Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Humans and Dogs in Wuthering Heights

I first published this note on The Valve for December 30, 2009. It speaks to my recent posts on animals, especially in cartoons (e.g. Where'd the Animals Go?). Humankind's history of domestication and mutual adaptation with dogs is perhaps deeper than that with any other animal.
About a month ago I posted a bleg in which I asked whether or not anyone knew of any critical work which looked at Wuthering Heights in relation to contemporary lore and literature on feral children. In that bleg I quoted this important description of Heathcliff from chapter 10 in which Heathcliff is likened to a wolf:
Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond--a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.
The wolf, of course, is biological cousin to the many forms of domestic dogs, and various forms of dogs do appear throughout Wuthering Heights. In particular, violence between dogs and humans takes place at important transition points in the novel. I’ve collected five such passages in this post and italicized the dog references within each passage.

Chapter I: Lockwood has rented Thrushcross Grange and goes to Wuthering Heights to pay his respects to his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. In a sense this is the the most important transition of all because it gets us and Lockwood into the Wuthering Heights world.
I took a seat at the end of the hearthstone opposite that towards which my landlord advanced, and filled up an interval of silence by attempting to caress the canine mother, who had left her nursery, and was sneaking wolfishly to the back of my legs, her lip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch. My caress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.

'You'd better let the dog alone,' growled Mr. Heathcliff in unison, checking fiercer demonstrations with a punch of his foot. 'She's not accustomed to be spoiled--not kept for a pet.' Then, striding to a side door, he shouted again, 'Joseph!'

Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, but gave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him, leaving me vis-a-vis the ruffianly bitch and a pair of grim shaggy sheep-dogs, who shared with her a jealous guardianship over all my movements. Not anxious to come in contact with their fangs, I sat still; but, imagining they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making faces at the trio, and some turn of my physiognomy so irritated madam, that she suddenly broke into a fury and leapt on my knees. I flung her back, and hastened to interpose the table between us. This proceeding aroused the whole hive: half-a-dozen four-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hidden dens to the common centre. I felt my heels and coat-laps peculiar subjects of assault; and parrying off the larger combatants as effectually as I could with the poker, I was constrained to demand, aloud, assistance from some of the household in reestablishing peace.
Chapter 6: Catherine and Heathcliff travel to Thrushcross Grange and look in through a window where they see Isabella and Edgar Linton fighting over a lap dog. Catherine is so badly bitten by a bull dog that she has to stay at the Grange for a month to recover. When she returns to the Heights she’s somewhat estranged from Heathcliff.
Old Mr. and Mrs. Linton were not there; Edgar and his sisters had it entirely to themselves. Shouldn't they have been happy? We should have thought ourselves in heaven! And now, guess what your good children were doing? Isabella--I believe she is eleven, a year younger than Cathy--lay screaming at the farther end of the room, shrieking as if witches were running red-hot needles into her. Edgar stood on the hearth weeping silently, and in the middle of the table sat a little dog, shaking its paw and yelping; which, from their mutual accusations, we understood they had nearly pulled in two between them. The idiots! That was their pleasure! to quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair, and each begin to cry because both, after struggling to get it, refused to take it. We laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them!
Heathcliff is telling the story to Nelly Dean, who’s telling it to Lockwood, who in turn is telling it to us. The story continues:
'Hush, hush!' I interrupted. 'Still you have not told me, Heathcliff, how Catherine is left behind?'

