Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Byronic Hero Series, Part 4 - Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights compared to Edward Cullen and Twilight.

The Byronic Hero

For those of you who are visiting my posts for the first time, I have been finding parallels between the recent blockbuster series Twilight and checking out how clever author Stephenie Meyer has drawn from the classics - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in particular. The Twilight hero, Edward, (sorry Team Jacob) shares many of the attributes of the Byronic Hero (read my first post of the series below if you want the background.)

Darcy's Byronic Hero has an overbearing ego, Rochester exhibits moody paternalism, but Heathcliff from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, is exotic and savage, in contrast to the civility of Imperial Britain. Nelly describes Heathcliff after he returns from making his fortune: "...half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire..." His innate wildness has not been subdued.

Heathcliff's wildness sometimes manifests as brutality. He becomes monstrously cruel, killing a lapdog, and taunting Linton and Catherine. Edward Cullen's "monstrosity" is his vampirism, against which he fights a daily battle. Edward never exhibits the unrestrained cruelty of Heathcliff, but he does admit "a typical bout of rebellious adolescence" where he hunted and killed humans." (Twilight, 342.) Even though Edward has become a "vegetarian" vampire, the reader knows he possesses the barbarous power to kill James, Victoria, or anyone who would hurt Bella.

Wuthering Heights is the only one of Bella's novels mentioned in each of the Twilight Saga's four books, with one exception, New Moon. This is a little odd, since the plot of New Moon closely mirrors Wuthering Heights more so than any of the other books. Like Wuthering Heights, New Moon begins with Edward and Bella's carefree happiness, the English moors replaced with meadows outside Forks. Edward abandons Bella in New Moon, which emotionally destroys her and she begins to recklessly act out. She takes to riding motorbikes and cliff-diving. But despite all this, she still rushes to his vampire's deathbed (in Volterra) driven by love. When Edward returnds to Bella he says: "As if there were any way that I could exist without needing you!" (New Moon, 510.) Bella sees her situation in Eclipse as similar to the plot of Wuthering Heights when she is torn between Jacob and Edward, just as Cathy is torn between Edgar and Heathcliff.

Edward himself identifies with Heathcliff during Eclipse. He denigrates Heathcliff at first, calling Heathcliff and Cathy "ghastly people who ruin each other's lives." He later changes his mind. "The more time I spend with you, the more human emotions seem comprehensible to me. I...can sympathise with Heathcliff in ways I didn't think possible before." (Eclipse, 28,265.)

Heathcliff is likened to a vampire by Nelly when he roams the moors alone at night. When Edward re-reads Bella's copy of Wuthering Heights, he leaves the book open where it shows Heathcliff describing his rival Edgar Linton in almost vampiric terms "Had he been in my place...though I hated him with a hatred that turned my life to gall, I never would have raised a hand against him...I never would have banished him from her society, as long as she desired his. The moment  her regard ceased, I would have torn his heart out, and drank his blood!" Edward, however, says he sympathises with Heathcliff, perhaps becuase he is overcoming his Byronic savagery by trying to become more human.

The flip side of the Byronic hero's savagery is his passionate attachment to his love. As children, Heathcliff and Cathy are inseparable, appearing to share even the same soul as they run wild over the moors. Their perfect happiness is ruined when Cathy convalesces at Thrushcross Grange and falls under the influence of the Lintons, determining to marry Edgar Linton, while at the same time saying: "I am Heathcliff-he's always, always in my mind-not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself-but as my own being." It is not until Cathy is dying that Heathcliff reveals the depth of his ardor. He rushes to Cathy's sick room, "he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy" Nelly says. "Be with me always-take any form-drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life...without my soul!" Edward quotes this final line of Heathcliff's, after Bella's quotes Cathy's lament to him: "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger." (Eclipse, 611.)

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and whether you agree or disagree with the parallels I've found, I hope you've found the posts enjoyable and thought more deeply about the classics and maybe are inpired to read Twilight if you haven't yet succumed. I recommend Twilight and History by Nancy Reagin if you'd like to read more.

Have you read any books that you can't help seeing parallels with well-known classics? Tell me about it...


Anonymous said...

First time visit here and enjoying it all,particularly your Byronic Hero series. Thanks also for links and further info related to Anne Carbine Best. Came here via Anne.So glad I did!

Kirsty said...

Thanks for commenting on my post and directing me here. An interesting read, thanks.

I don't think I've ever actually read Wuthering Heights though I've seen screen adaptations. Another to add to the pile.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Wuthering Heights is one of my all-time fave books. The movie with Laurence Oliver, also one of my favorites.

John Teal said...

Being somewhat slow it has taken your post to connect the two together but now I have I can see your point completely.


Roland D. Yeomans said...

Heathcliff was the Victorian version of the Bad Boy, an ageless icon truly tempting to women all through the ages.

Your series was insightful and fun, Roland

Julie Musil said...

This is great! I read somewhere that Stephanie Meyer modeled her books after the classics.

