I Love You to Death!

     In the 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë presents a captivating story dominated by the obsessive romance of its two principal characters Catherine Earnshaw and the enigmatic Heathcliff. It is this love that acts as the catalyst for propelling the tale along, and without it there would be no story at all. After reading the novel and viewing two cinematic interpretations, the 1939 film Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, and the 1954 Spanish film Los Abismos de Pasion, directed by Luis Buñuel, I have come to the conclusion that between Catherine and Heathcliff there existed a love that simply cannot live, or, more accurately, is not conducive to living.

     Die-hard romantics may disagree and argue that the kind of steadfast loyalty and unending devotion displayed by Heathcliff is admirable and something to strive for in real-life relationships. But the truth is such passion does not and should not exist in the real world, or there will be grave consequences. One does not have to probe too deeply into the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff to discover that what lies at the center of their affections is little more than selfishness and immaturity. It might be going too far to say that they do not care about each other altogether, but in several instances throughout the novel and the films the decisions these two make in regards to one another hardly embody the precept that true love is unselfish. For example, in the novel when, after Catherine's death, Heathcliff makes the speech in which he pleads to Cathy, "May you not rest, as long as I am living!," it can scarcely be said that the wish to keep a departed loved one from resting in peace is unselfish (143). Catherine was not blameless, however. She, too, seemed to cling to their love as though it was more a necessity for her own survival than the result of genuine affection. She described it in the novel as "a source of little visible delight" and often seemed less concerned with Heathcliff as an individual and more concerned with her own life and happiness (70). In William Wyler's film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, this point was made all the more clear in a scene where Catherine (Merle Oberon), after having found out that Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) had run off with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), commanded Edgar (David Niven) to "go after them" and to "kill him if need be." It is apparent here that Catherine has little concern for Heathcliff and his well-being.

     Beyond the concrete evidence of the destruction that Catherine's and Heathcliff's passion caused, there is the knowledge that we ourselves must bring to the table and apply. Life experience has taught me that a relationship that is too emotional and dramatic is destined for one of two things, either destruction or change. The fact is that in real life passion is strong in the beginning but eventually wanes and matures into something far better, and far more important. That is mutual respect and a sincere caring for the welfare of the one you love. This is what usually happens when people get married, and we are shown this blissful side of love in the relationship between Catherine and Edgar Linton. Juxtaposed throughout the novel is the happy love they shared; and, although it was not as passionate as Catherine's and Heathcliff's love, it results in much more tranquillity and contentment. The sorry attempts at capturing their tumultuous love on screen only further convinced me that I was right in my surmise. That is perhaps the reason in both of the film adaptations, but most noticeably in Los Abismos de Pasion, in which the relationship between Eduardo (Ernesto Alonso) and Catalina (Irasema Dilian) comes off as far more believable than the relationship between Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) and Catalina, which appears merely absurd.

     Possibly the best evidence to support my argument is the plot itself. Ask yourself, if in the novel or in any of the film adaptations, does the love between Catherine and Heathcliff ever succeed in bringing them happiness? Unfortunately the answer is, "No!" There are many discrepancies from the novel in both of the films I have mentioned; but the overall theme is unchanged: it is possible to love someone to death. Those die-hard romantics who are so fond of the idea of "love till the death" would do well to realize that the price of such passion is often devastation and, in the case of Heathcliff and Catherine, death. Thus, this novel has made me realize that there is a type of love that simply should not exist, and Oscar Wilde might have had this novel in mind when in his "Ballad of Reading Gaol" he said, "Each man kills the thing he loves."

Melissa Stacy

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