Monday, June 10, 2013


The heroines of Charlotte Bronte's other books made no such impression upon her public as Jane Eyre, but perhaps one heroine of the first rank is enough for one author; so many authors have in­vented no memorable heroine at all. Jane Eyre was an epochal book, assembling in itself the elements of that electrical disturbance which had been gathering in the minds of women for a generation, and discharg­ing them in a type, a character, which expressed their discontent with their helplessness, their protest against their conditions, their longing for equality with men, as from time to time some real or imaginary personality will. It is extremely interesting, viewed in this light, and if it expressed the weakness that is always seeking to be at rest in strength, or to be changed directly or in­directly into strength, then the fact has its own pathos, which every true man must respect.
Rochester is such a man as most women, or most girls, would like to be when they Oh to be men. They would like to be rough if they cannot be strong on other terms; they would even be wicked if they must, and would willingly suffer for their wickedness if only so they could be strong. But failing all this, they would at least like to be the sort of woman or sort of girl who is indispensable and vitally essential to strength, as Jane Eyre is in her relation to Rochester. The pity is that they should not see that Jane is really strong, and Rochester is really weak; but Jane does not see this herself, and it is doubtful whether her author saw it. What she and her lonely sisters worshipped in the dreary vicarage at Haworth was manly strength; but from the father and brother, who were the only men they knew, they could not imagine this apart from willfulness and caprice and error; and so they gave us Rochester in Jane Eyre, and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, with women to suffer for them, and to illustrate or in­spire their power. Charlotte Bronte created the im­passioned heroine, as I have called Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte created the lawless heroine, like the two Catharines; but all their heroines measurably shared in the fascination which brutality, the false image of strength, seems to have for weakness. In these charac­ters they changed the ideal of fiction for many a long day, and established the bullied heroine in a supremacy which she held till the sinuous heroine began softly but effectually to displace her.
The heroines of Emily Bronte have not the artistic completeness of Charlotte Bronte's. They are blocked out with hysterical force, and in their character there is something elemental, as if, like the man who beat and browbeat them, they too were close to the savagery of nature. The sort of supernaturalism which appears here and there in their story wants the refinement of the telepathy and presentiment which play a part in Jane Eyre, but it is still more effectual in the ruder clutch which it lays upon the fancy.
In her dealing with the wild passion of Heathcliff for the first Catharine, Emily Bronte does not keep even such slight terms with convention as Charlotte does in the love of Rochester and Jane Eyre; but this fierce longing, stated as it were in its own language, is still farther from anything that corrupts or tempts; it is as wholesome and decent as a thunder-storm, in the con­sciousness of the witness. The perversities of the mutual attraction of the lovers are rendered without apparent sense on the part of the author that they can seem out of nature, so deeply does she feel them to be in nature, and there is no hint from her that they need any sort of proof. It is vouchsafed us to know that Heathcliff is a foundling of unknown origin, early fixed in his hereditary evils by the cruelty of Hindley Earnshaw, whose father has adopted him; but it is not explained why he should have his malign power upon Catharine. Perhaps it is enough that she is shown a willful, impet­uous, undisciplined girl, whose pity has been moved for the outcast before her fancy is taken. After that we are told what happens and are left to account for it as we maj7.
We are very badly told, in terms of autobiography thrice involved. First, we have the narrative of Heath-cliff's tenant, then within his the narrative of the ten­ant's housekeeper, as she explains the situation she has witnessed at Heathcliff's house, and then within hers the several narratives of the actors in the tragedy. Seldom has a great romance been worse contrived, both as to generals and particulars, but the essentials are all there, and the book has a tremendous vitality. If it were of the fashion of any other book, it might have passed away, but it is of its own fashion solely, and it endures like a piece of the country in which its scenes are laid, enveloped in a lurid light and tempestuous at­mosphere of its own. Its people are all of extreme types, and yet they do not seem unreal, like the extravagant creations of Dickens's fancy; they have an intense and convincing reality, the weak ones, such as Heathcliff's wife and son, equally with the powerful, such as Heath-cliff himself and the Catharines, mother and daughter.
