XENA AND HEATHCLIFF: CLASSIC BYRONIC HEROES
IAXS Project #108
By Cathy H. McLain (GallusMag@aol.com)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
Wuthering Heights, a classic of Victorian literature
THE BYRONIC HERO
 A Byronic hero is defined by Thomas B. Macaulay according to The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford University Press, New York, 1985) as "proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart ... implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection."
 Sound like anyone we know?
 Of course, Xena is the archetypal Byronic hero. But with a twist: she is a woman. This paradox set me to pondering that tragic chestnut, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, starring that Byronic hero par excellence, Heathcliff, and his unworthy soulmate, Cathy. The more I pondered, the more surprised I became by the parallels between Xena and Bronte's moody Heathcliff.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN HEATHCLIFF AND XENA
Xena is an intense woman
 Both WUTHERING HEIGHTS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS have dark and mysterious outcasts. Granted, Xena is a barrel of laughs compared to the humorless Heathcliff. But they both are products of uncertain parentage. Heathcliff's ancestry is entirely unknown; Xena's father is a mystery.
 They both show a stoic, taciturn exterior, masking a passionate and dangerous interior. They both are utterly alone save for one *special* friend whom they depend upon and need above all others; a friend who stirs the passion, but remains beyond any traditional courtship and beyond sexual attainment. This leads to a Gabrielle/Cathy comparison.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CATHY AND GABRIELLE
Gabrielle sharing her first after-death experience with Xena
 Gabrielle is, of course, a more affable and charming sort than the shallow, peevish Cathy, but...there are definite similarities in their tales: Cathy frees herself from society's restraints for a time by running all over the moors with the wild Heathcliff, just as Gabrielle spurns conventionality by running off with Xena. In both cases, the pair strike up a bond beyond surface friendship, and the love between the two is sustaining and vital. BUT, in both cases, marriage is out of the question; Heathcliff is not marriage material for Cathy because of his class; Xena cannot marry Gabrielle for obvious reasons. So, Cathy, in all her shallow immaturity, marries that sickly, but safe, milquetoast, Edgar Linton. Gabrielle bags the damaged and wimpy Perdicus. Both leave behind their broken- hearted other halfs. Both think they have made the *safe* choice.
 But Cathy, for all her seeming insensitivity, most certainly knows she is fooling herself. When the astute housekeeper, Nelly says, "you love Edgar, and Edgar loves you. All seems smooth and easy: where is the obstacle?", Cathy quickly replies, "Here! and here!" striking her forehead and breast, "In whichever place the soul lives. In my soul and in my heart, I'm convinced I'm wrong!" Of Heathcliff she is aware that, "he's more myself that 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..."
 I, for one, can certainly imagine Gabrielle thinking the same thoughts of Perdicus and Xena. But Gabrielle, unlike Cathy, does not admit to anyone (at least not out loud) that she is betraying her heart in choosing Perdicus. She babbles on about Perdicus's strengths and how she loves him, but in doing this, she rather surpasses even the callous Cathy by uttering it all in Xena's very presence. She tries mightily to justify her decision, and Xena makes it easier by offering her blessing.
 Both ladies made a bad choice, and not a safe one. Fortunately for Gabrielle and Xena, the stories diverge at this point. Poor Cathy quickly deteriorates and dies. Heathcliff becomes a cruel and heartless monster, never finding peace until he joins Cathy on the other side. We all know what happened with Gabrielle and Perdicus and Xena. Gabrielle was *saved* by Xena, not by Perdicus.
 We can only imagine how things would have turned out, had Perdicus and Gabrielle gone off and settled down. Gabrielle is a whole person, not a half like Cathy, and she is strong enough to survive, but...more than that, who can say? I suspect she would have quickly discovered that her feelings for Perdicus and Xena were, again, quite similar to Cathy's for Linton and Heathcliff: "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...He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more that I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."
XENA AND GABRIELLE
Xena really does have many skills
 What of Xena?
 Xena is surely stronger and more complete than the wrecked Heathcliff, but without Gabrielle there to whack her with a pitchfork when she needs it, or to wipe her tears by the campfire, it would be a tough road for the Warrior Princess; her dark side churns just below the surface. We have seen it, and we have seen the depth of her need for Gabrielle. When Xena feels helpless in the face of Gabrielle's loss of innocence, she breaks down and prays to the gods, "Please don't let that light that shines off her face go out...I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow." Even more pointedly, in the episode IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (#24), when Xena is asked to accept Gabrielle's death, she simply cannot. She rages against it in a way that implies her very own existence is at stake, begging Gabrielle to "Wake up...Don't leave me." She ultimately refuses to let Gabrielle die. Heathcliff also storms and rages over Cathy's death, but has not the power to will her back to life. Still he pleads after her death, "Be with me always...drive me mad...only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"
A FINAL NOTE: A BRYONIC HEROINE
 Historically, the Byronic hero has been presented to us, for the most part, as a male figure, someone whom men emulate and women desire and wish to possess (straightly speaking, of course. That's what history gives us. We know better). Xena, on the other hand, is a new animal. She is a woman whom men AND women desire and whom women (and I assume some men) emulate. She is truly archetypal and, as such, evokes deep and primitive desires in us all.
Moody young man on the moor