Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only novel, published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. It is a classic tale of passion, betrayal and revenge set in the Yorkshire Moors. I decided to read this novel partly because Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Emily’s sister, is one of my favourite novels. I watched a two-part television adaptation of Wuthering Heights a few years back and this also peaked my interest in reading the novel.
Wuthering Heights is a story within a story. The two main narrators of this novel are Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Dean who provide different perspectives on the story. The reader, like Mr. Lockwood, learns about Heathcliff and Cathy who have been friends since childhood. Heathcliff is an orphan child who has been brought to an English home by Cathy’s father, Mr. Earnshaw. Heathcliff and Cathy drift apart as they get older. Cathy’s decision to marry a man from another English family, the Lintons, brings about dire consequences as Heathcliff vows to take revenge.
My review – contains spoilers!
This is a dark, gothic novel. I was surprised by just how much violence there is in this book! This includes child abuse, domestic abuse and animal cruelty. Even Mr. Lockwood is violent in his dream. Emily Brontë vividly illustrates the effects of child abuse on Heathcliff. Namely, if you hit someone, sooner or later they will hit you back. Heathcliff’s cruel upbringing is partly why he ends up filled with violence. Hindley bullied Heathcliff and Heathcliff turns into a bully himself. The effects are devastating. Saying that, I know Heathcliff has been through a lot, but that does not give him carte blanche to act like a despicable scoundrel.
One of the themes in Wuthering Heights is class warfare. As children, Heathcliff and Cathy are like partners in crime. However, Cathy changes after her stay with the Lintons. She aspires to be a lady and acts quite high and mighty. She makes a comment about Heathcliff’s appearance and this is the beginning of their class divide. Even though Cathy loves Heathcliff, she agrees to marry Edgar Linton. Cathy feels that she has to marry Edgar because that is what is expected of her. Crucially, Edgar is wealthy whereas Heathcliff works in the fields. Cathy thinks she is being pragmatic by choosing money over love. Heathcliff wrongly overhears Cathy talking to Nelly and leaves Wuthering Heights for several years to become a gentleman. Wild Heathcliff only becomes a gentleman outwardly, though. You can take Heathcliff out of the moors, but you can’t take the moors out of Heathcliff.
Heathcliff is the perfect anti-hero and he reminds me of Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Heathcliff is described as the devil by most of the characters: Isabella asks in a letter to Nelly whether Heathcliff is “a devil”. Heathcliff takes revenge on the all the people who have wronged him over the years. Like Satan, Heathcliff has no chance of happiness so he decides to ruin it for everyone else.
I found it hard to like any of the main characters. They are all so flawed and provoke strong reactions. On the other hand, it’s their flaws that makes them interesting. Heathcliff and Cathy are both selfish and unlikeable: they think the world revolves around them. They’re perfect for each other, in that sense. I think if Heathcliff really loved Cathy he would have waited for her, or at least left her alone in peace. Gone With the Wind Spoiler! Rhett Butler waited for Scarlett O’Hara: she got married twice before finally marrying Rhett.
Isabella annoyed me. Cathy warned her that Heathcliff was trouble and yet Isabella elopes with Heathcliff even after he almost kills her puppy. Her puppy for crying out loud! Isabella probably thinks Heathcliff is mysterious and misunderstood, and that she can change him. Heathcliff is not misunderstood, he’s a jerk. And Edgar? I cried a little when he died. Maybe that’s because he still loved Cathy even though they were incompatible.
The only character I had any sympathy for was Hareton. It’s not Hareton’s fault that Heathcliff raised him in ignorance so that he became illiterate. Underneath his ‘tough guy’ exterior, Hareton is actually quite sweet and thoughtful. Hareton decides to become literate for Cathy junior, who cruelly mocks his efforts to read and rebuffs him, at first. Hareton and Cathy junior can make their relationship work though, unlike Heathcliff and Cathy.
Wuthering Heights is a powerful, dramatic and well-written novel. I like the depth of the characters and the complex range of emotions they exhibit. These are frustrating, messed up characters you love to hate. I think the ending effectively showed how not even death could make Heathcliff and Cathy part. If a book can make me cry, even a little bit, it must be a good read. I prefer Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights but this is a classic novel in its own right.
My rating: ★★★★☆