Wuthering Heights

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Ellen "Nelly" Dean Character Analysis

Housekeeper to the Earnshaws and Lintons. The novel is from her point of view; we see every character (aside from Lockwood) through her eyes. She grows up with Hindley, Catherine, and Heathcliff and works at both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Nelly is confidante to many, including both Catherines, Isabella, and even Heathcliff. She cares for Hareton when he is an infant and is a mother-figure to the younger Cathy. Though a servant, she is educated and articulate. Frequently, she does more than observe; she becomes very involved in her employers' lives. Some might call her meddlesome, but most of the characters are so comfortable with her that they have intimate conversations in front of her.

Ellen "Nelly" Dean Quotes in Wuthering Heights

The Wuthering Heights quotes below are all either spoken by Ellen "Nelly" Dean or refer to Ellen "Nelly" Dean. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gothic Literature and the Supernatural Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Wuthering Heights published in 2009.
Chapter 8 Quotes
Doubtless Catherine marked the difference between her friends, as one came in and the other went out. The contrast resembled what you see in exchanging a bleak, hilly, coal country for a beautiful fertile valley; and his voice and greeting were as opposite as his aspect.
Related Characters: Ellen "Nelly" Dean (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has been cruel to Heathcliff, calling him "foolish," and when Edgar arrives, Heathcliff leaves in a storm of anger. Nelly, narrating the story to Lockwood, frames the difference between the two men in terms of nature, a typical descriptive strategy in the novel. Heathcliff is compared to "a bleak, hilly, coal country"––not unlike the actual landscape of the Yorkshire moors. This underlines the close association between Heathcliff and the Yorkshire wilderness.

Edgar, meanwhile, is compared to a "beautiful fertile valley." Though "fertile" could be a reference to the Lintons' wealth, this description is also notably feminizing. This passage confirms the fact that Catherine is growing more and more attracted to the idea of a future with Edgar, and again, the notion of fertility is important, as it prefigures both a life of prosperity and the birth of Catherine and Edgar's beautiful daughter, Cathy.

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Chapter 9 Quotes
Nelly, I see now, you think me a selfish wretch; but did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married we should be beggars? whereas, if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother's power?
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Ellen "Nelly" Dean, Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine continues to reveal her thoughts to Nelly, explaining that she feels that she must marry Edgar in order to rescue Heathcliff from Hindley. This speech challenges the impression that Catherine has taken a liking to Edgar because she is fickle or drawn to his elegant lifestyle; at least according to her, she marries him because she hopes that it will enable her to help stop Hindley's vengeful treatment of Heathcliff. Such a choice illustrates the highly limited agency of women at the time. Without attaching herself to Edgar, Catherine is powerless to help Heathcliff. Indeed, the main part of what keeps Catherine and Heathcliff apart is the economic class system that restricts the freedom of certain people while giving others unlimited authority.

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!
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Ellen "Nelly" Dean, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, one of the most famous of the novel, Catherine compares her relationships with Edgar and Heathcliff to different aspects of nature, concluding that her love for Heathcliff is permanent, and even declaring that she herself is Heathcliff. By comparing her feelings for Edgar to foliage, Catherine does not disparage these feelings, and the metaphor suggests that her relationship with Edgar will be more pleasant and prosperous than a marriage to Heathcliff could possibly be. 

At the same time, Catherine's description of her love for Heathcliff as resembling "the eternal rocks beneath" hints that their union is essential and fated. This sense of inevitability implies that––despite all that keeps them apart––they are destined to be together, and Catherine's mention of the rocks beneath prefigures the ending of the novel when she and Heathcliff are buried in the same place, finally together and at peace. 

The phrase "I am Heathcliff" is remarkable, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. On one level it might be considered the ultimate romantic statement, representing the absolute union of two people. On the other hand, it is also somewhat sinister and uncanny, especially situated in a novel that includes ghosts, doubles, and incestuous love. Such a declaration would have been especially alarming to Victorian readers, who would find it extremely strange for a woman to be saying that she is the man she loves. 

