Wuthering Heights – Isabella character study

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Isabella is not a well developed character in the novel. In many ways she remains a child and many of her reactions are very childish. Her keen wit does not seem to be used to good purpose.

She madly falls ‘in love’ with Heathcliff; this feeling rapidly changing into just as strong sense of hatred. ‘he’s a lying fiend, a monster and not a human being!…

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..The single pleasure I imagine is to..

…se him dead!’Isabella had much in common with her brother, for they are both products of their class.

She is conscious of her breeding and social status, appropriately dignified (until she meets Heathcliff) and in general, temperamentally passive. Everyone liked her, with her yellow hair, delicate indoor complexion, and ‘dainty elegance’. Just as Edgar is physically inferior to Heathcliff, she is inferior to Catherine, physically and in personality. Living a socially unnatural life, for her class and wealth entitle her to a wider range of contacts, she wanted a husband to gain independence and conventionally desirable status of a married lady-it is ironic that she makes a most unconventional match.

She was clearly infatuated with Heathcliff: he is only incidentally a means of escape to freedom (another irony). She resents the general disapproval of her love for the hero-villain, which merely strengthens the feeling. Catherine is furious with her, tries in vain to talk the girl out of her infatuation, and finally exposes Isabella’s ‘secret’ to Heathcliff maliciously, in her sister in laws presence, and so causing her deep embarrassment. Ellen also warns Isabella, telling her of the true Heathcliff and his way of life, but passion blinds Isabella, who feels that the whole household is against her, though there is probably some truth in her claim that Catherine is ‘a dog in a manger’.

So Isabella mopes ‘about the park and garden, always silent, and almost always in tears.’, until Heathcliff courts her rapidly, ruthlessly, having decided to avenge himself further on Edgar by marrying her.There are two augments to whether it was Isabella’s own weakness that she married Heathcliff.Heathcliff despises her weakness and her romanticism .

Edgar rejects her because of her association with Heathcliff. Isabella sees Heathcliff as a romantic figure, like a character in a novel. Ultimately, she ruins her life by falling in love with him. He never returns her feelings and treats her as a mere tool in his quest for revenge on the Linton family.

So you could easily see things as her own fault for deluding herself that Heathcliff was interested in her- she had a wild passionate idea that he would be romantic but unfortunately the reality turned out to be different.Catherine represents wild nature, in both her high, lively spirits and her occasional cruelty, whereas Isabella represents culture and civilization, both in her refinement and in her weakness. You could argue that it is Heathcliff who has behaved badly by mistreating her and that we could feel sorry for her because she is out of her depth and only a silly child.Heathcliff, who is said to never to read books, comments scornfully on the fact that his young bride Isabella had pictures in him a hero of romance.

So wildly deluded with this sheltered daughter of Thrushcross grange, she is expected chivalrous devotion to her, and ‘unlimited indulgences.’ Heathcliff’s mockery makes us aware of our own bookish expectations of him, for he his definitely not a hero, and we are warned to avoid Isabella’s error in ‘forming a fabulous notion of my character.’Bronte shows us Heathcliff as the exact opposite of the romantic gothic hero-he is nasty and brutish-and then we, the readers are jolted out of our desire to like such characters. He ridicules the masochistic Isabella: ‘Are you sure you hate me? If I let you alone for half a day, won’t you come sighing and wheedling to me again?.

…The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every belonging to her, except one: possibly she took that exception for herself.


..’This, in Isabella’s presence; and naturally Isabella is pregnant; but then, Heathcliff observes, in an aside, that he, too is caught up in this relentless ‘moral teething,’ and seems incapable of feeling pity for his victims or for himself. ‘The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!’ he says .


And I grind with greater energy, in proportion to the increase of pain.’ He observes elsewhere that the mere sight of cowering, weak fearful persons awakens the desire in him to hurt; and an evening’s ‘slow vivisection’ of his own son and his child-bride Catherine would amuse him.Even the elder Catherine, who recognizes her kinship with him, calls him a cruel, wolfish man; and she, of all the people who know him understands that he is beyond redemption-precisely because he is not a character in a romantic novel, or, indeed answerable to any ‘fabulous notions’ at all. ( If he wakens at the novel’s end, it is only physically.

His forthright judgement on his action is: ….

.As to repenting of my injustices, I’ve done no injustice, and I repent of nothing-I’m too happy, and yet I’m not happy enough.’)There could be a variety of reasons for and effects of using Isabella as a narrator.A change of perspective.

We got the novel from a variety of voices. The civilised Lockwood, the Christian ‘normality’ of Nelly and so on. Isabella gives us a change. The romantic ideas that Isabella has are shown to be silly.

Could it be that the reader follows her journey of self-discovery through her narration and so we too come to realise the silliness of our romantic ideas of fictional characters like Heathcliff-in flesh/reality, they are monsters, not some romantic fantasy for young women to chase. We follow her journey of self-realisation.Other reasons are to gain our sympathy for her situation, to emphasise her plight but also pathetic enslavement to the romantic ideal.

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