'I told you we laughed,' he answered. 'The Lintons heard us, and with one accord they shot like arrows to the door; there was silence, and then a cry, "Oh, mamma, mamma! Oh, papa! Oh, mamma, come here. Oh, papa, oh!" They really did howl out something in that way. We made frightful noises to terrify them still more, and then we dropped off the ledge, because somebody was drawing the bars, and we felt we had better flee. I had Cathy by the hand, and was urging her on, when all at once she fell down. "Run, Heathcliff, run!" she whispered. "They have let the bull-dog loose, and he holds me!" The devil had seized her ankle, Nelly: I heard his abominable snorting. She did not yell out--no! she would have scorned to do it, if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow. I did, though: I vociferated curses enough to annihilate any fiend in Christendom; and I got a stone and thrust it between his jaws, and tried with all my might to cram it down his throat. A beast of a servant came up with a lantern, at last, shouting--"Keep fast, Skulker, keep fast!" He changed his note, however, when he saw Skulker's game. The dog was throttled off; his huge, purple tongue hanging half a foot out of his mouth, and his pendent lips streaming with bloody slaver.
Chapter 12: Heathcliff elopes with Isabella Linton. Suave charmer that he is, he hangs Isabella’s dog.
'She abandoned them under a delusion,' he answered; 'picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion. I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character and acting on the false impressions she cherished. But, at last, I think she begins to know me: I don't perceive the silly smiles and grimaces that provoked me at first; and the senseless incapability of discerning that I was in earnest when I gave her my opinion of her infatuation and herself. It was a marvellous effort of perspicacity to discover that I did not love her. I believed, at one time, no lessons could teach her that! And yet it is poorly learnt; for this morning she announced, as a piece of appalling intelligence, that I had actually succeeded in making her hate me! A positive labour of Hercules, I assure you! If it be achieved, I have cause to return thanks. Can I trust your assertion, Isabella? Are you sure you hate me? If I let you alone for half a day, won't you come sighing and wheedling to me again? I daresay she would rather I had seemed all tenderness before you: it wounds her vanity to have the truth exposed. But I don't care who knows that the passion was wholly on one side: and I never told her a lie about it. She cannot accuse me of showing one bit of deceitful softness. The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it, the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one: possibly she took that exception for herself. But no brutality disgusted her: I suppose she has an innate admiration of it, if only her precious person were secure from injury! Now, was it not the depth of absurdity--of genuine idiotcy, for that pitiful, slavish, mean-minded brach to dream that I could love her?
Chapter 17: Catherine Linton has died in the previous chapter. We’re at Wuthering Heights, miserable home of Isabella and Heathcliff; Hindley and Hareton live there as well. Isabella is pregnant. Hindley takes a shot at Heathcliff; Heathcliff beats him half to death. The next day Isabella flees:
'The back of the settle and Earnshaw's person interposed between me and him; so instead of endeavouring to reach me, he snatched a dinner-knife from the table and flung it at my head. It struck beneath my ear, and stopped the sentence I was uttering; but, pulling it out, I sprang to the door and delivered another; which I hope went a little deeper than his missile. The last glimpse I caught of him was a furious rush on his part, checked by the embrace of his host; and both fell locked together on the hearth. In my flight through the kitchen I bid Joseph speed to his master; I knocked over Hareton, who was hanging a litter of puppies from a chair-back in the doorway; and, blessed as a soul escaped from purgatory, I bounded, leaped, and flew down the steep road; then, quitting its windings, shot direct across the moor, rolling over banks, and wading through marshes: precipitating myself, in fact, towards the beacon-light of the Grange. And far rather would I be condemned to a perpetual dwelling in the infernal regions than, even for one night, abide beneath the roof of Wuthering Heights again.'
I find this incident particulary telling, set as it as, amongst some much violence between humans and however briefly the puppy hanging is mentioned. Just another day at the Heights.

Isabella gives birth to Linton Heathcliff a bit later in the chapter.

Chapter 18: Catherine Linton (the younger) goes from Thrushcross Grange to Wuthering Heights and her dogs get into a fight with Hareton’s.
The summer shone in full prime; and she took such a taste for this solitary rambling that she often contrived to remain out from breakfast till tea; and then the evenings were spent in recounting her fanciful tales. I did not fear her breaking bounds; because the gates were generally locked, and I thought she would scarcely venture forth alone, if they had stood wide open. Unluckily, my confidence proved misplaced. Catherine came to me, one morning, at eight o'clock, and said she was that day an Arabian merchant, going to cross the Desert with his caravan; and I must give her plenty of provision for herself and beasts: a horse, and three camels, personated by a large hound and a couple of pointers. I got together good store of dainties, and slung them in a basket on one side of the saddle; and she sprang up as gay as a fairy, sheltered by her wide-brimmed hat and gauze veil from the July sun, and trotted off with a merry laugh, mocking my cautious counsel to avoid galloping, and come back early. The naughty thing never made her appearance at tea. One traveller, the hound, being an old dog and fond of its ease, returned; but neither Cathy, nor the pony, nor the two pointers were visible in any direction: I despatched emissaries down this path, and that path, and at last went wandering in search of her myself. There was a labourer working at a fence round a plantation, on the borders of the grounds. I inquired of him if he had seen our young lady.

'I saw her at morn,' he replied: 'she would have me to cut her a hazel switch, and then she leapt her Galloway over the hedge yonder, where it is lowest, and galloped out of sight.'

