The 2016 Marvel Studios movie Doctor Strange has a scene where Baron Mordo tells Dr. Strange to “forget everything you think you know.” In his case, he means the world, but in Allison Case’s case, this quote is much more applicable. In Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean functions as the servant who tells the story, becoming little more than a plot device in Bronte’s narrative. Here, Nelly is far more involved…in more ways than one. From the opening lines, we see that there is a new connection that she shares with Mr. Hindley Earnshaw. Take this passage for example:
“And I’ll not say he didn’t love her. But sometimes, if I was by, and her back to me, in the midst of his fussing he would send me a long, keen look, as if all this show was for my benefit.”
It’s no secret that Allison Case is pushing Hindley and Nelly together romantically. The question is tied to the reason why.
We could always assume that this book was intended for a modern audience, particularly a modern audience that may have never read Wuthering Heights. They would not have had that connection to the original story and would have found themselves saying, “So what?” if Case had just went with the original narrative. Practically, it seems like a smart move for Case. But I think it’s more than just a smart move – I think it’s the reason Nelly chose to stay.
In the context of Nelly Dean, a storm forces Hindley and Nelly to go to a cave to seek shelter. In a tender scene, Nelly and Hindley spend the night together in the same cave that they visited as children. The narrative comes full circle where Nelly’s childhood innocence from her earlier playtime in the cave is replaced by her path to adulthood from her night with Hindley – and the same goes for Hindley as well. In the end, she confesses all of this to Lockwood reading her letter:
“Do I need to tell you what happened next? Remember that we were frightened and cold and far from home. And I loved him. Yes, there on our heathery bed in that little earthen chamber, roofed with stone and curtained by falling rain, I loved him with all my heart.”
Love is a powerful motivator in keeping someone tied to a certain place. It is a metaphor for the inability of a person to move on from someone or something. We see in the opening chapters that eventually the teenage romance breaks down, despite their seeming love for each other. Because of that, Nelly Dean positions itself as an interesting exploration of what happens when you find love in circumstance and not in truth. Nelly and Hindley were raised together, played together, and did not leave Wuthering Heights for most of their childhood. It was only a matter of time before they fell in love. But I don’t think that Case would say that this is a particularly good thing. In fact, it seems that now Nelly is much more in line with the other family members who chose to stay at Wuthering Heights in Bronte’s novel. Instead of just being “the servant,” Nelly is painted as a jilted lover who is sworn by duty to serve the family because of their kindness towards her and her love for Hindley. In this, Nelly is very much a tortured soul just like the rest of them.