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Chs. 1 - 4: Narrative Present - narrated by LockwoodEdit
Narrative Frame Story: The first narrative voice we hear in the "narrative present" of the novel Wuthering Heights (hereafter abbreviated WH) is that of the character Lockwood. Lockwood is the new tenant of the estate called Thrushcross Grange, and goes to call upon his landlord Heathcliff, who lives at the nearby much ruder and wilder estate of Wuthering Heights. Lockwood is shocked and made ill, but also intrigued, by his visits to Wuthering Heights. Recovering back at Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood asks his housekeeper Nelly Dean [aka: Ellen Dean] to tell him the full "history" of Wuthering Heights and its strange inhabitants. Thus the narrative frame story introduces a plausible situation for Nelly Dean to tell the novel's main story, which takes place in the narrative past. The first chapters of Wuthering Heights also begin the exposition (i.e. introduction) of the novel's major settings, characters, plot conflicts & complications. Time frames of the novel's interlocking narratives (stories) will shift back and forth between the "narrative present" story (narrated/told by Lockwood) and the "narrative past" story (narrated/told by Nelly Dean to Lockwood).First Narrator (story teller) of narrative present events = Lockwood. Second (and Main) Narrator (story teller) of narrative past events = Nelly Dean (AKA: Ellen Dean), who was a first-hand witness and often participant in most of the narrative past events that she narrates to Lockwood (and to us, the readers of the novel Wuthering Heights). The character of participant-narrator Nelly [Ellen] Dean is especially important to analyze and understand. In creating and choosing this character to be the primary narrator of WH, Emily Bronte has set up a complex narrative structure. Many critics have asked and tried to answer why. One reason may be to make WH more believable and "realistic." Nelly Dean seems firmly rooted in common sense, every day normative "reality," and thus helps to "authenticate," or make more believable, the often wild, passionate, even fantastic story of WH. Yet Nelly Dean also complicates our understanding of the characters and actions of the story, because she was a participant in the past history she relates. Overall, she seems to be a fairly honest, straightforward and reliable narrator--but she is not altogether nor always an objective, disinterested observer. She has opinions and interests invested in the events and characters she presents to Lockwood--and to us, the readers. Keep in mind, then, that Nelly mediates the story--that is, we and Lockwood have access to the "history" only through her point of view, which is filtered and colored by Nelly's opinions and values. For example, it becomes clear after awhile that she does not like the protagonist Cathy Earnshaw. Consider, then, how Nelly's attitudes may affect and prejudice the way she represents the characters and their actions in the story--especially Nelly's representation of the original Cathy. Consider, too, that Nelly is not just a silent witness but sometimes an active participant with a hand in shaping the events of major scenes. It is, therefore, likely that Nelly is at least tempted at times to downplay her role or shift blame away from herself and on to others, in some of the events and climactic scenes in which Nelly played a part.
Chs. 5 - 7: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly DeanEdit
PLOT SUMMARY: Nelly Dean describes Heathcliff's mysterious origins and introduction to the Earnshaw household & estate Wuthering Heights. Family dynamics are characterized in terms of relationships to Heathcliff, who is Mr. Earnshaw’s favorite (why?). Formative events reveal the childhood characters and relationships among Heathcliff, Catherine, & Hindley. Hindley is sent away to college. Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley returns with wife, and Hindley abuses and degrades Heathcliff. Strong attachment between Catherine & Heathcliff develops: Catherine teaches Heathcliff his letters & they roam the moors as free spirits. Then comes their adventure and the fateful incident at Thrushcross Grange: Catherine mends, staying 5 weeks with Edgar and Isabella Linton. When Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights, she is changed.KEY SCENE: Ch. 7. Edgar and Isabella Linton visit Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff attempts to be presentable but Hindley banishes him to the garret. Catherine steals away to join Heathcliff--who vows revenge:"…I shall pay Hindley back" (Davis et al. 714; ch. 7). Note contrasts between Edgar Linton & Heathcliff—especially from Cathy’s point of view.
