emotionally unhealthy obsessions. He is as nuts as they come and I write these words with awe and respect. Seldom has a man with so many problems been able to keep up a normal façade for very long, and Heathcliff managed to fool enough people and hold them in his thrall until he could destroy them.
Let’s get my assessment of Cathy Linton née Earnshaw’s character out of the way. She was merely guilty of acting like a self-centered, spoiled, and willful brat. Tighter lacings and a rigid schedule pursuing ladylike endeavors would have tamed her unruly nature. Had I been her personal psychobabbler, I would have prescribed vigorous exercises in the form of housework and mucking horse stalls to tone down her narcissistic tendencies. That girl was seriously willful and needed to get an inner life. Unfortunately she died before self-actualization became possible.
As for Heathcliff, he suffers from a rare condition called Continuous Revenge Seeker Disorder, or CRSD. Every human suffering from this persistent unvegetative state has died tragically. A childhood trauma precipitates this disease, leaving all CRSD sufferers with an acute sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. Heathcliff’s traumas were manifold. He had to scrounge for a living on the street when he was a mere child. Then his stepbrother’s jealousy tainted his burgeoning relationship with Mr. Earnshaw, his protector. After that good man’s death, Heathcliff’s life at Wuthering Heights became a nightmare. He had gone from Gypsy child to cherished stepson to servant in the space of a few years and his fragile ego just couldn’t take this constant see-sawing of emotions. And then Cathy, his soulmate, goes all squirrelly on him and starts coming on to another man. Some people weep and give up; but Heathcliff vowed revenge and felt stronger as a result, a classic trait of the CRSD sufferer.
Cathy’s obsessively close relationship with Heathcliff sealed the CRSD deal. That poor motherless and loveless boy could no more fight off Cathy’s charms than a hog can resist a nice puddle of mud. It would have been better if he had hooked up with Tess of the D’urbervilles. Now there’s a woman whose miserable experiences and continual bad luck could have coaxed him out of his self-pity, but fate had Cathy in store for this man and that was his downfall. As for his relationship with Cathy, when people start saying things like “you torment me” to each other, that’s just not healthy! Normal couples don’t spend all their time stressing, testing, and obsessing. They keep their neediness to themselves! They GROW UP!
You didn’t mention the Linton siblings in your letter. These two mealy-mouthed milque toasties chose mates that were entirely wrong for them. Hadn’t anyone bothered to teach them the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship? One minute kind, next minute cruel. Gets jealous for no reason. And angry, sulky, or withdrawing. The Lintons began changing their own behavior to keep the peace, and Isabella went so far as to think that her love for Heathcliff would be strong enough to CHANGE him. Talk about unrealistic expectations! Well she got her comeuppance, so you can’t help but feel sorry for her, because for him she was just a means to revenge. What amazes me, Ms. Place, is that this book, which is about a dysfunctional relationship that destroys lives, has become a popular and enduring classic. Now how cockamamie is that? And my guess as to why people aren’t embracing my new book – Normal Thoughts for Ordinary People -with the same enthusiasm as for this over the top gothic drivel is as good as yours.
After Cathy married Edgar, Heathcliff ran off, got rich, and returned to torment Cathy by pretending to court Isabella. Right there that tells us that bats have entered Heathcliff’s belfry. The scene in which Ms. Brontë described Cathy dying in Heathcliff’s arms, with him clinging to her and growling at her and telling her things like “haunt me” and “I love my murderer” indicates that Heathcliff’s bats have turned rabid. Honestogod, were these folks for real or were they a figment of someone’s imagination?
I understand that a new production of Wuthering Heights is scheduled to be aired on PBS on January 18th and 25th. I’ll ask my staff to schedule Heathcliff for my show. Considering some of the loony bin guests I’ve had on recently, he will fit right in.
If you missed the first airing of Wuthering Heights, you can view past episodes at this link starting the 19th.