Wuthering Heights  

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"The claim that the framework of Wuthering Heights was influenced by "Das Majorat" (The Entail) by E. T. A. Hoffmann was first made by Romer Wilson in her book All Alone: The Life and Private History of Emily Jane Brontë." --Sholem Stein

"I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!"

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Wuthering Heights (1847) is Emily Brontë's only novel. The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this love hate relationship eventually destroys both themselves and many around them. In the preface of his novel Blue of Noon, the French writer Georges Bataille states that Wuthering Heights belongs to those rare works in literature written from an inner necessity.


Publishing history

It was first published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, and a posthumous second edition was edited by her sister Charlotte. The name of the novel comes from the Yorkshire manor on the moors on which the story centres.

Critique, praise and legacy

Now considered a classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights's innovative structure, which has been likened to a series of Matryoshka dolls, met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared. Though Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was originally considered the best of the Brontë sisters' works, many subsequent critics of Wuthering Heights argued that its originality and achievement made it the best of the Brontës' works. Wuthering Heights has also given rise to many adaptations, including several films, radio, and television dramatisations, and two musicals (including Heathcliff). It also inspired a hit song by Kate Bush, which subsequently has been covered by a variety of artists.

Plot summary

The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and involves two narrators – Mr Lockwood and Nelly Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange, a grand house on the Yorkshire moors he is renting from the surly Heathcliff, who lives at nearby Wuthering Heights. Lockwood spends the night at Wuthering Heights and has a terrifying dream: the ghost of Catherine Linton, pleading to be admitted to the house from outside. Intrigued, Lockwood asks the housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.

Nelly takes over the narration and begins her story thirty years earlier, when Heathcliff, a foundling living on the streets of Liverpool, is brought to Wuthering Heights by the then-owner, Mr Earnshaw and raised as his own. Earnshaw's daughter Catherine becomes Heathcliff's inseparable friend. Her brother Hindley, however, resents Heathcliff, seeing him as an interloper and rival. Earnshaw dies three years later, and Hindley (who has married a woman named Frances) takes over the estate. He brutalizes Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Catherine becomes friends with a neighbor family, the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange, who mellow her initially wild personality. She is especially attached to the refined and mild young Edgar Linton, whom Heathcliff instantaneously dislikes.

A year later, Hindley's wife dies giving birth to a son, Hareton; Hindley takes to drink. Some two years after that, Catherine agrees to marry Edgar. Nelly knows that this will crush Heathcliff, and Heathcliff overhears Catherine's explanation that it would be "degrading" to marry him. Heathcliff storms out and leaves Wuthering Heights, not hearing Catherine's continuing declarations that Heathcliff is as much a part of her as the rocks are to the earth beneath. Catherine marries Edgar, and is initially very happy. Two years later, Heathcliff returns, intent on destroying those who prevent him from being with Catherine. He has, mysteriously, become very wealthy, and has duped Hindley into making him the heir to Wuthering Heights. Intent on ruining Edgar, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella, which places him in a position to inherit Thrushcross Grange upon Edgar's death.

Catherine dies giving birth to a daughter also named Catherine, or Cathy. Heathcliff becomes only more bitter and vengeful. Isabella flees her abusive marriage a month later, and subsequently gives birth to a boy, Linton. At around the same time, Hindley dies. Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights, and vows to raise Hindley's son Hareton with as much neglect as he had suffered at Hindley's hands years earlier.

Twelve years later, the dying Isabella asks Edgar to raise her and Heathcliff's son, Linton. However, Heathcliff finds out about this and takes the sickly, spoiled child to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff has nothing but contempt for his son, but delights in the idea of him ruling the property of his enemies. To that end, a few years later, Heathcliff attempts to persuade young Cathy to marry Linton. Cathy refuses, so Heathcliff kidnaps her and forces the two to marry. Soon after, Edgar Linton dies, followed shortly by Linton. This leaves Cathy a widow and a virtual prisoner at Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff has gained complete control of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It is at this point in the narrative that Lockwood arrives, taking possession of Thrushcross Grange, and hearing Nelly Dean's story. Shocked, Lockwood leaves for London.

During his absence from the area, however, events reach a climax; Cathy gradually softens toward her rough, uneducated cousin Hareton, just as her mother grew tender towards Heathcliff. When Heathcliff realizes that Cathy and Hareton are in love, he abandons his life-long vendetta. He dies broken and tormented, and Catherine and Hareton marry. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine (the elder), and the story concludes with Lockwood visiting the grave, unsure of what to feel.

Main Characters

Heathcliff is the central male character of the novel. An orphaned foundling raised by the Earnshaw family, he fell passionately in love with his foster sister, Catherine Earnshaw, whilst at the same time nursing a bitter rivalry with his foster brother, Hindley. A passionate, vindictive man, his anger and bitterness at Catherine's marriage to Edgar Linton sees him engage in a ruthless vendetta to destroy not only his enemies but their heirs, a crusade that only intensifies upon Catherine's death.

Catherine Earnshaw is Heathcliff's adoptive sister. A flightly, free-spirited and somewhat spoiled young woman, she returns Heathcliff's passionate love but does not consider herself able to marry him, instead choosing another childhood friend, Edgar Linton. Upon Heathcliff's return, her physical and mental health is destroyed by the feud between Heathcliff and Edgar, and she dies in childbirth.

Edgar Linton is a childhood friend of Catherine Earnshaw's, who later marries her. A mild and gentle man, if slightly cold, cowardly and distant, he loves Catherine deeply but is unable to reconcile his love for her with his bitter antagonism with Heathcliff, and it is partly this which leads to Catherine's mental breakdown and death. He is incapable of competing with Heathcliff's guile and ruthless determination.

Hindley Earnshaw is Catherine's brother and Heathcliff's other rival; having loathed Heathcliff since childhood, Hindley delights in turning Heathcliff into a downtrodden servant upon inheriting Wuthering Heights. However, his wife's death in childbirth destroys him; he becomes a self-destructive alcoholic, and it is this that allows Heathcliff, upon returning to Wuthering Heights, to turn the tables and to swindle the property away from him.

Nelly Dean is, at various points, the housekeeper of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, and is one of the two narrators of the novel. Having been a disapproving witness to much of the events between Heathcliff and both the Earnshaw and Linton families for much of her life, she narrates the story to Lockwood during his illness.

Catherine Linton is the daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton. She inherits both her mother's free-spiritedness and her father's gentle nature, and Heathcliff plays on this to manipulate her into marrying his own son, Linton. Despite initially regarding him with cruel contempt and disgust, she later falls in love with Hareton Earnshaw.

Hareton Earnshaw is the son of Hindley Earnshaw, who is adopted by Heathcliff upon Hindley's death. Heathcliff spitefully turns Hareton into a downtrodden, illiterate servant, much as Hindley had once done to him; despite this, Hareton remains loyal to him. Quick tempered and easily embarrassed, he falls in love with Catherine at an early point despite her contempt for him, and is thus inspired to improve himself.

Joseph is a servant of the Earnshaws and later Heathcliff. A bullying, lazy and snide man, he hates Heathcliff but is somehow bound to be his servant. An intensely religious man, he is a very sanctimonious and self-righteous person who is largely held in contempt by those around him. He speaks in a thick Yorkshire brogue.

Lockwood is the other narrator of the novel. A recently-arrived tenant at Thrushcross Grange at the beginning of the novel, he is intrigued by the curious goings-on at Wuthering Heights, and persuades Nelly Dean to tell him the story of what happened during a bout of sickness.

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