It’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home

This is probably something that’s been done to death, and I don’t have the heart to look it up, so I’ll just address it briefly my way. I’ve been thinking, as I always do, but perhaps slightly more articulately this time, about character names in Wuthering Heights. Specifically about the two Catherines. In brief:

Catherine Earnshaw loves both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. She marries Edgar Linton, becoming Mrs. Catherine Linton.

Catherine Linton dies in childbirth, and her baby is likewise named Catherine Linton—but this is, of course, her birth name rather than her married name.

As a teenager, Miss Catherine Linton marries Linton Heathcliff, the main Heathcliff’s son, becoming Mrs. Catherine Heathcliff.

It’s clear from Heathcliff’s reaction to his daughter-in-law that he can’t stand to be around her. Surely this has at least something to do with her eyes, which resemble those of her mother. It also likely has to do with the other traits she has inherited from her father, an odious person to Heathcliff, having effectively stolen away the love of his life. But I would conjecture that it’s also her identity in a much more basic sense—her very name. Nelly Dean notes that Mr. Linton, who always called the elder Catherine by her full name (while Heathcliff called her Cathy), calls the younger one Cathy instead. For Heathcliff, this would bring her even closer to her mother. But most importantly, the Catherine whom Heathcliff loved could never become a Heathcliff. Instead, another Catherine did so—the wrong Catherine, and the wrong Heathcliff! Her very name is a cruel tease against the master of the household. And yet it’s only through this circuitous and painful path that any Catherine could become a Heathcliff.

Meanwhile, after Linton’s death, Catherine begins to strike up a great friendship with Hareton, the last Earnshaw family member left. Ultimately, they will marry, and the Catherine name will come full circle (though not in time for older Heathcliff to witness it). The original Catherine Earnshaw left her family and family name under rushed and perhaps ill-advised circumstances. After years of dealing with the sins of the father, things are ready to restabilize as they were previously. The remaining Catherine will be a Catherine Earnshaw again—but only after she has passed through the crucible that is the Heathcliff family.

Does any of this do anything to erase Heathcliff’s original entry to the Earnshaw home? Years of pain and suffering are not to be forgotten, certainly, but it seems that many indications point to an undoing of years of injustice. As Joseph is so quick to celebrate, the old family is back in power, and if not precisely intact, certainly on the way to rebuilding.

3 comments to It’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home

  • One of my favorite novels of the period–it’s just so extreme and unlike anything else, certainly in England. I wanted just to put in a plug for the wonderful Tales From the Crypt-style comic adaptation by R. Sikyorak, which ends up being far truer to the material than most any film or tv adaptation ever has been. This site has the cover and a link to the download.
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  • I had not seen this, the circle of the names. Obvious now that you demonstrate it.

    I love how EB just bulldozes past the problem of Heathcliff’s single name.

  • AR—I know! What’s really funny is that sometimes it actually comes up, like with his headstone, and other times everyone just assumes that young Cathy is Mrs. Heathcliff. Okay then! And I may be feeling a bit too pleased with myself that you hadn’t noticed this, since I know this is one of your favorites!

    David—I’ll have to check that out. I’ve never seen a film or TV adaptation of this, but I was watching the (pretty crazy) Kate Bush music video the other day and thinking it would be fun to see how wild and Romantic they could make a movie (I assume they would fail here). Anyway, that’s why I like it too—extreme and unusual!