Nelly went to visit Wuthering Heights to see how Hindley and Hareton were doing. She saw little Hareton outside, but he didn't recognize her as his former nurse, so he threw a rock at her and cursed. She found that his father had taught him how to curse, and that Hareton liked Heathcliff because he defended Hareton from Hindley's curses, and allowed Hareton to do what he liked. Nelly was going to go in when she saw Heathcliff there; frightened, she ran back home.
The next time Heathcliff visited Thrushcross Grange, Nelly saw him kiss Isabella in the courtyard. She told Catherine what had happened, and when Heathcliff came in the two had an argument. Heathcliff said he had a right to do as he pleased, since Catherine was married to someone else. He said: "You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only, allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style" (112).
Nelly found Edgar, who came in while Catherine was scolding Heathcliff. Edgar scolded Catherine for talking to "that blackguard" (113), which made her very angry, since she had been defending the Lintons. Edgar ordered Heathcliff to leave, who scornfully ignored him. Edgar motioned for Nelly to fetch reinforcements, but Catherine angrily locked the door and threw the key into the fire when Edgar tried to get it from her. Catherine and Heathcliff mocked the humiliated and furious Edgar, so he hit Heathcliff and went out by the back door to get help. Nelly warned Heathcliff that he would be thrown out by the male servants if he stayed, so he chose to leave.
Left with Nelly, Catherine expressed her anger at her husband and Heathcliff: "Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend––if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I'll try to break their hearts by breaking my own" (116). Edgar came in and demanded to know whether Catherine would drop Heathcliff's acquaintance, and she had a temper tantrum, ending with a faked "fit of frenzy" (118). When Nelly revealed that the fit was faked, Catherine ran to her room and refused to come out or to eat for several days.
Nelly may seem unfeeling in her unsympathetic descriptions of Catherine and Heathcliff, but her behavior to Hareton and Hindley (who was her foster-brother) reveals her to be extremely tender-hearted and maternal at times. However, she is independent and spirited, and doesn't like to be bullied or imposed upon by Catherine, so she has no qualms about siding with Edgar Linton when her mistress is being temperamental.
The strain imposed on the three characters––Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff––has finally resulted in outright violence: it is no longer possible to conceal the strength of the emotions involved. Edgar is in a particularly difficult situation: Catherine and Heathcliff are used to violent expressions of feeling, but he is not, and hates having to adjust to their modes of communication. He is more committed to gentility of behavior than the others, although they now appear as well-dressed and cultivated as he does.
Heathcliff and Catherine call Edgar a "lamb," a "sucking leveret," and a "milk-blooded coward" (115). The first two insults are natural images that might easily come to mind for people who grew up on the moors; the third again uses the 'blood' imagery which appears to be central to the way they think about personality.
After three days in which Catherine stayed alone in her room, Edgar sat in the library, and Isabella moped in the garden, Catherine called Nelly for some food and water because she thought she was dying. She ate some toast, and was indignant to hear that Edgar wasn't frantic about her. She said: "How strange! I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me––and they have all turned to enemies in a few hours" (122). It became clear to Ellen that Catherine was delirious, and thought she was back in her room at Wuthering Heights. After seeing her reflection in a mirror, Catherine became frightened because she thought there was no mirror there. She opened the window and talked to Heathcliff (who was not there) as though they were children again. Edgar came in and was very concerned for Catherine, and angry at Ellen for not having told him what was going on.
Going to fetch a doctor, Ellen noticed that Isabella's little dog almost dead, hanging by a handkerchief on the gate. She rescued it, and found Dr. Kenneth, who told her that he had seen Isabella walking for hours in the park with Heathcliff. Moreover, Dr. Kenneth had heard a rumor that Isabella and Heathcliff were planning to run away together. Ellen rushed back to the Grange found that Isabella had indeed disappeared, and a little boy told her he had seen the girl riding away with Heathcliff. Ellen told Edgar, hoping he would rescue his sister from her ill-considered elopement, but he coldly refused to do so.
In her delirium, Catherine reveals that her true emotional identity has not altered since she was twelve, just before she stayed with the Lintons for some weeks. Everything that happened to her since then ceases to have any importance when she is irrational:
"...supposing at twelve years old, I had been wrenched from the Heights, and every early association, and my all in all, as Heathcliff was at that time, and been converted, at a stroke, into Mrs. Linton, the lady of Thrushcross Grange, and the wife of a stranger; an exile, and outcast, thenceforth, from what had been my world You may fancy a glimpse at the abyss where I groveled!" (125)
Time is unimportant: it has no effect on the true, deep emotions in Brontë's world.
Edgar's coldness to Isabella seems to result from his sister deserting him for his greatest enemy. His willingness to abandon her because of hurt pride is perhaps his greatest moral flaw. The emphasis he places on personal dignity differentiates him from the other characters––who certainly have many faults, though not that one.
In the next two months Catherine "encountered and conquered the worst shock of what was denominated a brain fever" (134), but it became clear that she would never really recover. She was pregnant. Heathcliff and Isabella returned to Wuthering Heights, and Isabella wrote Edgar an apology and a plea for forgiveness, to which he gave no reply. She later sent Ellen a longer letter asking whether Heathcliff were a demon or crazy, and recounting her experiences. She found Wuthering Heights dirty, uncivilized and unwelcoming: Joseph was rude to her, Hareton was disobedient, Hindley was a half-demented wreck of a man, and Heathcliff treated her cruelly. He refused to let her sleep in his room, which meant she had to stay in a tiny garret. Hindley had a pistol with a blade on it, with which he dreamed of killing Heathcliff, and Isabella coveted it for the power it would have given her. She was miserable and regretted her marriage heartily.
