What Could Have Been?

        The “what ifs” have an ontological power. One will often question herself, “What if I had never met my husband,” or “what if I had different parents”; she can make all kinds of theories; yet she will never truly know the answers. Emily Brontë’s 1847 Wuthering Heights and two movies, directed in 1939 with the same title by William Wyler and directed in 1954 as Los Abismos de Pasion by Luis Buñuel, shown in class vary in many ways. However, all three versions show Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier/Jorge Mistral as Alejandro) being madly in love with Cathy (Merle Oberson /Irasema Dilian as Catalina) yet resentful and loveless towards Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald/Lilia Prado as Isabel), even though the two marry. But, one has to wonder what if Heathcliff had never met Cathy? What could have happened if he had not been treated poorly his whole life? While no one knows for sure, it is possible this implies that he could have cared for Isabella. Heathcliff could have admired Isabella because of her outward traits of beauty and wealth as well as her inner abilities to be a suitable wife.

        Heathcliff could have gained initial interest in Isabella because her beauty parallels Cathy’s. In both movies, thin delicate actresses played the role of Isabella. Given the western standards of beauty, it was not indicative that Cathy was substantially prettier than Isabella, even though she had Heathcliff’s heart. In Wyler’s film, another man asks Isabella to dance, which further implies that she is desirable. The book makes references to her physical attraction as well; as a grown women she is a “irresistible. . . charming young lady of 18.” Brontë explains that such beauty is inherent, for all the Lintons have delicate features and curly blonde. If such delicacy and blond hair were not enough, Heathcliff would be likely to notice Isabella because of her financial status. Actually this is partly what did attract his mercenary interest in her, of course without any love on his part.

        Even though he lived primitively for most of his life, Heathcliff was fascinated by such wealth that Isabella’s family had. This is made clear in the book, when young Heathcliff describes to Nelly his awe of the Lintons’ ball that he admired from the window. Even through the childhood games that Heathcliff played with Catherine in Wyler’s film, the two dream of kingdoms and luxurious lives. It is evident that the Linton family is rich, because of the expectations they have for Isabella to marry an affluent man, the material interest Cathy has in Edgar Linton (David Niven), and the sublime descriptions of the Lintons’ home. Such looks and money would only have captivated Heathcliff’s interest for so long; it was because of Isabella’s deeper qualities that the two could have engaged in a strong relationship.

        Beyond her material appeal, Isabella could have satisfied Heathcliff because of her devotion, ability to nurture, and the tenderness of her love. Her devotion is shown in Los Abismos De Pasion when goes against her brother, Euardo’s (Ernesto Alonzo) word to marry Heathcliff, in spite of the strong bond that she has with her brother. Isabella is seen through the different versions because of her desire to take care of people whether it is Edgar and the baby, or Heathcliff himself when she assures him she will not hurt him like Catherine did. Descriptions in the book validate her love as being strong “keen feelings” and through dialogue such as when Catherine confesses to Nelly “I gave. . . [Heathcliff] my whole heart.”

        Seeing the desirable woman Isabella is, one has to wonder, is it her nature or Heathcliff’s nurture that caused him to detest her? While all three versions show Isabella as being likable, the viewer will never really know whether it could have worked out for Heathcliff and Isabella; to say it would is simply a conjecture. It is likely that the environmental influences on the characters contribute to the quality of the book; for just as in her own life, a reader will read this book and wonder, “What if?”

Shauna Dilion