You may guess how I felt at hearing this news. It struck me directly she must have started for Penistone Crags. 'What will become of her?' I ejaculated, pushing through a gap which the man was repairing, and making straight to the high-road. I walked as if for a wager, mile after mile, till a turn brought me in view of the Heights; but no Catherine could I detect, far or near. The Crags lie about a mile and a half beyond Mr. Heathcliff's place, and that is four from the Grange, so I began to fear night would fall ere I could reach them. 'And what if she should have slipped in clambering among them,' I reflected, 'and been killed, or broken some of her bones?' My suspense was truly painful; and, at first, it gave me delightful relief to observe, in hurrying by the farmhouse, Charlie, the fiercest of the pointers, lying under a window, with swelled head and bleeding ear. I opened the wicket and ran to the door, knocking vehemently for admittance. A woman whom I knew, and who formerly lived at Gimmerton, answered: she had been servant there since the death of Mr. Earnshaw.

. . . . . .

This, however, is not making progress with my story. Miss Cathy rejected the peace-offering of the terrier, and demanded her own dogs, Charlie and Phoenix. They came limping and hanging their heads; and we set out for home, sadly out of sorts, every one of us. I could not wring from my little lady how she had spent the day; except that, as I supposed, the goal of her pilgrimage was Penistone Crags; and she arrived without adventure to the gate of the farm-house, when Hareton happened to issue forth, attended by some canine followers, who attacked her train. They had a smart battle, before their owners could separate them: that formed an introduction. Catherine told Hareton who she was, and where she was going; and asked him to show her the way: finally, beguiling him to accompany her. He opened the mysteries of the Fairy Cave, and twenty other queer places.
That’s 18 out of 34 chapters. I’ve not had time to scout out the rest of the book for such incidents. Truth be told, I didn’t have time to scout out these five cases either. I just took them from old notes. Apparently that’s as far as I got with this project back in the day. Still, it’s enough to give you a sense of how dog imagery is used in the book.


  1. "blessed as a soul escaped from purgatory, I bounded, leaped, and flew down the steep road; then, quitting its windings, shot direct across the moor, rolling over banks, and wading through marshes: precipitating myself, in fact, towards the beacon-light of the Grange. And far rather would I be condemned to a perpetual dwelling in the infernal regions than, even for one night, abide beneath the roof of Wuthering Heights again"

    That is how to become a wild man or wild women. I have neglected to study this theme in literature from the late 17th century. I got an impression (rather a sketch one that it may prove to be a popular motif with female writers as did seem to be a number of them using what looked like variations on the theme).

    This is one of the most prolific chapbooks in English (its constantly re-published). I am unsure if the fight with the dog at the start made it into other forms.

    The text itself has an unusual history authorship is uncertain as Madame H is otherwise unknown, C.M Condamine and Lord Monboddo both have a role in its production. French in its first edition but it is in subsequent English translation where it achieves popularity. Lord Monboddo's secretory produced the translation.

    An Account of A Savage Girl Caught Wild in the Woods of Champagne, By madame H.


  2. Purgatory and Fairy. Both vexing subjects that require work in relation to these creatures. If the dog fight motif jumps into different versions from An Account of the Savage Girl would look rather convincing. If not at least some readers may have made a connection.

  3. Hmmm, most interesting, Jeb. I have this vague sense that stories of feral children were quite popular at the time.

    BTW, Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron was discovered in 1798 or so.


    I wonder if Bronte was familiar with his story. I'm sure it was written up at the time. In fact, here's an English translation from 1802:


  4. Seriously popular (but the whole feral family is wild man, woman and increasingly ape).

    Been a few issues with this site (or I have been having some) was down a few days ago and I can't get the feral children part open only the Ape section. Its a Tarzan fan fic. site but George Dodd's is a serious collector of a range of seriously interesting texts and period newspaper cuttings.


    I find that people use these cluster of related themes in a highly sophisticated way, which is often also surprisingly consistent over long periods of time. Its successes I would speculate is that it can move in a range of different directions and embed in very different contexts. Lord M's translation is later a huge hit in slightly every altering form with the growing evangelical movement.

    I would suggest it would be rather difficult to miss as it is embedded in a wide variety of very different cultural contexts and people in discussing it give the impression they have come across it repeatedly and use it creatively with ease.

  5. Cf.: Ivan Kreilkamp. Petted Things: Wuthering Heights and the Animal. The Yale Journal of Criticism, volume 18, number 1 (2005): 87–110.