A weird malevolence broods over the gloomy drama, and through all plays a force truly demoniacal, with scarcely the relief of a moment's kindliness. The facts are simply conceived and stated without shadow of apology or extenuation; and the imagination from which they sprang cannot adequately be called morbid, for it deals with the brute motives employed without a taint of sickly subjectiveness. The author remains throughout superior to her material; her creations have all a distinct projection, and in this Emily Bronte shows herself a greater talent than Charlotte, who is never quite detached from her heroine, but is always trammeled in sympathy with Jane Eyre, with whom she is united by ties of a like vocation and experience, as governess. You feel that she is present in all Jane's sufferings, small and great, if not in her raptures; but Emily Bronte keeps as sternly aloof from both her Cath­arines as from Heathcliff himself. She bequeathed the world at her early death a single book of as singular power as any in fiction; and proved herself, in spite of its defective technique, a great artist, of as realistic mo­tive and ideal as any who have followed her.
It is not easy to gather up the thread of the story from the several narratives within narratives and find one's way by the tangled clew to the close. But after Earnshaw brings home from Liverpool the gypsy found­ling whom his son hates and misuses he dies, and as this son sinks more and more into drunkenness, it is natural and fated that his willful sister Catharine should pity the dark, silent boy, who repays her pity with all the passion of his turbulent heart. When they are no longer girl and boy, and it is a question of her loving Heathcliff, she marries if she does not love Edgar Linton, of her own rank and kind, and Heathcliff, returning from years of self-exile, marries Isabella Linton, against her brother's will and without the pretense of love. His brute force fascinates the slight, romantic coquette, and she dies of his cruelty, leaving a .son in whose feeble soul her folly centers, with an infusion of the father's malevolence.
Catharine dies, and her daughter Cath­arine inherits her waywardness without her powerful will, which could bend even Heathcliff’s. He, by his ruthless cleverness, comes to dominate Hindley Earnshaw through Earnshaw's besetting sin, and gathers the estate into his own control, pushing aside the heir, Hareton Earnshaw, whom he has imbruted, as Hareton's father imbruted him in his time, and kept ignorant as a peasant and even more savage. After Catharine's death he schemes to marry her daughter to his son, and so come into the Linton property as well. In spite of Edgar Linton, the broken and dying father, he suc­ceeds in enticing the girl to his house again and again, and he does finally effect the union of the children, while they are yet scarcely more than children. His son dies, and then Cathy lives with Heathcliff, a terrorized tor­ment, till Heathcliff dies too, hated as he has been by all except the hapless Hareton Earnshaw, whom he has abused and defrauded, but who truly laments him. The reader is left to forecast a marriage between Hare­ton and Cathy, whom he has always loved, but who has outrageously mocked and insulted him.
Within this outline the author makes it not only possible but imperative for the reader to believe that in rural England of the mid-century savageries were of occurrence among people of not ungentle condition, and atrocious wrongs were perpetrated, such as would be incredible without her compelling magic, though things like them are well enough known to science.
Throughout there is a dumb ache in the witness for help against Heathcliff, whose infernal will fulfills itself in spite of everything, and whose cunning entrenches him so safely that he does not defy so much as boldly ignore the laws under which other men live. Once or twice he is in danger of them, but chance as well as his own hardihood and subtlety befriend him; and when he dies successful in all his purposes, and domi­nant over all those he has put under him, a thrill of perverse sympathy with him softens the reader's heart. Heathcliff is a great creation, but the women of the story are imagined with truth as great, and to hardly less tremendous effect. I am not sure indeed that the effect in the case of the first Catharine is less tremendous at all times, or at least I should be puzzled to match with any scene in which he rules certain passages where she is the chief figure. The reader will perhaps have in mind, as I have, their meeting when Catharine has been sick wellnigh to death from the quarrel between Heathcliff and her husband, and Heathcliff, always lurking about Linton's house, makes his forbidden entrance, and finds his way to her room. It is Mrs. Dean, the housekeeper, who tells the tale in this part.