Chapter 27 Quotes
Catherine's face was just like the landscape—shadows and sunshine flitting over it in rapid succession; but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient.
Related Characters: Ellen "Nelly" Dean (speaker), Catherine/Cathy Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

It is August, and Nelly and Cathy have ventured out onto the moors to meet Linton. Nelly describes the vibrant summer landscape before immediately moving on to describe Cathy's face, which matches the natural scene. Once again, Bronte draws a parallel between the weather and Cathy's personality, and the strong affinity between Cathy and the moors links her to her mother, Catherine. Additionally, this description echoes Cathy's description of heaven, which she envisions as a wild, lively, blustery climate.

Note also that Nelly describes the sunshine as resting only a moment on Cathy's face, while the shadows last longer. This seems to be a description not only of Cathy's personality but also life and happiness in general. Wuthering Heights is a novel filled with conflict and suffering, which in many ways contains a rather dark, disturbing view of life. Cathy and Linton symbolize the best we can hope for in life, which is not––as Linton hopes––an entirely peaceful, pleasant existence, but rather moments of freedom and happiness within an otherwise turbulent world. 

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Ellen "Nelly" Dean Character Timeline in Wuthering Heights

The timeline below shows where the character Ellen "Nelly" Dean appears in Wuthering Heights. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
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Back at Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood starts feeling lonely and asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him about Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. Nelly Dean says she grew up... (full context)
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The point of view shifts from Lockwood to Nelly as she tells her story. Mr. Earnshaw, the former master of Wuthering Heights, was a... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...don't return from one of their adventures and Hindley orders that they be locked out. Nelly, though, waits up for them, and she is there when Heathcliff comes back alone. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Edgar and Isabella come to Wuthering Heights for Christmas. Heathcliff allows Nelly to make him presentable, but it turns out that Mrs. Linton allowed her children to... (full context)
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...Hindley mistreated Heathcliff, and after dinner she slips away from the others to visit Heathcliff. Nelly also takes pity on Heathcliff and brings him down to the kitchen for some food.... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Nelly continues her story: the following summer, Frances gives birth to a son, Hareton Earnshaw. But... (full context)
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Catherine then tells Nelly to leave the room, since she wants to be alone with Edgar. Nelly refuses—Hindley had... (full context)
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Nelly leaves Catherine and Edgar alone. When she does later enter to warn them that Hindley... (full context)
Chapter 9
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That night, Hindley grabs Hareton from Nelly in a rage, but then accidentally drops the baby over the bannister. Luckily, Heathcliff is... (full context)
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Later, Catherine goes to Nelly in the kitchen. As Heathcliff listens, she tells Nelly that she has accepted Edgar's proposal... (full context)
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Three years later, Heathcliff has still not returned, and Edgar and Catherine get married. Nelly leaves Hareton with Hindley and Joseph at Wuthering Heights and moves to Thrushcross Grange. (full context)
Chapter 10
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Heathcliff visits him once during this time, after which Lockwood asks Nelly to tell him how Heathcliff made his fortune. Nelly doesn't know how Heathcliff made his... (full context)
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As Heathcliff enters the parlor, Nelly notes that he looks imposing, mature, and dignified, in contrast to his youthful roughness. Yet... (full context)
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...if they wait any longer the tea will get cold. As he leaves, Heathcliff shocks Nelly when he tells her that he is staying at Wuthering Heights at Hindley's invitation. (full context)
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That night, Catherine awakens Nelly to tell her that she couldn't sleep from excitement. She says that she had praised... (full context)
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Catherine also tells Nelly how Heathcliff wound up staying at Wuthering Heights: he'd gone to Wuthering Heights to find... (full context)
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...her sister-in-law warns her that Heathcliff is a fiend whom she should stay away from. Nelly seconds this advice, and adds that there are rumors that Heathcliff is lending Hindley money... (full context)
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...the room. Heathcliff expresses disdain for Isabella, but notes that Isabella must be Edgar's heir. Nelly thinks Heathcliff is plotting something. (full context)
Chapter 11
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Not long afterward, Nelly stops by Wuthering Heights as she is walking past on some other errand and encounters... (full context)
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The following day, Nelly and Catherine observe Heathcliff and Isabella embracing in the Grange's garden. Catherine confronts Heathcliff in... (full context)
