What is the role of women in 'Wuthering Heights'?

Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights. Oxford University Press

Readers are often surprised by the strong, passionate women in Wuthering Heights. The Gothic landscape (and literary genre) offers Bronte some flexibility in how her characters are portrayed--against that dark, brooding, even foreboding backdrop. But, the novel was still controversial (even banned and criticized) and a good deal of that had to do with the brazen way in which she allows her female characters to speak their minds (and act upon their passions).

Catherine Earnshaw Linton

Main female protagonist. Motherless child, she grew up with Hindley and Heathcliff (a gypsy child, rescued and adopted by her father--he is raised with the two children, as a member of the family). She loves Heathcliff but chooses social advancement instead of true love. It is her betrayal (in marrying Edgar Linton) and the act of abandonment that is at the heart of the other acts of barbarity and cruelty that we see through the course of the novel (Heathcliff vows that he will enact revenge upon her and her entire family.)

In the novel, she is described thus: "Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going—singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same. A wild, wicked slip she was—but she had the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish: and, after all, I believe she meant no harm; for when once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company, and oblige you to be quiet that you might comfort her."

Catherine (Cathy) Linton

Daughter of Catherine Earnshaw Linton (who dies, offering very little input in her life) and Edgar Linton (who is very protective). She shares more than just her name with her illustrious mother. Like her mother, she's passionate and stubborn. She pursues her own desires. Unlike her mother, she inherited something that could be seen as a greater measure of humanity or compassion (perhaps from her father?).

If she marries Hareton, she may also experience a different (more positive?) ending to her story. We can only try to imagine what kind of a future the two will have together.

Isabella Linton

She is the sister of Edgar Linton (so, she's the sister-in-law of the original Catherine). To her, Heathcliff is a romantic figure, so she marries him (and discovers her mistake). She escapes to London, where she gives birth to (weak) Linton. She may not have the head-strong characteristics of Catherine (and her niece, Catherine), but she is the only tortured female character to escape the estates (the brutal realities of the moors and its inhabitants).

Nelly Dean (Ellen Dean)

Storyteller. She's the observer (sage?), who is also a participant. She grew up with Catherine and Hindley, so she knows the whole story. But, she also puts her own slant on the plotline (she's considered by many critics to be an unreliable eye-witness, and we can only guess the true intent of her gossipy tale). In "The Villain in Wuthering Heights," James Hafle argues that Nelly is the true villain of the novel.

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Lombardi, Esther. "What is the role of women in 'Wuthering Heights'?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/role-of-women-in-wuthering-heights-742022. Lombardi, Esther. (2017, February 25). What is the role of women in 'Wuthering Heights'? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/role-of-women-in-wuthering-heights-742022 Lombardi, Esther. "What is the role of women in 'Wuthering Heights'?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/role-of-women-in-wuthering-heights-742022 (accessed November 20, 2017).