Wuthering Heights, for all of it’s strange and twisted machinations, is often labeled as a love story. To a degree, this is true, a significant portion of the plot does center around a romance between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw-Linton. However, the book bears little resemblance to contemporary romance fiction. It would be better and more accurate to group it closer to the greek understanding of love, Eros.
Now, a little context. The greeks had four distinct words for describing love: storge, philia, agape, and eros. Each of these four described a distinct type of love. Eros described what we would call romantic love or attraction. The other three described platonic versions of love, such as love of family or friends. To be clear, the greeks did not view Eros as being a very positive or beneficial state of being. It was viewed as a form of theia mania, in english ‘madness given by the gods’. The affiliated greek god, also conveniently named Eros, spread this type of love by shooting people with special arrows given by his mother, Aphrodite. Eros (the feeling, not the god) came upon a man as a direct attack by the gods onto his psyche, driving him mad with obsession. That’s pretty intense. It was also common that relationships borne from these conditions met with tragic ends, often because of the white-hot intensity of emotions involved.
It’s not hard to see how Wuthering Heights fits in with this narrative (especially that last bit). It is easy to argue how love drives some characters to act in ways that they would not otherwise. We see this from the very beginning of the novel, before we fully understand what Heathcliff’s relationship to Catherine had developed. He begs Catherine, long dead at this point, to come in and haunt him and his house, calling her “[his] heart’s darling” (Chapter 3). Such strong professions from a man who spent much of the novel trying to take vengeance upon Catherine and her kin. Their relationship, horribly corrupt and filled with toxic and manipulative behavior, is most definitely passionate enough to fall under the label of mania. No matter how far one strays from the other, a string between them seems to pull them back towards one another. Theirs is not the only one in the story, not by a long shot. Most of the relationships in the novel are on some level dysfunctional. Even sweet Edgar Linton, easily the best character from a moral standpoint, has a rather possessive relationship with Catherine. After being struck by Catherine, Nelly describes him as “[possessing] the power to depart as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten”(Chapter 8). Take note of the predatory aspect of Bronte’s language here. This predator-prey dynamic leaves the reader with an ominous foreshadowing to an unhealthy co-dependendant relationship, just as a cat is dependent on mouse and bird for sustenance.
If I am being honest, to see Wuthering Heights labeled as a romance is a bit disconcerting. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine, though passionate, is as far from the modern concept of romance as Lolita is from proper parenting techniques. Viewed through the lens of greek understanding, however, and the intense and manic behaviors appear to almost be inevitable.