Social standing has always been a big issue for the couples of the fiction of that era. What made the situation between Catherine and Heathcliff different, however, is that they didn't triumph over it as is the convention of other romantic novels, like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Instead, Catherine married the man who was of better social standing, and who would elevate hers as well, Edgar Linton, instead of Heathcliff, whom she is quoted to saying that it would "degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff now. "
Another way, a more significant way, that Wuthering Heights varies on convention is the characters. The characters of Wuthering Heights are far from the conventional characters in romantic fiction. Catherine, as the novel's lead female character, is conventionally beautiful and strong willed, is also conflicted, violent and temperamental, much unlike the conventional heroine, who is usually more moral. Edgar, who is the 'rival' of the story, is a far cry from the conventional rival, who is usually so obviously wrong for the heroine.
Edgar Linton, instead, is a well-mannered and virtuous gentleman, who truly loves and cares about Catherine. After her death, he buries her in a spot overlooking the moors, a place he knew Catherine loved, and was even buried beside her after his death. Heathcliff is probably the best example of this point. He is possibly the most unconventional male lead in fiction history. The conventional character being a man of virtue and grace, a person more like Edgar Linton. Heathcliff, on the other hand is a hard man, cruel and vengeful. He vows and exacts revenge on many occasions in the novel.
He punishes Hindley for his own cruelty towards him over the years when he returns successful and wealthy. He punishes innocent Isabella, in place of Edgar, who he blames for Catherine's illness. He even punishes Catherine by eloping with Isabella, for her betraying him by marrying Edgar. He holds on to his hatred, and his plan for revenge extended to next generation. He is cruel and threatening, even threatening to hold Nelly prisoner when she stopped him from seeing Catherine, scaring her into agreeing to bring her a letter from him.
Of course, the most significant way that this novel varies on convention is the extent of Catherine and Heathcliff's love for each other. It is, after all, their love that has made Wuthering Heights one of the greatest love stories in history. They loved each other their entire lives, loved to a point where they felt like they were the same person. A feeling Catherine expressed more than once in the novels, "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. " when speaking about her decision to marry Edgar Linton instead of Heathcliff, and again, "My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being" when speaking to Nelly about being separated from Heathcliff.
Their love for each other that went to such an extent is unconventional by all means. Heathcliff on the other hand, showed the extent of his love for Catherine numerous times in the novel, for example, when she lay sick before him, and he told her that while he could forgive her for causing him pain, he could never forgive her for the pain she had caused herself. Even in this way, their love is shown to be unconventional from the love between other couples in popular fiction. Heathcliff's love for her is not the conventional fluff, and instead is something that ran much deeper.
He could forgive her for the years of torment he had endured, but could not come to forgive her for being the cause of her own pain. This brings us to the second novel at hand, Flaubert's Madame Bovary. In contrast to Heathcliff and Catherine's deep love for each other, the situation in Madame Bovary is quite different. Emma's feelings for Charles Bovary is hardly passionate, first based on her own fantasies about marriage and then practically non-existent. Instead, she is disgusted by him, seeing him as inferior, unattractive and less than she deserves.
A feeling made clear by Flaubert's description of a mealtime in the Bovary household from Emma's point of view early in the story, "But it was above all at mealtimes that she could bear it no longer, in that little room on the ground floor, with the smoking stove, the creaking door, the oozing walls, the damp floor-tiles; all the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate, and, with the steam from the boiled beef, there rose from the depths of her soul other exhalations as it were of disgust.
Charles was a slow eater; she would nibble a few hazel-nuts, or else, leaning on her elbow, would amuse herself making marks on the oilcloth with the point of her table-knife. " Charles' adoration of her, on the other hand, is overwhelming and blind. He adores her to a point where he doesn't see the obvious signs of her infidelity. The man Emma really adored, Rodolphe, is enraptured only by her beauty, and he grew tired of her.
A polar opposite to Heathcliff and Catherine's love, the relationships between Emma and her lovers are lustful, selfish, and lacks any regard for the other person. This lack of real love or passion, and Emma's infidelity is what makes Madame Bovary a unique read in terms of romantic fiction. Romantic fiction is conventionally a love story between two people. Madame Bovary, instead, in the story of a young woman who is desperate to fulfil her impossible fantasy of love, and the men who becomes involved in her search in making that fantasy real.
Flaubert explains her misconception of love and expectation with "Love, [Emma] felt, ought to come at once, with great thunderclaps and flashes of lightning; it was like a storm bursting upon life from the sky, uprooting it, overwhelming the will and sweeping the heart into the abyss. It did not occur to her that the rain forms puddles on a flat roof when drainpipes are clogged, and she would have continued to feel secure if she had not suddenly discovered a crack in the wall. The presence of Heathcliff and Catherine's unending and unconditional love for each other, or Emma's utter lack of real love in her relationship with her husband, or Rodolphe's towards her, makes Wuthering Heights a more conventional love story in comparison. Madame Bovary sets itself apart even more with the constant presence of Emma's infidelity and the lust that surrounds her. Similarly to Wuthering Heights, the characters of Madame Bovary are also very unconventional compared to the characters of popular romantic fiction.
Emma, the story's heroine, much like Catherine, made the choices in her life that would be the cause of her own pain. Emma, although like Catherine, is beautiful as is the convention, unlike the conventional image of a female lead in a romantic fiction novel, is instead, selfish, morally corrupt and unappreciative of her life's blessings. Charles is also a character that is very unconventional.
He is portrayed to be a weak and pathetic man, madly in lot with a woman who is disgusted by him, and yet so blinding is his adoration of her that he cannot see it. He is incompetent, stupid and unimaginative. The first time he says something meaningful in the novel, is toward the end, when he is speaking to Rodolphe, he blames fate for the sad life he has, earning him only Rodolphe's disdain, certainly a far cry from the conventional male lead, masculine, strong and charming.
A far cry also from the Heathcliff's character, who although was cruel, was also intelligent, competent and strong willed. Rodolphe, himself, is world's away from the rival of Wuthering Heights, Edgar Linton. Rodolphe is shrewd and manipulative, seducing Emma with an almost strategic precision, only to abandon her when she falls into debt. These two books are obviously, far from the conventional love story, and it is the fact that they are so far from conventional that makes them the classics they are today.