Why Catherine and Elizabeth Are Great Characters

Emily Brontë invented Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, and Jane Austen invented Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Both are subject to the same social conventions of late 18th century England: they enjoy no rights to land, title, income, or inheritance on account of their gender.

In Catherine Earnshaw, we see one response. Her world offers few outlets for her primal desires so she lives vicariously, split, between the wild, ill-bred (but bizarrely romantic) Heathcliff and the gentile (and boring) Edgar Linton. Of course, the two parts of her cannot be reconciled. Dissonance ensues driving her mad and leading to her demise.

Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet takes a different journey. Elizabeth uses her wit and intellect to distinguish herself from her silly sisters and mother, but despite her pride, she gets it wrong. She misjudges douchy Mr. Wickham and uptight Mr. Darcy based on first impressions. In the end, Elizabeth yields her pride and her heart to Mr. Darcy (who is both boring and romantic), not in a flit of girlish infatuation, but in gratitude and affection. Because it’s Mr. Darcy who offers Elizabeth a better understanding of herself.

So, Elizabeth learns more about who she is and changes. Catherine does not and goes nuts.

We women are a little bit Catherine and a little bit Elizabeth. Keep it together! Learning leads to resolution. And resolution leads to gratitude and understanding of self. Choose more Elizabeth, less Catherine.

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