Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
First Published: 1847
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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
I first read Wuthering Heights when I was in high school, I think when I was fifteen. I remember that I didn’t like it very much, mostly because I didn’t understand it and it completely went over my head. I was expecting it to be romantic… which this novel is most definitely not. The fact that my knowledge of classic literature was also limited to Jane Austen probably also affected how much I originally liked the novel. I later picked it up again while at university, and with a few more years (and a greater understanding of literature) behind me, I found that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. While Wuthering Heights isn’t my favourite Brontë book, it is one that I have reread a few times already.
Wuthering Heights was Brain Soup Goes Gilmore’s pick for this month – or rather, October & November. Some questions that I kept in mind while reading for discussion were:
- Is this a love story?
- What are the motivations behind the actions of Cathy, Heathcliff, etc.? Does it make their actions more understandable?
Wuthering Heights is a book that is hard to forget. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. The thing that strikes me the most about Wuthering Heights is how difficult it is to read. Cathy and Heathcliff are incredibly unlikeable. When this book was first published, it was pretty much universally panned because of how awful Cathy and Heathcliff are, so it is interesting that Brontë chose to make her protagonists as repugnant as they are.
This book is emotionally exhausting. Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship is destructive, possessive, and ultimately cruel; based not in passion but hatred. Cathy famously exclaims,
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.
This is somewhat accurate. Both characters are selfish, violent, and conniving people who have both had their fair share of abuse and feel no qualms about abusing those they deem beneath them. Thus, they are able to make both themselves and everyone around them incredibly miserable – even after their deaths. This is perhaps no surprise, because all these characters live in an isolated environment from which they cannot escape.
Cathy and Heathcliff do not need to be present for their influence over the other characters to be felt. The children of this novel – Cathy (II), Linton, and Hareton – are forced to suffer for the transgressions of their parents and must find ways to make amends for them, despite not one of them having the full story.
Is this book a perfect book? No. The framing device within a framing device? It’s totally awkward. I’m sure Brontë could have found a better way to tell this story than have Nelly write a letter explaining the events that Lockwood later writes down in his diary. The layers of perspective meant that it was often difficult to figure out who was telling the story. But I’m able to overlook the problematic elements of this novel because it’s an example of Gothic fiction done right. It has it all: revenge, ghosts, mysterious disappearances, the moors… it’s so atmospheric and so well-done that you can’t help but appreciate why it’s considered to be one of the finest pieces of British literature.
Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.