To anybody who's read Wuthering Heights: are Catherine and Heathcliff (half) siblings

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headunderwater
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#1
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?

I was re-reading it again last night and something struck me. I thought I found the underlying principle of the novel (ground-breaking, I know) but alas, I searched the internet and it's been theoreticised numerous times before.

Basically, when Earnshaw refers to Heathcliff as a "Gift from God" is this admission that Heathcliff is his illegitimate son? Therefore, Cathy and Heathcliff would be half siblings making their relationship contrary to religious "rules", which may be an explanation for the complete failure of their relationship throughout the novel.

Thoughts?
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hobnob
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#2
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(Original post by 35mm_)
Basically, when Earnshaw refers to Heathcliff as a "Gift from God" is this admission that Heathcliff is his illegitimate son?
You can read it that way, but I wouldn't say that it's the only possible reading. I'd say the fact that Heathcliff initially only speaks in what appears to be a foreign language and is in a fairly miserable state, along with Mrs Dean's reference to old Mr Earnshaw's "kind heart" suggests that the story he tells to his family is likely to be true. As for the phrase "you must e'en take it as a gift of God", that's really just a way of saying "we'll just have to put up with him", no? And that statement would make sense even if he had just picked him up on a whim.
Therefore, Cathy and Heathcliff would be half siblings making their relationship contrary to religious "rules", which may be an explanation for the complete failure of their relationship throughout the novel.
It's been a while since I last read it, but I don't remember it as a novel in which religion played a particularly central role. Heathcliff and Cathy aren't really raised as siblings, nobody seems to perceive them as such and as far as I remember there aren't any similarities between them to suggest they are... I'd say the "complete failure of their relationship", as you call it, is largely due to Heathcliff's being a complete maniac with zero people skills and a knack for misunderstanding situations.:dontknow:
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headunderwater
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#3
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(Original post by hobnob)
You can read it that way, but I wouldn't say that it's the only possible reading. I'd say the fact that Heathcliff initially only speaks in what appears to be a foreign language and is in a fairly miserable state, along with Mrs Dean's reference to old Mr Earnshaw's "kind heart" suggests that the story he tells to his family is likely to be true. As for the phrase "you must e'en take it as a gift of God", that's really just a way of saying "we'll just have to put up with him", no? And that statement would make sense even if he had just picked him up on a whim.
Heathcliff's gypsy/foreign inheritance could have come to him through his mother.
It's been a while since I last read it, but I don't remember it as a novel in which religion played a particularly central role. Heathcliff and Cathy aren't really raised as siblings, nobody seems to perceive them as such and as far as I remember there aren't any similarities between them to suggest they are... I'd say the "complete failure of their relationship", as you call it, is largely due to Heathcliff's being a complete maniac with zero people skills and a knack for misunderstanding situations.:dontknow:
Hmm, I wouldn't say that, on the surface, religion plays a big role. But I think Bronte advocated the part religion or evolution played in life even if it happened behind the scenes, and even in the absence of knowledge as a kind of test or proof of impossibility.

What I'm getting at is; if we take this theory as true nothing is left out. Everything can be explained, and as such, it may be the "formula" (if you agree with finding a formula in a novel) of the novel. Obviously, I know it's only one interpretation but I think it's one that could hold a lot of ground if it went mainstream.

I'm going to argue it in an essay anyway, because things are getting a little boring. :p:
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hobnob
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#4
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(Original post by 35mm_)
Heathcliff's gypsy/foreign inheritance could have come to him through his mother.
But are there really any grounds for us to assume that old Mr Earnshaw had a random affair with a gypsy woman? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it isn't possible (after all, who knows what he was up to in Liverpool), it just isn't very plausible, and I think it's a little dangerous to jump to such conclusions when there is little in the text itself to support them.
What I'm getting at is; if we take this theory as true nothing is left out. Everything can be explained, and as such, it may be the "formula" (if you agree with finding a formula in a novel) of the novel.
Ha, you know what this reminds me of? A brilliant short story by James Thurber, called 'The Macbeth Murder Mystery'. You should read it sometime.
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bysshe
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#5
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It's an interesting idea, but as hobnob says, I don't think you can really assume that Mr Earnshaw had an affair with a gyspy woman - there's nothing in the novel that really suggests that. I've never thought of Wuthering Heights as being a particularly religious novel either - I've just re-read Jane Eyre, and obviously religion is all over the place with Helen Burns, St John, all the Biblical references etc etc, and I think it's interesting how non-religious Wuthering Heights is in comparison. Wuthering Heights is more about the supernatural...

The failure of Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship probably has less to do with breaking rules than the fact that they're both slightly insane. Well, "slightly" is an understatement in Heathcliff's case. But look at Cathy's marriage to Edgar - she's not being forced into it. It's not as though she's reluctantly conforming to the rules of society by agreeing to marry him. Heathcliff is an option, but she doesn't choose him, and of course it all goes downhill from there. Because Heathcliff and Cathy are such extreme characters it's tempting to blame the failure of their relationship on the fact that they're going against society or something like that, but ultimately, I think they're self-destructive.
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Wessex24
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#6
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#6
Interestingly, the (absolutely awful) recent ITV dramatisation of Wuthering Heights hinted that they were in fact half-siblings. I think if you approach it in that way it gives a new meaning to a lot of the book - for instance, Cathy's 'I am Heathcliff', the intense physicality of a lot of the description of their relationship, and so on. But I think it's important to bear in mind that they are fictional characters and in a sense the mere possibility of them having been meant as half-siblings is almost more important in terms of how we read the book than whether this was actually the case. I wouldn't get caught up on the details, but it's certainly an interesting theory!
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heathcliffer
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#7
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Totally agree. It actually seems obvious once this light bulb goes on. And makes this stunning novel even more so.
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Thr33Sid3s
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#8
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#8
I didn't read the novel but I watched the movie and @ the very end, Heath tells Cate that his father was in fact Earnshaw. I wasn't sure that I understood him correctly so I looked it up and it seems that everyone seems to think the same thing.
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