Isabella's reactions to her new home reveal her lack of inner fortitude: although she tries at first to stand up to Joseph and Hareton, her ladylike education has in no way prepared her for her married life, so when she loses her pride she has little else to fall back on. Her envy upon seeing Hindley's pistol is a little disconcerting, and she herself is horrified by it.
It is worth noting the unfortunate position of women who depend on men: Isabella cannot escape from Heathcliff without the help of her brother, who does not want to help her. Surrounded by hatred and indifference, she can only fall back on Ellen's pity.
Ellen, distressed by Edgar's refusal to console Isabella, went to visit her at Wuthering Heights. She told Isabella and Heathcliff that Catherine would "never be what she was" (135) and that Heathcliff should not bother her anymore. Heathcliff asserted that he would not leave her to Edgar's lukewarm care, and that she loved him much more than her husband. He said that if he had been in Edgar's place he would never have interfered with Catherine's friendships, although he would kill the friend the moment Catherine no longer cared about him.
Ellen urged Heathcliff to treat Isabella better, and he expressed his scorn and hatred for his wife (in her presence, of course). He said Isabella knew what he was when she married him: she had seen him hanging her pet dog. Isabella told Ellen that she hated Heathcliff, and he ordered her upstairs so he could talk to Ellen.
Alone with her, he told her that if she did not arrange an interview for him with Catherine, he would force his way in armed, and she agreed to give Catherine a letter from him.
This chapter includes a great deal of criticism of the Lintons: Edgar is called proud and unfeeling, and Heathcliff says that Isabella was actually attracted by his brutality until she herself suffered from it. Edgar's explanation of his refusal to write to Isabella is extremely unconvincing: "I am not angry, but sorry to have lost her: especially as I can never think she'll be happy. It is out of the question my going to see her, however; we are eternally divided" (145). Edgar is angry, of course, because he hates Heathcliff: presumably he is jealous of him. Heathcliff considers Edgar's version of love to be selfish, as though Edgar thought he owned his wife, and had a right to restrict her behavior:
"Had he been in my place, and I in his, though I hated him with a hatred that turned my life to gall, I never would have raised a hand against him... I never would have banished him from her society, as long as she desired his. (147)
Correspondingly, Heathcliff imagines Catherine's affection for Edgar in terms of property: "He is scarcely a degree dearer to her than her dog, or her horse––it is not in him to be loved like me" (148). Brontë has always associated the Lintons with material wealth. Heathcliff extends ideas of property and ownership to their emotions as well.
Isabella's case is somewhat different. Heathcliff despises her because she loves him despite knowing what he is. This is an interesting point: Heathcliff is an obviously romantic figure, with his mysterious past, dark appearance, and passionate emotions. But Brontë makes it very clear that although he exerts a certain amount of fascination, he should in no way be considered a "hero of romance" (149). For doing so, Isabella is called a "pitiful, slavish, mean-minded brach" (150). In this very romantic novel, one can never rely on conventional notions of romance: through Heathcliff's character, Brontë suggests that brutality should never be considered attractive. Even Catherine does not find Heathcliff attractive––she simply finds him inescapable, a part of herself.
The Sunday after Ellen's visit to Wuthering Heights, while most people were at church, she gave Catherine Heathcliff's letter. Catherine was changed by her sickness: she was beautiful in an unearthly way and her eyes "appeared always to gaze beyond, and far beyond" (158). Ellen had left the door open, so Heathcliff walked in and Catherine eagerly waited for him to find the right room. Their reunion was bitter-sweet: though passionately glad to be reunited, Catherine accused Heathcliff of having killed her, and Heathcliff warned her not to say such things when he would be tortured by them after her death––besides, she had been at fault by abandoning him. She asked him to forgive her, since she would not be at peace after death, and he answered: "It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands... I love my murderer––but yours! How can I?" (163) They held each other closely and wept until Ellen warned them that Linton was returning. Heathcliff wanted to leave, but Catherine insisted that he stay, since she was dying and would never see him again. He consented to stay, and "in the midst of the agitation, [Ellen] was sincerely glad to observe that Catherine's arms had fallen relaxed... She's fainted or dead, so much the better..." (164) Linton came in, and Heathcliff handed him Catherine's body and told him to take care of her: "Unless you be a fiend, help her first then you shall speak to me!" He told Nelly he would wait outside for news of Catherine's welfare, and left.
The passionate scene between Catherine and Heathcliff in this chapter is probably the emotional climax of the novel, though it only marks the middle of the book. It reveals how little their love relies on pleasure: they can hardly be said to be fond of one another, or to enjoy each other's company, yet they are absolutely necessary to each other. It is as though they were members of a different species from other humans, and they belonged together. Ellen says: "The two, to a cool spectator, made a strange and fearsome picture" (160). Catherine tore Heathcliff's hair, and he left bruises on her arm. Later, he "foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy. [Ellen] did not feel as though [she] were in the company of a member of [her] own species" (162). Love appears to be a form of madness.
Catherine and Heathcliff's emotional reunion is counteracted by Ellen's cool and unsympathetic narration: their passionate conversation is interspersed with dry commentary on her part.