[Marxism] Was Heathcliff Black?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 18 07:26:25 MST 2016

Wuthering Heights is the perfect example of how the traces of slavery 
are not new news and can be found in seemingly unusual sources. 
Wuthering Heights has, for years, been read as a literary classic, and 
yet, although arguably a historical novel of slavery, it has been 
overlooked as a historical source. Wuthering Heights was published in 
1847 but set earlier (it opens in 1801, and the story extends back to 
the 1770s), that is, before the 1834 abolition of slavery in Britain. A 
historical novel under the mask of the Gothic, it is notoriously veiled 
in its representations of slavery in Yorkshire. Scholars have 
periodically debated whether and how the footprints of slavery can be 
tracked in Brontë’s classic, sometimes by relying on the same few 
enigmatic lines as textual evidence of Heathcliff’s blackness.


‘A good heart will help you to a bonny face, my lad,’ I continued, ‘if 
you were a regular black; and a bad one will turn the bonniest into 
something worse than ugly. And now that we’ve done washing, and combing, 
and sulking—tell me whether you don’t think yourself rather handsome? 
I’ll tell you, I do. You’re fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows but 
your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each 
of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and 
Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors 
and brought to England. Were I in your place, I would frame high notions 
of my birth; and the thoughts of what I was should give me courage and 
dignity to support the oppressions of a little farmer!’

So I chattered on; and Heathcliff gradually lost his frown and began to 
look quite pleasant, when all at once our conversation was interrupted 
by a rumbling sound moving up the road and entering the court. He ran to 
the window and I to the door, just in time to behold the two Lintons 
descend from the family carriage, smothered in cloaks and furs, and the 
Earnshaws dismount from their horses: they often rode to church in 
winter. Catherine took a hand of each of the children, and brought them 
into the house and set them before the fire, which quickly put colour 
into their white faces.


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