Ellen Dean, some may say, was the glue that held Catherine and Heathcliff together in Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler. But, is she all that she (Flora Robson on screen) is made out to be? Sometimes she did good things for the two star-crossed lovers, sometimes bad; and sometimes it seems one or the other all to her advantage.
Ellen, commonly known as Nelly, was housekeeper to Catherine (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Oliver) as they grew up. Ellen saw the spark between the two. As they grew older, Catherine realized that she would have to pick a suitor that would take care of her; and, since Heathcliff was just a stable hand, he would not do, no matter how great her love for him. Edgar Linton (David Niven), who lived across the valley from Catherine, soon became intrigued with her and asked her hand in marriage. As Catherine contemplated her decision over Edgar's proposal to Ellen, Heathcliff lingered outside the door of the kitchen and heard the whole conversation. Ellen knew the entire time of Heathcliff's location, yet she allowed Catherine to put down Heathcliff and saying that he was only a stable boy. If Ellen had really wanted the two to get together, then why did she not stop Catherine from making her insults and allow Heathcliff to talk to Catherine that night? In addition to being awful to the lovers on this occasion, on Catherine's deathbed, she told Ellen that she cared for Heathcliff; but when confronted by him, Ellen denied that she had been told anything by Catherine pertaining to him. Again, if she had cared so much about getting the two together, why did she rip Heathcliff's heart out of his chest with that lie that would torment him till his death?
In a sick way, Ellen has helped the two lovers be together in the end. She offered Heathcliff some advice on the way to be close to Catherine for all of eternity. After Catherine died, Edgar was to be buried next to her; but Heathcliff could and would be closer to her than Edgar. Ellen told Heathcliff to have the wood planks knocked down between his and Catherine's grave. In theory then, they would share one humungous coffin and be together after death.
When all is said and done, the one holding the strings was Ellen. She pulled and turned the two lovers in so many ways that they were not for sure what is right and what is wrong. She helped Heathcliff live in misery all of his days without Catherine. And, Ellen, the puppeteer, toyed with Catherine and her emotions knowing that Catherine only
wants to be material in this world. If people thought that Emily Brontë, the writer of this masterpiece novel, was holding the strings throughout the story, maybe she was, through Ellen.