Is Catherine Earnshaw a Typical Victorian Woman or a Modern Woman?
Catherine Earnshaw’s attitudes and behaviour are more like those of a typical modern woman than a typical Victorian woman.
‘Wuthering Heights’ deals with the raw animal passion that finds no home within the walls of institutionalized society. Bronte dared to go outside of what Victorian society deemed correct, regarding the presentation of not only Catherine and Heathcliff's love but female sexual desire overall. This is why I believe that Catherine Earnshaw's attitudes and behaviours are depicted in a way that makes her to be more of a typical modern woman than of a typical Victorian one.
It was widely assumed in the Victorian era that women did not have any sexual desire and were to therefore, stay chaste for their future husband. However, it is possible that Catherine had engaged in, or had expressed her desire to be in a sexual relationship with Heathcliff when she states, ‘I am Heathcliff’ as D.H. Lawrence expresses in his book, ‘The Divine Heroine’ that when two people engage in a sexual relationship they became, ‘two in one’; the same person. If Edgar Linton believed that Catherine was not chaste, it is likely he would not have married her in conformation with the Victorian society’s norms.
Ultimately, it is Catherine’s intense love for Heathcliff that sets her apart from a typical Victorian woman; their love defies the status quo and is a faux- pas in the elitist attitude of the Victorian mind. This is because Heathcliff is not from wealth, in fact, he is the opposite; he was a poor beggar who was lifted from the streets and is now a servant. During this era, a woman married only for money and for social-class and their suitor was often chosen by their fathers or brothers if the former was deceased. This is evident in ‘Wuthering Heights’ as although, he doesn’t choose Linton for his sister, Hindley does wish that she will marry him and therefore gives his permission. It is in this sense that Catherine is a typical Victorian woman; she explains to Ellen Dean that, ‘My love for Linton is like foliage in the woods, time will change it, I'm well aware… My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath’, even though she knows her love for Linton will change and compares not to her love for Heathcliff, she marries him anyway for his money and for her inevitable heightened social class, ‘I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood’.
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Victorian women were to be weaker than their husbands physically, but morally, they were expected to excel, surpassing the morality of their counter-parts. Again, this is an area in which Catherine’s typical modern woman attributes outweigh those of the typical Victorian woman. A moral Victorian woman is to speak kindly to all she communicates with and refrain from violence at all times. Catherine clearly defies these expectations often speaking violently to her maid Nelly, ‘you lying creature’ and exhibiting physical violence toward her also, she ‘snatched the cloth from my hand, and pinched me, with a prolonged wrench’. In addition to this, Catherine’s immorality is exposed via her daring to love two men and in making little effort to conceal her feelings for Heathcliff from her husband by inviting him over often and upon seeing him allowed her cheeks to, ‘glow’ and, flinging her arms around her husband’s neck and exclaimed, ‘Heathcliff's come back- he is!’. Catherine’s behaviour displayed here is far off the mark of Victorian morality as each woman is to give herself to her husband completely and devote her life to enhancing his.
It was a wife’s duty to take care of all the domestic chores around the house and raise any of their daughters to take after their mothers in being the perfect wife. In conclusion- they were expected to be the ‘angel of the house’. However, Catherine’s lack of morality and domesticity prevents her from fulfilling this label and Bronte perhaps makes us aware of this from the beginning of the novel; ‘Wuthering Heights’ means ‘rejection from heaven’, from this we can deduce that this also means rejection from heaven’s forms also, such as angels and thus foreshadows the fact that Catherine will never be an ‘angel of the house’ or of any other kind.
In addition to this, a typical modern woman or angel of the house was to meekly accept and be fully prepared to follow her husband’s instruction without question or complaint. Again, this is a typical Victorian attribute that Catherine does not possess. She cares little for her husband and his feelings saying, he ‘began to cry: so I got up and left him’. She also exhibits a lack of respect for him and speaks to him, ‘in a tone particularly calculated to provoke her husband.’
I believe that Catherine Earnshaw is a personification of the effects of the rise of feminism, a movement that started in a group named the ‘Suffriges’ in the 1860s but soon took off as the ‘Suffragettes’ in 1903. From this, women gained more independence in all spheres of life outside the domestic one which they had been confined too previously. They were now entitled to equal pay, professional job opportunities, the right to vote and education. Overall, the result was increased power for women. Catherine has been well educated and despite societal norms, attempts to teach Heathcliff what she's learnt. She also holds a lot of power in the novel, over most over characters. It is her power and dominancy that makes her more a typical modern woman than a typical Victorian one.
Among these attributes, Catherine has a fiery temper and makes it known to all who disagree with or infuriate her. This makes her very much an atypical Victorian woman and allows her to fall again into the typical modern woman category as before Freud’s research, women in particular were to repress their emotions and refrain from speaking about themselves, however, Freud’s research concluded that the act of repression was the root cause for many mental and physical illnesses and from then forth, it was recommended that people expressed their feelings as Catherine has evidently shown may times throughout the novel.
Ellen Dean, Catherine's maid describes her as a ‘haughty’ headstrong character. It is clear that although she tries to conform to society’s norms during her time at Thrushcross Grange, Catherine simply wishes to be free and happy on the moors and be liberated from a world full of social judgement. Whether she has born or bred this way, it is clear that Catherine does not fit into the mould of a typical Victorian woman.