Chs. 8 - 10: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly Dean PLOT SUMMARY: Hareton Earnshaw is born, his mother (Frances) Mrs. Hindley Earnshaw dies, and his father Hindley grows ferocious and savage, especially toward Heathcliff. Then . . .KEY SCENES: Chs. 8 - 9. Catherine dresses for Edgar Linton’s visit; note further contrasts made between Edgar and Heathcliff. Nasty scene develops wherein Cathy slaps Nelly and Edgar, but Edgar doesn’t leave—he is "doomed" in Nelly’s view. Hindley enters drunk and abusive: he drops his son Hareton, but Heathcliff saves the child, ironically serving as "the instrument of thwarting his own revenge" (722) against the hated Hindley Earnshaw.Later in the kitchen, out of sight by the fire, Heathcliff overhears (part of) Catherine’s discussion with Nelly regarding Cathy’s accepting Edgar’s proposal of marriage. Catherine relates her "queer dream"—a parallel with traits of the Byronic hero/ine—her "joy" when angels fling her out of heaven. Heathcliff leaves when he overhears Cathy say it would degrade her to marry him, and does not stay to hear the rest of Cathy's telling exchange with Nelly. Cathy contrasts her love for Edgar and Heathcliff: "Nelly, I am Heathcliff" (726). She can’t abide the idea that they would ever really be separated. Heathcliff disappears into the stormy night. Cathy grieves uncontrollably, makes a mad scene and and experiences her first serious illness--Nelly observes, Catherine can’t "bear crossing much" (730).Return to Narrative Present: It grows late, Nelly breaks off her "narrative" and retires, while Lockwood lingers on to mediate for another hour or two. Lockwood complains about his situation, sick in bleak and bitter Yorkshire, treated with "draughts, blisters, and leeches," of mixed mind about his strange landlord Heathcliff, and wanting the diversion of having his housekeeper Nelly Dean "finish her tale" (WH 731; ch. 10). Narrative Function: Here Lockwood also conveniently provides a brief plot summary that reminds his auditors (us) where the story left off and poses dramatic questions to propel our interest in the next stage as Nelly continues her story (WH 731). Chs. 11 - 14: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly DeanPLOT SUMMARY: Catherine & Edgar enjoy marital happiness--until Heathcliff returns after 3 years' absence. Cathy is at first joyful at Heathcliff’s reappearance, but develops grave doubts about his transformation and intentions. Isabella Linton falls in love with Heathcliff, despite Catherine’s and Nelly’s warnings and assessment of his true character. Heathcliff pursues his revenge plot against Hindley, buying up Hindley's gambling debts. When Heathcliff learns of Isabella’s feelings for him, he hatches a second revenge plot.KEY SCENES: Chs. 11 - 12. Heathcliff accuses Cathy of treating him "infernally" and swears he won’t "suffer unrevenged" (743). Edgar forbids Heathcliff to come again to the ‘Grange. Note Catherine’s reaction to this 2nd separation from Heathcliff: she holds herself blameless, feels victimized by both Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s "ingratitude" (744), vows to "break their hearts by breaking my own" (745) and punish them by dying. Catherine fasts three days in her room. Nelly mistakes Catherine’s "true condition" (747) and remembers too late Cathy’s previous illness (748; caused also by the first sustained separation from Heathcliff, when he disappeared three years earlier). Cathy’s madness is dramatized: her bird and mirror hallucinations, her return to childhood self when Hindley had also tried to separate her from Heathcliff, "my all in all" (750). To this 12-year-old remembered Catherine, Mrs. Linton is "wife of a stranger; an exile and an outcast"/an "abyss" (750). Catherine foresees her own death, and speaks to Heathcliff through the window to her past self: "I won’t rest til you are with me. I never will!" (750). Edgar, learning of Catherine’s true condition, is enraged with Nelly Dean. Cathy, realizing very late that Nelly has been an enemy rather than a friend, calls Nelly "traitor" and "witch" (752).PLOT SUMMARY: Isabella elopes with Heathcliff; Edgar is resigned. Catherine, pregnant, sustains a long illness. Nelly learns that Isabella and Heathcliff have returned to Wuthering Heights via a long letter Isabella writes to Nelly. In it Isabella asks, "Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? . . . mad? . . . [or] a devil?" (756). Alarmed, Nelly pays a visit to Wuthering Heights, is more alarmed when she sees Isabella, and undergoes Heathcliff’s close questioning about Catherine’s illness. Heathcliff is in obvious inner torment, and he exacts from Nelly a promise to help him see Catherine. Chs. 15 - 17: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly DeanPLOT SUMMARY: Young Cathy is born, the child of Edgar and Catherine. Catherine dies; and Heathcliff’s reaction is savage, tormented. Nelly Dean twines locks of Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s hair and (re)places them in dead Catherine’s locket before she is buried (773). A storm breaks the next day. Hindley and Isabella’s murder attempt on Heathcliff’s life fails. Isabella escapes Wuthering Heights, goes south (to London), and bears their son Linton Heathcliff. Hindley dies 6 months after his sister Catherine dies. Heathcliff is now the outright legal master of Wuthering Heights, and he extends his revenge plot against the next generation. To Hindley’s son Hareton, Heathcliff says: "Now . . . you are mine!….we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, given the same wind to twist it!" (783).KEY SCENE: Ch. 15: Heathcliff’s last meeting with Catherine alive: "Oh, Cathy! Oh, my life! how can I bear it? . . .". Catherine responds: " . . . You and Edgar have both broken my heart, Heathcliff! . . ." Heathcliff: " . . . Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do! . . . " (768). Catherine: ". . . I shall not be at peace. . ." (768). Heathcliff: ". . . Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? . . . " (769). & etc. Edgar comes, but Cathy won’t let loose her grasp on Heathcliff. She faints. Chs. 18 - 25: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly DeanPLOT SUMMARY: Twelve years pass. Young Cathy’s character is introduced. She begins to long to visit Penistone Crags, which she can see from her nursery windows at Thrushcross Grange, and she gets her chance to escape when her father Edgar goes to London to attend his dying sister Isabella. While he is away, young Cathy visits Wuthering Heights. She encounters her cousin Hareton Earnshaw and they wound each other’s pride. Edgar returns with his nephew Linton Heathcliff, but Heathcliff comes to claim his son, "my property" (794). Heathcliff now pursues his revenge plot against Edgar Linton. Wanting his son Linton Heathcliff to become Lord of Thrushcross Grange (795), Heathcliff plots to get young Cathy to marry his son Linton. Meanwhile, Linton Heathcliff’s abusive treatment of his cousin Hareton Earnshaw is depicted. Direct and inverted parallels suggest themselves between the first and second generations of the Earnshaw-Linton-Heathcliff characters. Edgar tries to warn his daughter Cathy of Heathcliff’s true character, but she still wants to get to know her cousin Linton Heathcliff better. Their secret "love" correspondence is stopped, but when her chaperon Nelly Dean become ill, young Cathy manages to visit her cousin Linton at Wuthering Heights. Nelly tells on Cathy, and her father Edgar forbids further visits.Ch. 25: Return to Narrative Present. "These things happened last winter," Nelly tells Lockwood (820). Lockwood vows to leave the district for "the busy world" beyond, though he is a bit attracted to young Cathy Linton. Chs. 26 - 31: Narrative Past - narrated by Nelly Dean PLOT SUMMARY: Edgar Linton relents and allows his daughter young Cathy to resume her correspondence with Linton Heathcliff (son of his sister Isabella and Heathcliff). Linton's affectionate letters to Cathy are dictated by Heathcliff and motivated by Heathcliff's threats. Both Edgar Linton and Linton Heathcliff are deathly ill, though Heathcliff keeps his son Linton’s deteriorating health a secret. Cathy rides to meet her cousin Linton on the heath and she doubts his professions of feeling, but Heathcliff succeeds in luring Cathy and Nelly Dean back to Wuthering Heights, and takes them prisoner. Heathcliff’s final revenge plot against Edgar Linton nears fruition, when he forces young Cathy to marry Linton Heathcliff. Cathy is kept prisoner at Wuthering Heights and is anguished at being kept from her dying father Edgar Linton. Nelly Dean is released, and Cathy escapes and manages to see her father Edgar before he dies. Edgar is unable to change his will in time, for his lawyer has been bought off by Heathcliff. Edgar dies, and Cathy, now married to Linton Heathcliff, is ordered to return to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff reveals to Nelly Dean that he has unearthed Catherine’s corpse from her grave, seen her face, and is "pacified—a little" (838). Heathcliff takes Catherine’s portrait from Thrushcross Grange and makes Nelly stay at the Grange.Nelly, our primary narrator, now must rely upon the reports of Zillah, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, for news of young Cathy’s life. Nelly calls Zillah "a narrow-minded, selfish woman" because Zillah dislikes young Cathy (839)—an ironic parallel to Nelly's own attitude toward the original Cathy. Linton dies: "He’s safe and I’m free," young Cathy proclaims (840). Yet Heathcliff’s second revenge plot seems to be fulfilled: he is now master of Thrushcross Grange, and young Cathy, "destitute of cash and friends" (840), is his dependent. Zillah tries to help Hareton smarten up (note parallels to Nelly’s relationship to young Heathcliff in earlier years), but young Cathy scorns her cousin Hareton . . . at first.Ch. 30-31: Return to Narrative Present: "Thus ended Mrs. Dean’s story" (842). Lockwood, recovered, plans to quit the Grange and return to London, and he visits his landlord Heathcliff to tell his plans. Chs. 32 34: Narrative Present & Immediate Past & Ch. 34: Narrative Present & Conclusion - narrated by Lockwood.PLOT SUMMARY: Some time has passed. Lockwood returns to Yorkshire and finds Nelly Dean at Wuthering Heights. Young Cathy and Hareton are in love (Cathy has been teaching Hareton to read & the two have taken to wandering the moors, paralleling the original Cathy and Heathcliff in their youth). And Heathcliff is dead.Nelly provides Lockwood with the "sequel of Heathcliff’s history" (849).Heathcliff’s reaction to the growing intimacy between Cathy Heathcliff and Hareton Earnshaw: an "absurd termination to my violent exertions" (856)—i.e. an ironic conclusion to his revenge plots. Heathcliff is disarmed by young Cathy’s "resemblance" to the original Catherine, and sees her eyes in both young Cathy and Hareton. He also sees in Hareton "a personification of my youth" (857). Heathcliff: "I am surrounded by her image" (857), and he foretells a strange "change," the attainment of his "single wish" is at hand. Nelly relates Heathcliff’s strange behavior, his talk of his will and burial wishes. Heathcliff is haunted: "Well, there is one who won’t shrink from my company! By God! she is relentless" (862-863). Nelly finds Heathcliff dead in his bed. Joseph gives thanks that the "lawful master and the ancient stock were restored to their rights" (863). Hareton grieves for Heathcliff’s death. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine in the churchyard, to the scandal of the neighborhood. Country folk swear that the ghosts of Heathcliff and "a woman" walk. Hareton and Cathy are to marry on New Year’s Day and will then move to Thrushcross Grange.Lockwood visits the graves of Edgar, Catherine, and Heathcliff. In the closing lines, Lockwood "wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth" (864).