"He did not hit the right door directly; she motioned to me to admit him, but he found it ere I could reach the door, and in a stride or two he was at her side, and had grasped her in his arms. He neither spoke nor loosed his hold for some five minutes, during which period he bestowed more kisses than ever he gave in his life before, I dare say: but then my mistress had kissed him first, and I plainly saw that he could hardly bear, for downright agony, to look in her face. . . . ' Oh, Cathy! Oh, my life! How can I bear it?' was the first sentence he uttered, in a tone that did not seek to dis­guise his despair. . . . 'What now?' said Catha­rine, leaning back and returning his look with a suddenly clouded brow: her humor was a mere vane for constantly varying caprices. 'You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff. And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied 1 I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me, and thriven on it, I think. How strong you arel How many years do you mean to live after I am gone?' Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to support her; he at­tempted to rise, but she seized his hair and kept him down. 'I wish 1 could hold you,' she bitterly con­tinued, ' till we were both dead. I shouldn't care what you suffered. I care nothing for your sufferings. Why shouldn't you suffer? I do! Will you forget me? Will you be happy when I am in the earth? Will you say, twenty years hence, "That's the grave of Catharine Earnshaw. I loved her long ago, and was wretched to lose her, but that's past. I've loved many others since: my children are dearer to me than she was; and at death I shall not rejoice that I am going to her: I shall be sorry that I must leave them." Will you say that, Heathcliff?' 'Don't torture me till I'm as mad as yourself,' cried he, wrenching his head free and grinding his teeth. . . . While raising himself with one hand, he had taken her arm with the other; and so inadequate was his stock of gentleness to the re­quirements of her condition, that on his letting go I saw four distinct impressions left blue in the colorless skin. 'Are you possessed with a devil?' he pursued savagely, ' to talk in that manner to me when you are dying? You know you lie when you say that I have killed you ; and, Catharine, you know that I could as soon forget you as my own existence! Is it not suf­ficient for your infernal selfishness that while you are at peace I shall writhe in the torments of hell?' ' I shall not be at peace/ moaned Catharine, recalled to a sense of physical weakness by the violent, unequal throbbing of her heart, which beat visibly and audibly under this excess of agitation. She said nothing farther till the paroxysm was over; then she continued more kindly— 'I'm not wishing you greater torment than I have, Heathcliff. I only wish us never to be parted. . . . Won't you come here again? Do!' Heathcliff went back to her chair and leant over her, but not so far as to let her see his face, which was livid with emotion. She bent round to look at him: he would not permit it: turning abruptly, he walked to the fireplace, where he stood silent with his back towards us. . . . In her eagerness she rose, and supported herself on the arm of her chair. At that earnest appeal he turned to her. . . . An instant they held asunder; and then how they met I hardly knew, but Catharine made a spring and he caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive. . . . She put up her hand to clasp his neck, and bring his cheek to her own. . . . 'You teach me now how cruel you have been—cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me and cry; and wring out my tears and kisses: they'll blight you, they'll damn you. You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me —for the poor fancy you felt for Linton?' . . . 'Let me alone. Let me alone,' sobbed Catharine. ' If I've done wrong, I'm dying for it. It is enough. You left me too, but I won't upbraid you. I forgive you; forgive me!' 'It is hard to for­give, and look at those eyes, and feel these wasted hands,' he answered. ' Kiss me again, and don't let me see your eyes! I can forgive you for what you've done to me. I love my murderer—but yours! How can I?' They were silent—their faces hid against each other, and washed by each other's tears. ' Service is over,' I an­nounced. 'My master will be here in half an hour.' Heathcliff groaned a curse, and strained Catharine closer: she never stirred. . . . 'Now he is here,' I exclaimed. 'For heaven's sake hurry down. You'll not meet any one at the front stairs.' ' I must go, Cathy,' said Heathcliff, seeking to extricate himself from his companion's arms. . . . 'You must not go!' she answered, holding him as firmly as her strength al­lowed. 'You shall not, I tell you.' He would have risen, and unfixed her fingers by the act; she clung fast, gasping. 'No!' she shrieked. 'Oh, don't, don't go! It is the last time! Edgar will not hurt us. Heath­cliff, I shall die! I shall die!' ' Damn the fool! There he is!' cried Heathcliff, sinking back into his seat. 'Hush, my darling! Hush, hush, Catharine! I'll stay. If he shot me so, I'd expire with a blessing on my lips.' . . . Edgar sprang to his unbidden guest, blanched with astonishment and rage. What he meant to do I cannot tell; however, the other stopped all dem­onstrations at once by placing the lifeless form in his arms. 'Look there!' he said; 'unless you be a fiend, help her first—then you shall speak to me.'"