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Informed of the confrontation by Nelly, Edgar rushes in and orders Heathcliff to leave. Heathcliff refuses. Edgar moves to get the... (full context)
Chapter 12
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After three days, Catherine finally unlocks her door and allows Nelly to give her food. Catherine believes that she is dying, and is distraught that Edgar... (full context)
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Nelly refuses Catherine's request to open the window—she doesn't want Catherine to catch a chill. Catherine... (full context)
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Edgar arrives and is appalled by Catherine's weak and frenzied condition. Nelly goes to get a doctor. When the doctor arrives and examines Catherine, he announces that... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Isabella next writes to Nelly. She says that she is living at Wuthering Heights and that her experience has been... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Nelly goes to visit Wuthering Heights. Edgar, however, refuses Nelly's request to send with her a... (full context)
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At Wuthering Heights, Nelly barely gets to see Isabella at all. Instead, Heathcliff asks after Catherine's condition and then... (full context)
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Nelly refuses to help Heathcliff, who threatens to hold Nelly prisoner at Wuthering Heights and go... (full context)
Chapter 15
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When Edgar goes to church four days later, Nelly delivers Heathcliff's letter to Catherine, who is so weak that she can hardly hold it.... (full context)
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...up to leave, but Catherine begs him to stay and he does. As Edgar approaches, Nelly screams. Catherine collapses and Heathcliff catches her. Edgar rushes into the room. Heathcliff puts Catherine's... (full context)
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Nelly ushers Heathcliff from the room, promising to send news of Catherine's health in the morning.... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...gives birth to a daughter, Cathy, two months prematurely. Catherine dies two hours later. When Nelly brings Heathcliff the news, he seems somehow to already know. He curses Catherine for the... (full context)
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...the night. Eventually, exhaustion forces Edgar to leave Catherine's side for a few hours, and Nelly allows Heathcliff to see the body. (full context)
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After Heathcliff leaves, Nelly discovers that Heathcliff has replaced a lock of Edgar's hair that Catherine kept in her... (full context)
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...wall in the corner of the churchyard, with a view over the moors she loved. Nelly then tells Lockwood that Edgar is buried next to Catherine. (full context)
Chapter 17
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...she knows Edgar will be asleep in his room. Disheveled and laughing hysterically, Isabella tells Nelly, who is taking care of the baby Cathy, that she knows Edgar won't allow her... (full context)
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Isabella tells Nelly that Hindley desperately tried to stay sober in order to attend Catherine's funeral, but fell... (full context)
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Hindley dies six months after Catherine, and Nelly goes to Wuthering Heights to look after the funeral and to bring Hareton back to... (full context)
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Nelly then adds that Hareton, who should be the master of Wuthering Heights, now is forced... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...London to bring Linton back to the Grange. While he's gone, Cathy manages to escape Nelly and the grounds of the Grange. She heads off toward Penistone Crags, but meets Hareton... (full context)
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Nelly chases after Cathy and soon finds her at Wuthering Heights. Cathy refuses to leave when... (full context)
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...London. Unhappy that the news of Edgar's trip to get Linton has been made public, Nelly hushes Cathy by saying that a person can have many cousins of all sorts of... (full context)
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Finally Nelly and Cathy leave. On the trip back to the Grange, Cathy agrees not to tell... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Edgar tells Nelly that he believes that if Linton is allowed to stay at Thrushcross Grange, he will... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Nelly takes Linton to Wuthering Heights the next morning. To make the fearful Linton feel better... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...about Linton's departure. As time passes, though she asks about Linton less and less. Meanwhile, Nelly keeps tabs on Linton by questioning the Wuthering Heights housekeeper, and learns that Linton remains... (full context)
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One day, three years after Linton goes to Wuthering Heights, the sixteen-year-old Catherine and Nelly go bird-hunting on the moors. Cathy runs ahead of Nelly, and when Nelly catches up... (full context)
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...that he does have a son whom Catherine has met before and invites Cathy and Nelly to come back to Wuthering Heights with him. Nelly suspects Heathcliff's is plotting something, but... (full context)
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At the house, Heathcliff tells Nelly that he hopes Linton and Cathy will one day marry. Yet Cathy and Linton don't... (full context)
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...Hareton instead. Heathcliff demands that Linton go after them. Before they move out of earshot, Nelly hears Cathy mocking Hareton for being illiterate. (full context)
