One day Cathy convinces Nelly to go looking for grouse eggs with her and they run into Heathcliff and Hareton, his nephew. They are invited to Wuthering Heights and meet Linton. Linton is languid and sickly, but Hareton shows Cathy the farm. He has a rude aspect and she is surprised to find Hareton, also her cousin, cannot read. She and Linton enjoy talking to each other and promise to see each other the next day. When Cathy’s father refuses to let her go, she begins a covert correspondence with Linton, by way of the milk boy. When Nelly finds Cathy toying with her letters, she burns them. When her guardians are ill, however, Cathy slips away and visits Linton, who begs for her company. He is peevish and has little thought for anyone but himself. Heathcliff humors him for his own reasons.
When Cathy is 17, her father becomes ill and begins to fade. The friendship between Cathy and Linton is encouraged by Heathcliff as part of his plan of revenge against Cathy’s father. Heathcliff terrorizes his son Linton into luring Cathy and Nelly to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff imprisons Nelly and forces Linton and Cathy to marry. He prevents Cathy’s father from changing his will, so Linton will own Thrushcross Grange and Cathy will be penniless. Mr. Linton dies within hours of Cathy and Nelly’s return home.
Heathcliff removes Cathy to Wuthering Heights, leaving Nelly Dean to manage the Grange for his lodger, Mr. Lockwood. Cathy nurses Linton without help from anyone else but Linton dies a month after they are married.
As readers, we first meet Cathy through Lockwood’s eyes when he visits Wuthering Heights. It is a blustery night, but the room with its large fireplace is warm and cheerful. “One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof.” The people Lockwood takes tea with, however, Cathy, Hareton and Heathcliff, are dour company. He cannot figure out their relation to each other. Cathy, in fact, has just lost her father and her very young husband.
Upon hearing Nelly Dean’s stories of them, Lockwood thinks, “people in these regions live more in earnest, more in themselves, and less in surface change and frivolous external things. I could fancy a love for life here almost possible.”
Shortly thereafter, Nelly Dean is called to live at Wuthering Heights and things become more cheerful for Cathy. She is not allowed past the garden gate, but slowly she befriends Hareton, teaching him to read. Hareton has a fine and noble heart beneath his rough exterior and Nelly is happy to see them becoming friends. Heathcliff has been spoiling for a last revenge on these two, whose eyes both remind him of Catherine, his love. But he becomes strange, as if he lives in another world, telling Nelly that “I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction.” Within a few months, he is dead. The young people, Cathy and Hareton, now in possession of both houses, marry.
It was Virginia Woolf who sent me back to look at Wuthering Heights. Woolf believed Emily Bronte “looked out upon a world cleft into gigantic disorder and felt within her the power to unite it in a book. That gigantic ambition is to be felt throughout the novel – a struggle, half thwarted but of superb conviction, to say something through the mouths of her characters which is not merely ‘I love’ or ‘I hate,’ but ‘we, the whole human race’ and ‘you, the eternal powers’ … And so we reach these summits of emotion not by rant or rhapsody but by hearing a girl sing old songs to herself as she rocks in the branches of a tree; by watching the moor sheep crop the turf; by listening to the soft wind breathing through the grass.” [From Women and Writing, Virginia Woolf, collected 1979.]
This redemptive view of the young Cathy is, of course, my own. The popular story taken from Wuthering Heights is of the passion between Heathcliff and the original Catherine which, thwarted, drives them both to their deaths. But Catherine dies half way through the book and the young Cathy, full of her own love and spirit, is left to deal with those who remain. Emily Bronte felt no need for society beyond her own Yorkshire house. Nature is the redemptive force and she marries cousins to each other without fear. We cannot know what comes to Cathy after she grows beyond the age of 19. But we can hope that she is happy.