Brontė's Schemer, Wyler's Mentor

     One of the biggest differences between the 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontė, and the 1939 movie, directed by William Wyler, is the way Ellen is portrayed. Throughout the book, the readers are forced to decided for themselves, what is behind the character of Ellen; but in the movie, Wyler depicts her character, played by Flora Robson, from the beginning, and it holds steadfast throughout. Ellen is the maid at Wuthering Heights and later Thrushcross Grange. It is from her point of view that Mr. Lockwood receives the story of Catherine and Heathcliff.

     In the novel, Ellen is portrayed in a different light throughout the book. The reader wants to believe she is kind-hearted and wants the best for everyone. But as the book progresses, we tend to get passages that show that she is a conniving, devious, and misleading soul. She turns out Heathcliff when Catherine is with Linton, even though she helped raised Heathcliff. Especially when he arrived as Isabella's guest, Ellen seemed very displeased to see him and thought he should not be there at all.

     In the movie, however, the depiction of Ellen's character is steady throughout. Wyler makes the viewer feel from the very beginning that Ellen is like a heroine. She is warm and kind to everyone. She takes care of Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver) when he cuts his hands on the glass and hides him when Cathy (Merle Oberon) comes in. Ellen truly knows it is best for Cathy and Heathcliff to get together, and she expresses the idea to both of them and everyone else. The look on her face when Heathcliff sees her at the party shows her feelings. She knows Heathcliff is not there for Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) but for Cathy. The smile is then replaced with tears as she find out at the end of the movie that Heathcliff and Cathy are finally together, dead at Pennistone Crag.

     Ellen is definitely portrayed differently in the two versions of the story. Brontė tends to have her seem nice, but a deeper read reveals she is perhaps as deceiving as anyone in the book is. Wyler's version of Ellen is the one I like better. She is kind-hearted and cares for everyone involved not just herself.

Tim C. Alsobrooks

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