Table of Contents

Section 0: Home

Section 1: History

Section 2: Literature

Section 3: Philosophy

Section 4: Creative Writing

In Professor Thornhart's Classroom: Lesson One

I cannot be more lonely,
More drear I cannot be!
My worn heart throbs so wildly
'Twill break for thee.
Emily Brontė

Click to enlarge Don't be afraid to flip through the pages of a great book (in both senses of the term) such as Wuthering Heights. Although Wuthering Heights was written over a century and a half ago, you might find resemblances in it to people you know today....

A Class(room) Act

Since recently accepting a teaching position there, Professor Patrick Thornhart has undoubtedly become one of the most popular professors at Llanview University. Unfortunately, however, his popularity does not arise solely from his exceptional ability to bring Western literature to life for his students - although if he ever became weary of teaching for a living, he could certainly earn his Irish whiskey as a Shakespearean actor! In addition to his skills and experience as a teacher, Professor Thornhart brings a dashing presence to the classroom that has his female students all aflutter. Little do they realize that the handsome and personable professor is hiding a broken heart behind that dynamic facade . . . and that none of them has the remotest chance of evoking the slightest romantic interest from him whatsoever, no matter how diligently they study.

If Professor Thornhart were to deliver a lecture to his students on the subject actually closest to his heart - the subject of rejected love - he could do no better than to turn to Emily Brontė. One can easily imagine the professor presenting a lecture similar to the following to his students, a lecture requiring little preparation from him. He would understand, only too well, the emotions and heartache of which Emily Brontė wrote so memorably many years ago, and her words from her classic novel Wuthering Heights would resonate in his own soul:

’If all else perished, and he [Heathcliff] remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, 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.'

Patrick's (Imaginary) Lecture

"These words are spoken by Catherine Linton, the heroine of the first part of Wuthering Heights, as she tries to explain the inexplicable to Nelly Dean, who is her housekeeper and a friend to both Catherine and Heathcliff - why Catherine plans to marry the passive Edgar Linton, and seemingly deny her passion for Heathcliff.

"Tell me, is there a passage in all of English literature that better illustrates the deliberate obfuscation - look it up! - of the illusion of security with the reality of love? Or one that concentrates such feeling in three simple words:

"'I am Heathcliff.'

"But what are we to make of this declaration? Can Catherine not tell the difference between Edgar - the man she believes can provide her with a comfortable retreat from the wildness of her own nature - and a - dare I say it - TREE? Or is Catherine having an identity crisis - does she not know who SHE is? Does she really believe she's Heathcliff? (Oh, sorry, Joe! Don't take that personally!)

"At any rate - yes, Catherine can tell the difference between her intended and a tree, and no, she's not having an identity crisis. Emily Brontė has instinctively - remember, there was no mental therapy or psycho-babble back in her day! - understood the fundamental connection that either exists or does not exist between two people. She not only understands it, she expresses the concept using the elements of nature she loves best: the woods, the seasons, and even the rocks and stones under Emily's beloved mother earth.

"Remember, foliage may bloom in one season and thrive for another, but then it withers and fall to the ground to be trampled upon until it eventually crumbles into nothing. Very little in life endures permanently - including this class! But as Catherine says, rocks are eternal. Of course, Emily Brontė haunted the moors during her life; perhaps she does so even to this day, so she knew - or knows - the meaning of eternity. To the naked eye, the Yorkshire moors appear to reach to the sky and beyond, in an unlimited expanse. And at first glance, little seems to grow on the moors, which increases one's sense of their immutability.

Click to enlarge ...Some acquaintances of Patrick Thornhart's even detect a resemblance between him and Heathcliff.
Yes, the imagination is a wonderful thing.

"Catherine is a young woman with strong feelings, but she is impulsive, not contemplative - she acts before she thinks, and she speaks almost as a child would - directly. When Catherine says 'Nelly, I am Heathcliff,' she is saying, in the only way she knows how, that Heathcliff is her very soul. He is her foundation, in the way that the rocks the earth seems made of represent to her the foundation of her beloved home, Wuthering Heights, which she loves more than heaven itself. Catherine knows she cannot have one without the other; they are bound together.

"So why does Catherine, this woman ruled by her passions, turn her back on Heathcliff, who is essentially herself, and marry Edgar Linton, a man for whom she admits her love is ephemeral? (Another one for you to look up.) Remember, in Catherine's day - we're talking the late 1700's - marriage was for life; the marriage contract was virtually unbreakable, and wives were totally subject to their husbands. A woman such as Catherine must have had a compelling reason to act so out of character."

"The reason is a common one, and one that hardly seems worthy of Catherine in the end.

"Catherine is a person it can be difficult to like. She is headstrong and self-centered. But up to the point where she chooses Edgar and rejects Heathcliff, she is utterly true to herself, and that can't help but draw our admiration. Afterwards, we realize that we've been misled into thinking that that makes her immune to what her society expected of her, or what it might influence her to expect. But she's not immune. Catherine is subject to the same pressures as her contemporaries. She wants things - material things, a position in life, security - that she believes, rightly or wrongly, Heathcliff can't give her. And she lets them assume an importance to her that they don't deserve. She chooses the safe, conventional route, with a safe, conventional man, instead of letting her heart guide her to a more fulfilling future with her literal soulmate. If any of you young ladies is tempted to do that, you'd be better advised to heed Emily Brontė, who as far as we know died a virgin.

"If I teach you only one thing, I want it to this: in literature, we can find many lessons to apply to our own lives. For example, let's examine what happens when Catherine denies Heathcliff, the man she truly needs to be alive. What happens next? Catherine, of course, lives - and dies - bitterly regretting her choice. Heathcliff - who is as far from being the legendary romantic hero those of you who've never bothered to read the book assume he is as I am from being Kenneth Branagh - becomes a monster in his wrath. You wouldn't want to brawl with him, gentlemen. Edgar is left with a motherless daughter, young Cathy, and Heathcliff marries Edgar's sister Isabella, a woman he despises almost as much as he despises Edgar. Heathcliff proceeds to make her life - and their son's life - a misery. But it can't bring Catherine back, and he is tormented seeking her ghost the rest of his life. They can be together only in death.

"What, then, is there for us to learn in the end?

"To me, the most important lesson is this: by denying Heathcliff, Catherine denied herself, and so doomed both herself and Heathcliff - her other self, her soul - and even Edgar and Isabella, who were more or less innocent bystanders caught in the drama between Catherine and Heathcliff and its tragic aftermath.

"So, ladies and gentlemen, the next time you groan - I heard you - at having to read a book written over 150 years ago, and think it's just a waste of time you could be putting to better use, like partying - that it couldn't possibly have any relevance to your life - bear in mind that human beings behaved exactly the same way then that they - we - do now. If I may inject a somewhat personal comment here - I've recently learned that particular lesson - the hard way - myself."