Whatever Souls Are Made of His and Mine Are The Same Meaning

Emily Bronte
Despite initial harsh criticism, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has become one of the staples of Victorian literature. Set on the moors of northern England, it follows a set of characters as they both intentionally and inadvertently cause each other harm. The full quote, spoken by Catherine Earnshaw, is: “...he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” Despite the line’s co-opting as a romantic ideal in recent years, its context in the book paints a darker picture than a Pinterest-ready quote.

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Where Wuthering Heights Was First Published

Brontë initially published Wuthering Heights in London under her pen name, Ellis Bell. There’s evidence of Emily being a shy, reserved person; her contemporaries reported that she loved nature and animals, and enjoyed spending time in wild places, like the English moors found in the novel. Many historians believe the pseudonym was an attempt to preserve her private way of life. 

Publishing under an assumed name also would’ve made the publication of Wuthering Heights better received by critics of the time, who were still biased in favor of male authors. In the fullness of time, the book would be praised by all critics. Wuthering Heights currently ranks as second in the fan vote  and the in-house selection for the best novel by the Bronte sisters. Nevertheless, she and her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, used the strategy of publishing under a pseudonym more than once. A collection of poems they wrote was published as Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Although people knew Ellis Bell was a pseudonym, most assumed the author was male—at the time, the wild, often violent behavior of the characters in Wuthering Heights was considered something only a man could write. At any rate, the 1847 version of Wuthering Heights was published under the name Ellis Bell. This edition came in three parts; the first two were Wuthering Heights, and the third was Anne Brontë’s, Agnes Gray. Emily Brontë died in 1848 at only 30 years of age, without seeing the success of her only novel. The 1850 edition was published using her real name.

Where Does The Quote Take Place?

Wuthering Heights takes place in Yorkshire, a remote, inland part of northern England. It tells the story of two families: the Linton family, who live at Thrushcross Grange, and the Earnshaw family, who live at Wuthering Heights. The “where” of the setting, however, is the easy part! 

The frame story of Wuthering Heights takes place in 1801. This storyline follows Mr. Lockwood as he stays at Thrushcross Grange as the new tenant. The story with all the family drama, however, begins about 30 years earlier and moves forward through the lives of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The long-time housekeeper, Nelly, tells Mr. Lockwood about the events of the past while he recovers from an illness. The reader spends most of the story in the “past” narrative.

This time frame is maybe significant because of the works that were published in that time frame—Regency Era authors, like Jane Austen, often wrote novels full of decorum and elegance. Brontë’s novel is set in this time period but defies the era’s expectations of propriety in her main characters. 

Where In The Story Does It Appear?  

The quote comes from Catherine Earnshaw, the “ghost” of the Wuthering Heights story. Catherine is engaged to Edgar Linton, the son of a well-to-do family. However, Catherine is in love with Heathcliff, an orphan her father raised alongside her. Heathcliff is not a suitable match for her, and she knows it. When her father died, their jealous older brother demoted Heathcliff from adopted family member to servant. Catherine, therefore, chooses to marry Linton because he is of higher social status. This decision makes her unhappy, however, and she confides to Nelly that “Whatever our souls are made of, [Heathcliff’s] and mine are the same.” 

This sounds touching, but here’s the catch—both Catherine and Heathcliff are, arguably, some of the most selfish main characters in literature. They aren’t easy to root for, like most love interests in a romantic novel. Their feelings for each other are passionate to the point of self-destruction. The full passage, spoken by Catherine in a fit of frustration, is: “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” 

Catherine takes advantage of Edgar’s affections, marrying him for her benefit. Even while she is married to Edgar, near-death with sickness, and pregnant with Edgar’s child, she demands to see Heathcliff in her husband’s home. And when she does meet with Heathcliff, she doesn’t even appear to like him very much. “‘I wish I could hold you,’” she says, “‘till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffered. I care nothing for your sufferings. Why shouldn’t you suffer?”

Heathcliff is not blameless here, either—he often displays a violent, scheming nature. When Catherine and Edgar get married, Heathcliff disappears for three years. Upon his return, he is wealthy and well-to-do. Instead of attempting to win Catherine over, Heathcliff instead woos Edgar’s little sister in an attempt to punish the married couple. This decision ultimately leads to Catherine’s sickness. He is consistently abusive to Isabella, and ultimately she flees to get away from him. When Catherine demands to see him in secret, Heathcliff goes to her without hesitation, even though he’s warned of her fragile health and the danger of having any excitement. 

What Did Brontë Mean by “Whatever Souls Are Made of”

To understand the passage, and really Wuthering Heights in general, it’s important to understand what the public at the time would’ve expected from a novel. Although there are exceptions to any rule like this one, Victorian novels were full of common tropes. Coming-of-age stories were common, as were lengthy, complicated plots with many main and secondary characters. Maybe most important to this passage, however, is the Victorian romance genre’s focus on marriages. The plot of many novels of the time focused on marrying off their main characters, and the happily-ever-after ending was often the marriage itself. Books like Middlemarch and Great Expectations are examples of novels that conclude a long, convoluted plot with one or more pairings-off of characters. 

Because of these ingrained expectations, Wuthering Heights came as a surprise to some people. Many readers weren’t expecting the passion, cruelty, selfishness, and “unconventional” relationship, to say the least. Contemporary critics acknowledged the “powerful” writing style, but were unsure what to make of the themes: they described the book with phrases like “savage,” “melancholic,” and “ill-mannered contempt for the decencies of language,” just to name a few. 

Unfortunately, Brontë didn’t leave much evidence about herself or her intentions for the novel. Her childhood was difficult—her mother died when she was very young, and two of her older sisters soon followed. Schools she attended were abusive and did not agree with her personality; she withdrew from school more than once. Much of her life was full of bleak experiences; it’s possible that that fueled her work with the novel. It’s also possible she was trying to make a statement about race and class in society—over the years, there has been a lot of speculation about Heathcliff’s race. He is described as “dark-skinned,” “black-haired,” and a “Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway.” The text hints at his being of Asian, African, or Moorish descent. While Brontë never specifies, the suggestion is unmissable. Catherine chooses Edgar over Heathcliff because of his elevated social status; his wealth and education might not be the only factors contributing to that. 

Regardless of what we do or don’t know about Emily Brontë’s intentions, Wuthering Heights turned the traditional love story on its head. The characters consistently do the opposite of what we would expect from our main love interest. Similarly, Brontë depicts a different developmental path than most bildungsroman stories of the time. Unlike Jane Eyre, who achieves something close to a happily-ever-after ending, Brontë’s main characters don’t turn unhappy childhoods into learning experiences or happy adulthoods. Catherine and Heathcliff’s souls might be made of the same stuff, but it’s stuff that’s passionate, selfish, and proud, and ultimately hurts the people around them. 

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