Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights: Ch. 3

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Chapter III

While leading the way upstairs, she recommended that I should hide the candle, and not make a noise; for her master had an odd notion about the chamber she would put me in,d and never let anybody lodge there willingly.  I asked the reason.  She did not know, she answered: she had only lived there a year or two; and they had so many queer goings on, she could not begin to be curious.

Too stupefied to be curious myself, I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed.  The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press,h and a large oak case,h with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows.  Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of old-fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself.  In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table.  I slid back the panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and every one else.

The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint.  This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.d

In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw—Heathcliff—Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres—the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle-wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin.  I snuffed it off, and, very ill at ease under the influence of cold and lingering nausea, sat up and spread open the injured tome on my knee.  It was a Testament,h in lean type, and smelling dreadfully musty: a fly-leaf bore the inscription—‘Catherine Earnshaw, her book,’ and a date some quarter of a century back.  I shut it, and took up another and another, till I had examined all.  Catherine’s library was select, and its state of dilapidation proved it to have been well used, though not altogether for a legitimatew purpose: scarcely one chapter had escaped, a pen-and-ink commentary—at least the appearance of one—covering every morsel of blank that the printer had left.  Some were detached sentences; other parts took the form of a regular diary, scrawled in an unformed, childish hand.  At the top of an extra page (quite a treasure, probably, when first lighted on) I was greatly amused to behold an excellent caricature of my friend Joseph,—rudely, yet powerfully sketched.  An immediate interest kindled within me for the unknown Catherine, and I began forthwith to decipher her faded hieroglyphics.d

‘An awful Sunday,’ commenced the paragraph beneath.  ‘I wish my father were back again.  Hindley is a detestable substitute—his conduct to Heathcliff is atrocious—H. and I are going to rebel—we took our initiatory step this evening.

‘All day had been flooding with rain; we could not go to church, so Joseph must needs get up a congregation in the garret; and, while Hindley and his wife basked downstairs before a comfortable fire—doing anything but reading their Bibles, I’ll answer for it—Heathcliff, myself, and the unhappy ploughboy were commanded to take our prayer-books, and mount: we were ranged in a row, on a sack of corn, groaning and shivering, and hoping that Joseph would shiver too, so that he might give us a short homily for his own sake.  A vain idea!  The service lasted precisely three hours; and yet my brother had the face to exclaim, when he saw us descending, “What, done already?”  On Sunday evenings we used to be permitted to play, if we did not make much noise; now a mere titter is sufficient to send us into corners.

‘“You forget you have a master here,” says the tyrant.  “I’ll demolish the first who puts me out of temper!  I insist on perfect sobriety and silence.  Oh, boy!d was that you?  Frances darling, pull his hair as you go by: I heard him snap his fingers.”  Frances pulled his hair heartily, and then went and seated herself on her husband’s knee, and there they were, like two babies, kissing and talking nonsensed by the hour—foolish palaver that we should be ashamed of.  We made ourselves as snug as our means allowed in the arch of the dresser.  I had just fastened our pinafores together, and hung them up for a curtain, when in comes Joseph, on an errand from the stables.  He tears down my handiwork, boxes my ears, and croaks:

‘“T’ maister nobbutd just buried, and Sabbath not o’ered, und t’ sound o’ t’ gospel still i’ yer lugs, and ye darr be laiking!  Shame on ye! sit ye down, ill childer! there’s good books eneugh if ye’ll read ’em: sit ye down, and think o’ yer sowls!”

X [d] the chamber she would put me in,

Daily Life

Indicative of the servants' autonomy at the Heights is Zillah's flouting Heathcliff's instructions regarding this room. The Heights's government appears to function as a despotism, but its subjects are unusually free to act as they choose.

X [h] a clothes-press,

Things

A wooden cupboard with shelves for clothes.

X [h] a large oak case,

Things

A long "structure" built in beneath and around the windows and incorporating some of them. The case contains a "couch" or bed, and its lid folds down for a bench during the day and if desired for the sleeper's privacy. The walls of the house are thick, and so the ledge beneath the window can serve as a desk.

X [d] a name repeated in all kinds of characters, l…

Writing & Reading

A moment pregnant with meaning. Brontë emphasizes the significance by having the name "repeated" in various shapes and sizes. Moreover, we'll see that the novel's structure and narration play upon the idea of repetition. 

These six names perplex Lockwood and thus the reader. Is Catherine Heathcliff the name of a single person, a given and surname, or two given names denoting two pe…

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X [h] Testament,

Writing & Reading

Bible, in "lean" type, meaning poor, somewhat illegible type.

Writing, as we've just seen, and reading figure importantly.

X [w] legitimate

Lockwood judges writing in a book, especially the Bible, to viollate it. 

X [d] to decipher her faded hieroglyphics.

Writing & Reading

Lockwood attempts to decipher the faded hieroglyphics some twenty-five years after their inscription. Brontë's reader in 1847 and every subsequent reader is similarly engaged in deciphering these and the novel's other hieroglyphics.

X [d] Oh, boy!

Diminishing and demeaning, as in "Garçon!"

X [d] like two babies, kissing and talking nonsense

Daily Life

The reader does not yet know who this couple is, but to most English readers of the time the couple exhibits an uninhibited eroticism (she is sitting on his knee and the two are kissing) in a public room. The Heights may have dreadful weather outside but inside it is alive and warm, which makes it quite unlike almost any other middle-class English home we read about at the time. Th…

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X [d] nobbut

Writing & Reading

"The master only just buried, and the Sabbath not yet over, and the sound of the Gospel still in your ears...wicked children...think of your souls." Consistent with Joseph's grim outlook on life, his speech employs a great many negatives such as "nobbut" and "naught."   …

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