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...but Cathy doesn't listen and she and Linton begin writing secret letters to each other. Nelly eventually finds Linton's letters and, over Cathy's objections, destroys them. Cathy ends the correspondence with... (full context)
Chapter 22
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That winter, Edgar falls ill and Nelly becomes Cathy's main companion. One day, as the two walk in the garden, Cathy climbs... (full context)
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As Nelly searches for a key to the gate in the wall, Heathcliff appears. He admonishes Cathy... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Cathy and Nelly ride to Wuthering Heights the next morning in the rain. There, they find Linton, who... (full context)
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Nelly and Cathy return to Thrushcross Grange, where Nelly comes down with a cold from riding... (full context)
Chapter 24
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When Nelly recovers, she quickly notices Cathy's suspicious behavior and soon catches Cathy sneaking into her room... (full context)
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As soon as Cathy finishes her story, Nelly goes to Edgar and tells him everything. Edgar forbids Cathy from ever again visiting Linton... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Nelly pauses in her narrative to tell Lockwood that the events she's now describing took place... (full context)
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...he asks that she meet him not at Wuthering Heights but on the moors. However, Nelly further explains to Lockwood, Edgar didn't know that Linton was almost as close to death... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Cathy and Nelly ride to the location on the moors where they are to meet Linton, but he's... (full context)
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...meet Linton in the same place the following Thursday. As they travel home, Cathy and Nelly discuss how much more ill Linton seems, but decide that they'll have to wait until... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...following week. Though she doesn't want to leave her sick father alone, Cathy rides with Nelly to see Linton on the moors. Linton is even more nervous during this meeting than... (full context)
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As they talk, Heathcliff arrives. He asks Nelly that Edgar's health, and also tells her privately that he worries that Linton will die... (full context)
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At Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff locks Nelly and Cathy inside the house and says that they won't be allowed to leave until... (full context)
Chapter 28
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On the fifth day, Zillah the housekeeper frees Nelly from the bedroom and tells her that the village is awash in gossip that Nelly... (full context)
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Nelly rushes from Wuthering Heights back to Thrushcross Grange. She tells the dying Edgar that Cathy... (full context)
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A while later, Nelly hears someone arrive. She thinks that it's Mr. Green, but it's actually Cathy who has... (full context)
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...arrives that evening. He takes over the house, and dismisses all of the servants but Nelly. He also tries to have Edgar buried in the chapel, but Nelly intervenes, knowing that... (full context)
Chapter 29
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As Cathy packs, Nelly asks Heathcliff to let her be the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights because she wants to... (full context)
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As they leave, Cathy asks Nelly to visit her at Wuthering Heights. But Heathcliff tells Nelly never to come to the... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Nelly tells Lockwood that she hasn't seen Cathy since that day, and only gets news about... (full context)
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In his diary, Lockwood writes that Nelly has finished her story. He says that he has recovered from his illness and will... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...of his decision to leave Thrushcross Grange. He also carries a letter to Cathy from Nelly, but Hareton intercepts it before he can give it to her. When Cathy starts to... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...the area and pays a visit at Wuthering Heights. He finds, to his surprise, that Nelly now lives there. She tells him about what happened after he left: Two weeks after... (full context)
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...of a book, and promises to teach him to read and not to mock him. Nelly says that the two have come to love each other, and looks forward to an... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...him of Catherine. All of these reminders of Catherine torment him, and he admits to Nelly that he no longer much cares about taking out his revenge on Cathy and Hareton. (full context)
Chapter 34
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...When returns to Wuthering Heights, Cathy remarks that he is actually acting pleasantly. He tells Nelly that "Last night I was on the threshold of hell. Today, I am within sight... (full context)
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...and demands that he be left entirely alone. The next morning, at breakfast, Heathcliff terrifies Nelly when he seems to see an apparition. She can see nothing, but it seems to... (full context)
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...locks himself into his room and refuses to even see the doctor. The next morning, Nelly uses another key to get into the room and finds Heathcliff dead and soaking wet—he... (full context)