Wuthering Heights:The Real Story of Lost Love and Complex-PTSD.

Why Catherine and Heathcliff have Borderline Personality Disorder, and how Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are Borderline Enviroments

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‘I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.’

Wuthering Heights is a nightmare world, which changes the lives of the people in it forever. As one critic remarked: ‘The world of Wuthering Heights is a world of sadism, violence and wanton cruelty, wherein the children, without the protection of their mothers — have to fight for very life against adults who show almost no tenderness, love or mercy.’

Heathcliff: A Dark Little Thing

Heathcliff’s trauma begins in childhood. Mysteriously picked up by Mr Earnshaw, ‘starving, houseless, and as good as dumb on the streets of Liverpool,’ he is quickly dehumanised by his step-siblings Catherine and Hindley, who emotionally abuse him, labelling him a ‘ghoul’ ‘vampire’ and an ‘imp of Satan.’ Nelly Dean, the manipulative housekeeper, misconstruing the boy as some sort of goblin says, ‘I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might he gone on the morrow’ echoing Mrs Earnshaw’s more direct command to ‘fling it outdoors.’ Heathcliff is not wanted.

‘his hair soaked with the dew that had gathered on the budded branches […] He dashed his head against the knotted trunk and lifting up his eyes howled not like a man, but like a savage beast getting goaded to death.’

The air imbibes the tears he cannot cry. The blood upon his face and hands is an act of self-harm; not just a paroxysm of excess emotion but a way to punish himself. Once again we have BPD symptoms of emotional instability, and self-injury, and yet we need trauma to explain the origins. The source of his suffering? The loss the person he loves above all others, his step-sister Catherine Earnshaw.

Catherine: The Orphan Waif

Nelly Dean describes Catherine as a ‘a wild wicked slip’ of a girl. ‘Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going — singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same.’ Prone to ‘hysterical emotion’ or emotional instability, she’s prone to ‘senseless wicked rages’ she seems to have all the classical traits of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Oh, I’m burning! I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed? why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills. Open the window again!

As if she’s going to fly away like a baby bird, earlier she recalls seeing a nest of dead lapwings. ‘a nest in the winter, full of little skeletons.’ Are they recollections of her own broken dreams? We might assume it to be the skeletons of a family unit, which has been stewarded to an untimely death, by the ferocious elements which rave around her. However, there’s only two dead fledglings: One’s herself and the other Heathcliff. When Heathcliff starts killing birds, he is in fact symbolically killing them.

The Love story

Finally we come the wild passionate love story which has redounded through the last two centuries — it is actually a relationship based on the pain of lost love. Incest is an underlying theme of Wuthering Heights: Catherine and Heathcliff are most likely step-siblings, and this gypsy-boy from Liverpool is the misbegotten love child of a hapless Mr Earnshaw whose favouritism evidences a guilty conscience. Even if that weren’t the case, Catherine and Heathcliff grow up as if they were brother and sister, even sleeping the same bed until puberty. In normal family’s a strong incest taboo exists, which scientists call the Westermarck effect. It should mean that since Catherine and Heathcliff grew up together, there should be no sexual attraction. Nevertheless Catherine and Heathcliff do fall in love, but it’s not sexual. Both have actually undergone traumatic bonding, fusing themselves together in a protective pact against sadistic adults intent on harming them.

I cannot look down to this floor, her features are shaped in the flags! In every cloud, in every tree — filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day — I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women — my own features — mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!

When Heathcliff hears Cathy calling from outside the window ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ he’s burnt by his own candle; as if to imply the “old flame” is both his source of light, but also the source of his own immolation. At his own death, he follows her out onto the moor to wander as a ghost. Two orphans of the storm are finally reunited. The pain of lost love becomes the heavy bliss of remembrance.

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Freelance journalist writing on mental health and disability. Words have the power to shine a light on realities otherwise missed.

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