It might be thought that Catharine Linton was suf­ficiently involved in her ungoverned impulses; but her daughter Catharine is of a still more labyrinthine law­lessness. She has her father's violent temperament, as well as his complexion; her malice, if qualities can be assigned a tint, is peculiarly blond, while her mother's fury was brunette. She lends herself to Heathcliff's purposes by her disobedience to her father, and first puts herself in his power by a romantic fancy for his weakling son, whom she only despises when Heath-cliff has forced their marriage, and her husband will­ingly and even gladly abandons her to his father's barbarity. She effectively lives Heathcliff's prisoner till he dies, but she never yields in spirit to him, though quelled by blows into a literal submission; and from time to time she breaks out into reckless taunts and de­fiances. It is an exposition of woman's nature un­paralleled in some traits. She has been delicately bred in her father's house, and educated, if not disciplined; she would be expected to have the instincts of a class; but she seems not to feel the insult of Heathcliff's blows so much as to dread the mere pain; and you cannot help believing these are the facts of the case. You know it to be also true that he never relents to her out of tenderness for her mother's memory; and that in the mere wantonness of her power she is quite capable of lacerating the proud, ignorant soul of the only man who could have protected her against his ferocity. Sure­ly that side of a girl's nature was never so unsparingly studied as in the love-making between Hareton and Catharine, who first rouses all the wild beast in him by laughing at his crude attempts to learn from her teach­ing, and then tames it to her will by the arts which her growing fancy for him inspires.
"Earnshaw sat, morose as usual, at the chimney corner, and my little mistress was beguiling an idle hour with drawing pictures on the window-panes, vary­ing her amusement by smothered bursts of songs, and whispered ejaculations, and quick looks of annoyance and impatience in the direction of her cousin, who stead­fastly smoked and looked into the grate. . . . Pres­ently I heard her begin, ' I've found out, Hareton, that I want—that I'm glad—that I should like you to be my cousin now, if you had not grown so cross to me and so rough.' Hareton returned no answer… 'Let me take that pipe,” she said, cautiously advancing her hand and abstracting it from his mouth. Before he could attempt to recover it, it was broken and behind the fire. He swore at her and seized another. 'Stop,’ she cried; ‘you must listen to me first, and I can't speak while those clouds are floating in my face.' 'Will you go to the devil!' he exclaimed, ferociously, 'and let me be!' 'No,' she persisted, 'I won't. Come, you shall take notice of me, Hareton: you are my cousin, and you
shall own me.' 'I shall have nothing to do with you and your mucky pride, and your damned mocking tricks. Side o' t' gate, now, this minute!' Catharine frowned, and retreated to the window-seat, chewing her lip, and endeavoring, by humming an eccentric tune, to conceal a growing tendency to sob. . . . 'You hate me, as much as Mr. Heathcliff does, and more.' ‘You're a damned liar,' began Earnshaw. 'Why have I made him angry, by taking your part, a hundred times? And that when you sneered at me and despised me, and—' 'I didn't know you took my part,' she an­swered, drying her eyes,' and I was miserable, and bitter at everybody; but now I thank you, and beg you to for­ give me: what can I do besides?' She returned to the hearth and frankly extended her hand. He blackened and scowled like a thunder-cloud, and kept his fists reso­lutely clinched, and his gaze fixed on the ground. Cath­arine, by instinct, must have divined that it was ob­durate perversity and not dislike that prompted this dogged conduct, for, after remaining an instant unde­cided, she stooped and impressed on his cheek a gentle kiss. Say you forgive me, Hareton, do. You can make me so happy by speaking that little word.' He muttered something inaudible. 'And you'll be my friend?' added Catharine, interrogatively. 'Nay, you'll be ashamed of me every day of your life,’ he an­swered, ' and the more ashamed the more you know me, and I cannot bide it.' 'So you won't be my friend?' she said, smiling as sweet as honey and creeping close up."
No one can deny the charm of this, the absolute real­ity, the consummate art, which is still art, however un­conscious. Did the dying girl who wrote the strange book, where it is only one of so many scenes of unfalter­ing truth, know how great it was, with all its defects? In any case criticism must recognize its mastery and rejoice in its courage.

Book: Heroines of Fiction

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