Vampiric Discourse in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

Issue: Vol 1, No 1: Summer 2009
Author(s): Gillian Nelson


Although several studies of vampirism in Wuthering Heights have appeared over the last decade or so, none have fully recognized that Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship is not necessarily one of love, but of vampirism. Furthermore, few of these articles have acknowledged the existence of the others. This paper attempts to reconcile various, sometimes conflicting, readings of vampiric discourse in the novel by suggesting that different forms of vampirism, symbiotic and monstrous, define Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship at different points in the text. After providing textual evidence for reading Catherine and Heathcliff as vampires, this paper moves in a more theoretical direction, first linking Romanticism to Brontë's use of vampiric discourse, and then using critical theory on the vampire to suggest that there are actually two types of vampirism in the novel; the harmless, symbiotic kind that characterizes Catherine and Heathcliff as children, and their later monstrous vampirism, which has critical implications for the role of patriarchal power structures in the work. Brontë's probable access to vampire literature and folklore is also briefly discussed, and more contemporary theories on vampirism in literature, including those of Franco Moretti and Rosemary Jackson, are brought to bear on the novel. Ultimately, this article suggests that the symbiotic vampirism enjoyed by Heathcliff and Catherine as children threatens established power structures at Wuthering Heights; the interruption of that symbiosis, however, establishes a sequence of repression and return that accompanies their depictions as monstrous vampires. Denied the fruitful effects of symbiotic consumption/empowerment, Catherine and Heathcliff turn their consumptive desires outward, ultimately destroying themselves and many others in their drive to re-establish their earlier connection. By the novel's end, this connection has been re-established, suggesting that the empowering potential of symbiotic vampirism cannot be realized in life, so long as the potential of human relationships remains thwarted by social restrictions.

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