Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Heathcliff a Byronic Hero?

Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite novels and one of the reasons this novel sticks with me are the characters within the pages. In the introduction we meet Heathcliff,  a character that is bitter and inhospitable and in short, someone that you would not want as your friend. And Cathy, the female equivalent of Heathcliff who is scarcely much better. These characters are stubborn, wild, and short-tempered. Heathcliff could most certainly be considered a Byronic hero. He is stubborn and cunning, jaded and with a troubled past yet there is something magnetic and mysterious about him. We know little to nothing about his past, and while he could be handsome and well-mannered he chooses to let his temper get the best of him as seen on pages 52-54.

"A good heart will help you to a bonny face, my lad.' [...] So I chattered on; and Heathcliff gradually lost his frown and began to look quite pleasant." (p.53) "He ventured this remark without any intention to insult; but Heathcliff's violent nature was not prepared to endure the appearance of impertinence from one whom he seemed to hate, even then, as a rival. He seized a tureen of hot apple sauce, the first thing that came under his grip, and dashed it full against the speaker's face and neck; who instantly commenced a lament that brought Isabella and Catherine hurrying to the place. (p.54)

What is it about Byronic Heroes that makes them so magnetic and appealing? Take for instance some Byronic Heroes in literature/media. Besides Heathcliff we have Lord Ruthven, Erik (The Phantom of the Opera), Sherlock Holmes, and Gregory House. These are just a few, there are hundreds more but each of them shares something in common with the others. For instance, Heathcliff is a Gypsy child and in Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera Erik is born so deformed that his own mother is afraid of him and he is forced to take up company with Gypsies, traveling as a sideshow attraction. These characters are anti-heroes, they have flaws that usually outweigh their good points. They aren't villains exactly but they certainly aren't good guys either. It may not be their fault that they had troubles in their past, but they let those experiences shape them as a person. Catherine of course, being as similar as she is to Heathcliff can also be considered a type of Byronic Hero (or Heroine).

Catherine was described in a very interesting way the very beginning of the book, "And that Lynx, Catherine Linton, or Earnshaw or however she was called-- she must have been a changeling-- wicked little soul! She told me she had been walking the earth these twenty years; a just punishment for her mortal transgressions I've no doubt." (p.24) I've heard the term changeling before in another book, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, "Was Haarlem a haven for such goblin beasts? Iris had heard from time to time a poor infant might be kidnapped from its cradle and replaced with a rotten, illish creature resembling it in looks alone. A changeling is said to be deficient of something essential, either memory or sense, or mercy." (Maguire. 25-6) A changeling can most certainly be closely related to a Byronic hero. I think this is what makes their story so engaging. It is so different form the 'Happily Ever After' endings we read about or see in romance movies.

Feelings such as jealousy, lust, and anger power the novel and make it dramatic. The characters are really the blood of the novel. Few characters in the book have redeemable qualities, and those that are the 'goody two-shoes' kinds of characters such as the Lintons are actually quite boring. To me, Heathcliff and Cathy are the most interesting characters.


  1. It is really interesting to consider what makes Byronic heroes so magnetic. At first, I went into the story really disliking Heathcliff a lot. I suppose it was just really easy to dislike such a cold and off-putting person. However, as the story got deeper and deeper, and we read about his history and the way he was brought up, we see a window into Heathcliff's mind. It didn't really make me "like" him, though. It just made me... want a closer look, maybe? I'm not sure how to word it. He's something your afraid of, but who you want to sneak a look at when he doesn't notice. It's very mysterious.

  2. I think it makes sense that Byronic heroes are so popular, in modern media and in classic literature. I enjoy these characters because I feel that they are more realistic to human nature. No one is perfect, and to see characters in some novels that seem to have no flaws just annoy me. In keeping with the vampire theme of this class, (Please don’t shoot me, this is just an example) Edward Cullen is portrayed as perfect. These types of characters are very unrealistic. Even though Heathcliff has more flaws than good traits, it’s still believable.. since some people in this world are actually like that. It could be that cranky neighbor down the street, or maybe an ornery uncle. No matter who is it, someone you know is probably like that. This makes the story much more engaging and relatable, rather than a character put on a pedestal that no one will be able to relate to or live up to.
    I like that Heathcliff is flawed, because I think someone in his situation would actually act the way he does. “’You needn’t have touched me!’ he answered, following her eye and snatching away his hand. ‘I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty.’” (page 49). After being told by the person you’re closest with that you’re dirty and they are iffy about even touching you, wouldn’t you react in a harsh way? It’s rejection, and no one reacts to that happily.