note: HC is Heathcliff
I do, in fact, love Mrs. Dean. I asked for answers in regard to origin and lineage, and she has delivered. I think part of my earlier confusion really must have been due to the language barrier. The characters may be speaking English but the everyday lexicon of the 1800s is a far cry from the language we speak today (not to mention how Emily Brontë’s way of writing Joseph’s accent makes me feel like I’m having a stroke). Regardless, the time for answers has come, and as is usual, they have brought about new questions with them.
For reference, here is the family tree:
Going in, I didn’t have any idea of the characters’ backstories, and Heathcliff being found on the side of the road definitely wasn’t something I foresaw, especially since it didn’t seem to humble him in the slightest (of course, this is mostly Mr. Earnshaw’s fault). The man of the house treated his own children comparably worse than his adopted (abducted?) son, Catherine particularly so.
Mrs. Dean has a few things to say about Mr. Earnshaw’s favor and how that affected Heathcliff’s character. When talking about the late Mr. Earnshaw’s decline in health in chapter five, she notes: “we humored his partiality; and that humoring was rich nourishment to the child’s pride and black tempers” (39). If you have ever met an only child you know that this is expected. The parent will put all their time and energy into their one child and subsequently refuse to see how spoiled and immature they become as a result. This is different, however, because Mr. Earnshaw choses not to love his children equally.
The way Catherine’s father treated her was really just unnecessary, and that upset me. She was in no way perfect, but no kid really is; to say that he wished she had never been born is singularly cruel, and he must have said it several times as Mrs. Dean notes “…being repulsed continually hardened her…” It is boggling to me how someone can refuse to show love and affection towards someone of their own blood.
Though the most interesting to me was the hint that Heathcliff is even worse than he seems. This is suggested throughout chapters four and five, but it hit me hardest when Mrs. Dean told the story of Hindley and HC’s horses. After Heathcliff has manipulated Hindley into trading his horse for his own “lame” colt, the moment passes and HC doesn’t seem all that bad since he agrees not to tell Mr. Earnshaw that Hindley pushed him. Then the tone changes to be a bit more ominious as Mrs. Dean makes the statement that, “I really thought him not vindictive— I was deceived, completely, as you will hear” (38).