Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Psychic Vampire

A Psychic Vampire
(response to question #4)

After reading Wuthering Heights and Lakshmi Krishnan’s essay Why am I so Changed?, I completely agree with the assessment that Wuthering Heights should be read as a vampire novel. While not featuring any otherworldly monsters, Wuthering Heights presents duality, revenge, and passion in a way similar to a vampire novel. Although he might not suck the life out of his “victims” with his teeth, Heathcliff can certainly be considered a “psychic vampire” because of the way he drains the life from those around him.

Krishnan writes that “readings that view Gothic monsters as reflections, either of other characters, or of the readers themselves … [are] compelling, namely because of the prominence of doubling in Gothic fictions; as a literature that defines itself in opposition, it is appropriate for its creatures to be figures of contrast” (Krishnan 3). This statement alone provides a convincing argument that Wuthering Heights should be read as a vampire novel. Heathcliff’s loss and penchant for revenge provide a great example of this “reflection” (3) theory. I find it interesting that most of the binary oppositions found in this novel are found in the circumstances (rich / poor, educated / uneducated), rather than the characters. No one in the novel seems to represent a clear-cut opposition of good / evil. Similar to the archetypal vampire novel, there is no 100% “good“ or “evil.”

Bronte's Wuthering Heights echoes many of the same themes of classic vampire novels, such as passion, un-acted upon love, youth, revenge, and knowledge. Krishnan writes that “to decipher Gothic fiction, we must turn to its monsters, figures that embody its doubleness” (Krishnan 3). Throughout the novel, Heathcliff is referred to as a “fiend” (258), “villain” (254), and “wicked” (224). It is obvious that he is Wuthering Heights’ version of a monster -- not in the physical Shelley/Frankenstein or the Stoker/Dracula sense, but due to the fact that he dominates everything around him in misguided spite. With Krishnan’s statement in mind, I find it interesting that Linton claims that he would “rather be hugged by a snake” (258-259) when Cathy is being pressured to marry Linton. The duality between Cathy and a snake suggests the Adam & Eve myth, another example of passion gone wrong.

Heathcliff is described as the manifestation of a beast in a paragraph where he is engrossed in a fire. “Mr. Heathcliff paused and wiped his forehead … his eyes were fixed on the red embers of the fire; the brows not contracted, but raised next the temples … imparting a peculiar look of trouble, and a painful appearance of mental tension towards one absorbing subject” (273). Ellen “didn’t like to hear him talk!” (273), which only further exemplifies the duality of Heathcliff as a gothic monster. It is interesting that essentially every character that comes into contact with Heathcliff for an extended period of time ends up becoming ill. This is similar to what Lord Aubrey encounters in Polidori’s The Vampyre and what Harker, Lucy, Mina, and others endure in Brahm Stoker’s Dracula. The sicknesses portrayed in Wuthering Heights are suggestive of the loss of will to live. Catherine Earnshaw-Linton is as healthy as most young girls in London before Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights, yet upon his return, she feels “a sense of physical violence by the violent, unequal throbbing of her heart, which beat visibly and audibly under this excess of agitation“ (151) when in Heathcliff‘s presence. Her sickness coincides with Heathcliff’s increase in power, similar to the effect that a vampire has on its victims. Linton Heathcliff’s sickness is quite similar, as his father has, in essence, sucked the life out of him and refuses to help him -- it is all part of his plot. Upon Linton’s death, young Catherine remarks that he is “safe” (276) from Heathcliff, now that his father cannot make his life miserable any longer, yet Heathcliff has gained power from his loss of life.  Edgar Linton obviously wants to endure to make sure that his daughter is not corrupted by Heathcliff’s wishes. Edgar walks “feebly, and looked so pale” (245) throughout his final days, which is quite similar to the sickness that Aubrey endures and the effect that Dracula has over others.

Krishnan refers to Dracula as a “corrupter” (3), which is clearly what Heathcliff has become to Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff has a draining effect on everyone, although young Cathy is somewhat able to resist his inclinations as she rebukes him by stating, “Mr. Heathcliff, you’re a cruel man, but you’re not a fiend, and you won’t, from mere malice, destroy, irrevocably, all my happiness” (258). Much like the archetypical vampire, Heathcliff is only able to have effect on those who allow it. In a similar manner, Heathcliff himself feels a “torture” (272) from the loss of Catherine. While he “sucks” the life out of those around him, Catherine (or the lack of her presence) haunts and sucks the life out of Heathcliff.

While “there is no single, colossal vampire in Wuthering Heights” (Krishnan 8), I think that the effect that Heathcliff imposes on those around him is quite similar to those of a vampire. Instead of blood, he feasts on love and the lives of those around him. When he is not given love, he resorts to ruining the lives of those around him and, in essence, sucking the life from them.

1 comment:

  1. It thought it was a very interesting point Krishnan made about doubling. Looking back at both Polidori and W.H. the doubling is very evident. Both pairs of characters act as foils for each other and bring out the extremes in their personalities. This causes the strife that's seen in the novel.

    As well, this essay shows how vampirism can be not only of the classic blood sucking variety, but also of a mental variety. It makes much more sense to think of Heathcliff as a vampire in this sense. As you mentioned he terrorizes many of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and generally acts like a mean and evil person. And these actions are what make him a vampire more than anything.