This passage from Wuthering Heights marks the beginning of the end of the novel. It provides a deep insight into Heathcliff’s mental state and his motivations thus far, and also represents a turning point in the narrative which leads the novel to its conclusion. Edgar has passed away, and Heathcliff is at Thrushcross Grange to take Catherine to her new home. The opening of the passage, in which Catherine speaks “with a kind of dreary triumph” and decides to “draw pleasure from the griefs of her enemies”, immediately brings to mind the bitter and revengeful way in which Heathcliff has been acting up to this point. However, the remainder of the passage brings a startling and ghoulish admission from Heathcliff of interfering with Cathy’s grave and being haunted by her. It is unclear whether this is a physical haunting by Cathy’s ghost or symbolic psychological manifestation of the anguish he has suffered. In either case, Heathcliff’s revelations bring the reader to a closer understanding of his motivations and show just how deeply his obsession for Cathy runs.
This section of the novel is narrated by Nelly to Lockwood, but largely consists of direct dialogue spoken to Nelly by Heathcliff. Extended dialogue from Heathcliff is rare in this book, where much of the plot is relayed to the reader over a distance of both time and indirect narration. The use of dialogue at this point to convey the dark and intensely personal admission from Heathcliff to Nelly brings the reader close into his thoughts and signposts this as a key moment in the book. The grizzly nature of Heathcliff’s actions combines with his description of being haunted by Cathy for years to evoke unsettling feelings in the reader of both horror and sympathy. Horror at what he has done, and sympathy for his torment. After saying he has been haunted “through eighteen years – incessantly – remorselessly”, Heathcliff goes on to add that he has achieved tranquillity. This is a highly important turning point, as it signals a transformation from the Heathcliff who seeks revenge above all else to a slightly mellowed character who eventually loses his appetite for said revenge.
The events in this passage are good examples of the Gothic elements that can be found in Wuthering Heights and differentiate the book from other works of classical romantic fiction. After Heathcliff talks about disturbing Cathy’s grave, and is chastised by Nelly, he says that he “shall be a great deal more comfortable now, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping me underground”. This hints again that Heathcliff is ready for a transformation, but also sets the scene for his decline and underground reunion with Cathy at the end of the book. As readers we have already seen what Heathcliff is capable of doing to the living, and he reveals here that he also is capable of disturbing the remains of the dead, but the lasting sense from this scene is that he is now ready to find peace.