It’s Just Missing Something

         There are several differences between Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights and the films based upon it. I feel that there are two key differences that make the film adaptations feel completely different, the lack of the second generation of characters, and the lack of the death of the entire first generation. The two films are William Wyler’s 1939 Wuthering Heights and Luis Buñuel’s 1954 Los Abismos de Pasion.

         The original novel had a feeling of hopelessness enhanced by characters regularly dying off from disease. Some characters, such as Hindley and Isabella died with no warning, while Edgar and Linton both suffered for a long time. Most of these deaths did not serve to further the plot (save for Catherine and Isabella), but mostly built the sense of bleakness for the novel.

         In the film versions, these characters, Edgar (David Niven) and Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) in Wyler’s film and Eduardo (Ernesto Alonzo) and Isabel (Lilia Prado) in Buñuel’s film survive. The only characters that do die are Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Catherine (Merle Oberon) in the older version) and Catalina (Irasema Dilian) and Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) in the later version. Possibly this was to make their deaths feel more important; however, they were still very important in the novel version. Most likely it was a combination of fear that such a bleak film would not draw a great box office, and that the film makers needed people present to react to Heathcliff’s death.

         The second-generation characters are the ones to really lift the miserable feeling of Wuthering Heights. When Hareton and young Cathy begin their flirtations, not only do they begin to change, but Heathcliff does so as well. After all the spitefulness throughout the story, the characters in the story begin to finally redeem themselves and act civil, though Heathcliff seems to have a difficult time of it. Heathcliff, who has long secluded himself from any emotion but scorn, sees in Hareton and Cathy what Catherine and he had when they were younger. He begins to lose his composure, even appearing happy, and this is a crucial piece of character development. The film versions of Heathcliff both never seem to get this massive character development; instead, they seem to be unchanging throughout the films. They are both motivated only by their obsession with the Catherine of the story. Not once do the cinematic Heathcliffs show that they have the spite towards Edgar Linton that the novel’s Heathcliff does; even the marriage to Isabel/Isabella is only about hurting Catherine, when in the novel it was just as much to hurt the Lintons.

         The films themselves were good in their own right. However, I feel that because of what is left out, the films lack a lot of the power and feeling of the novel. They do not have the development to make them feel complete.

Jeremy Workman