Denise Covey said...

Pam: Lovely to see you here. Glad you enjoyed my post.

Kirsty: Wuthering Heights is well worth the read.

Liz: Yes, I think Laurence Olivier was the best Heathcliff.

RJR: Glad you persevered.

Roland: Bad boy all right, but tragic.

Julie: Thanks for coming by and enjoying my post.

Trisha said...

Very cool series, and it makes me feel like I'm studying literature at uni again :D

Denise Covey said...

Trisha: Must be the teacher in me. Woops.

Carol Kilgore said...

It takes a special skill to analyze and compare books like this. Unfortunately, I don't have it and get caught up in the story of the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Well, that does it. I'm going to check out Stephenie's books. I love Pride and Prejudice. I had no idea Stephenie had borrowed from all those wonderful classics. Thanks for sharing this, L'Aussie. Your blog is awesome.

Denise Covey said...

Carol: Ha ha. Maybe I like to overthink.

Joylene: Well Stephenie is one smart cookie.

Anonymous said...

They say there is nothing new under the sun. Cassics going back hundreds or thousands of years still live on in some form or another in books we read today. At least plots and themes. Just change the setting and the characters and make a few adjustments and a new book is born.

Francine Howarth said...


One book critic in a once broadsheet newspaper, not sure which, said if Steff Meyers had actually written a relatively original plot rather than echoes of classic romances she might have come to admire her a little, or words to that efffect. The final nail in Meyers coffin, the reviewer made comment on Meyers writing ability as at best mediocre. CRUMBS! Pray to heaven my book never becomes a bestseller and lands on said reviewers desk.


Denise Covey said...

Stephen: Very true. What's new?

Francine: Well if we could all be as successful as Stef we'd be mighty happy. I'm sure she laughs all the way to the bank.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am so caught up in your analysis! I love the Olivier Heathcliff. I've seen that movie several times. I got through 2 and 1/2 books of the Twilight series. I guess I got sidetracked. But I read enough to follow you here completely. Your analysis of course is beautifully written, and I've found it very informative.

I just read your comment on my post. I do try to take care of myself, though sometimes I don't do as well as I should. I know I have to stay healthy to take care of Jen, and I AM trying my best with this. I truly appreciate your concern. You're such a dear friend. And I do hope my memoir "flies" well. I do hope WiDo is actually getting it printed this week!! Just hang in there. It WILL arrive.

And I'm now heading to your V post. So you quoted Robert Frost, too. Isn't his poetry stunning! It's deceptively "simple" sometimes.

And thanks for telling me I'm photogenic, too. Not really. Most of the current pictures of me caught on camera I wouldn't send out into the blogosphere, or anywhere!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Denise Covey said...

Ann: Thanks for visiting dear friend. I hope you enjoy my V for Venice post.

Francine Howarth said...


Absolutely! Get a great three-book deal, take the money and run. Why bother what critics say, why bother whether readers enjoy or not. It's your book, you wrote it, a publisher published it. 'nough said. ;)


HelenMWalters said...

You've made me want to re-read Wuthering Heights!

DEZMOND said...

most of the romantic and other heroes have a lot of similar traits, heroes are actually quite identical one to another especially in films.

Nice post, Denise, although I'd never compare a great classic like WUTHERING HEIGHTS to a horrible film or book like TWILIGHT :)

Dawn Kurtagich said...

Some astute comparisons. :)

Jai Joshi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jai Joshi said...

Denise, this is a lot of food for thought. I love these comparisons you draw between some of the romantic classics and Twilight.


Wanton Redhead Writing said...

I enjoyed the post, adored Wuthering Heights all six times I've read it. But Twilight? Ugh, ick, yuck, and I've read the entire series too. Too clean, not realistic at all, but hey you can't argue with the money machine.

Glad to find your blog!

Now compare some zombies with Shakespeare.

The Sisterhood said...

Very interesting parallels between these classical characters and Meyer's hero, Denise. I believe that Edward Cullen is one of the biggest appeals of the Twilight saga. Regardless of how the world feels about the series, its success is undeniable and in my opinion due (mostly) to the hero (since many people seem annoyed with the heroine.) I must say he sort of lost his charm for me in New Moon. I'm sorry to admit that I "switched teams" then, ha!

I had never heard of the Byronic Hero, but I recently read a book on archetypes and they call this type of hero "The Lost Soul."

I am definitely going to have to read Wuthering Heights! Everybody has something to say about it.


P.S. Loved the picture of Mr. Darcy... [sigh]

Ciara said...

First time visitor and new follower. I found this a fascinating comparison. I'm so glad I caught your blog before the end of the A-Z challenge. Thanks for stopping by mine. :)

PK HREZO said...

THis is a really great breakdown. And so true!

Myself said...

I am not so sure about this..Maybe it was Robert Pattinson that spoiled Twilight for me but I would never think of comparing Edward to Heathcliff or WH to Twilight.

Or maybe I am just a snob :)

Great analysis.