Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Carnell, Rachel

Subject Headings

American Literature, Behavioral Psychology, British and Irish Literature, Gender, Literature, Modern Literature, Motion Pictures, Personal Relationships

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a trend in young adult adaptations of Wuthering Heights to amend the plot so that Catherine Earnshaw chooses to have a romantic relationship with Heathcliff, when in Bronte’s novel she decides against it. In the following study, I trace the factors that contribute to Catherine’s rejection of Heathcliff as a romantic partner in the original text. Many critics have argued that her motives are primarily Machiavellian since she chooses a suitor with more wealth and familial connections than Heathcliff. These are indeed factors; however, by engaging with contemporary research on adolescent development, I show that the primary reason she rejects Heathcliff is because he has exhibited a propensity for violence and other abusive behaviors. I also analyze the consequences of reversing her decision in the updated young adult versions, which include the made-for-television film MTV’s Wuthering Heights (2003), the Lifetime original film Wuthering High School (2012), and the novel Catherine (2013). The most significant consequence of this change is that in order to make Heathcliff a “chooseable,” twenty-first century hero, the writers of these works have to romanticize his violent tendencies through the perspectives of their female protagonists. When the young women begin to question how secure they are around their partners, they ultimately decide that fidelity to their “soulmate” relationship is more important than safety or autonomy, with the writers using Catherine Earnshaw’s famous “I am Heathcliff” speech to support their protagonists’ conclusions. I argue, though, that while Catherine does allude to the type of otherworldly love these young women are venerating, Bronte uses her speech to confront the limitations of that love, not to hold it up as an ideal.

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