‘I Hate Everybody!’: The Unnatural Consumptive in Wuthering Heights (1847)
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In a novel of 1847, one might expect piety and sentimentality—the moral lessons of suffering and sympathy—to dominate, but the narrative structure of Wuthering Heights ensures that the sentiments being expressed always belong to a wide array of narrating characters with varying emotional responses to the consumptive, ranging from pity to revulsion to outright abuse, without privileging any one. I still remember the physical tug of horror I felt, probably 20 years ago, when I first read Heathcliff’s response to young Catherine begging for help to nurse a dying consumptive: ‘None here care what becomes of him; if you do, act the nurse; if you do not, lock him up and leave him!’ (II. XVI, p. 259) I had never imagined a Victorian novel in which an invalid might be locked up to die alone—in which the sacred sickbed scene could be violated so callously (I had not yet read Jude the Obscure).