I’ve been trying to read more classics lately, and my old copy of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was calling to me from the bookshelf. I last read this classic Gothic novel when I was 15 for my 10th grade English class (which is obvious from the boy’s name written all over it!). I remembered I liked it but not too much about the plot, other than that the main characters were Heathcliff and Catherine. In fact, I often confused Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in my memory. I re-read it last month and once again enjoyed this dark story of unrequited love and revenge.
It’s a complex story of two families whose lives are intertwined. Their two homes – Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange – are a few miles apart on the lonely, windy moors of England. Three children grow up together as siblings at Wuthering Heights: Hindley, Catherine, and Heathcliff. Heathcliff was not born to the family but was found when he was very young and brought up as an equal to the other two. In fact, Mr. Earnshaw, their father, actually favors Heathcliff in many ways, resulting in Hindley’s lifelong envy and anger toward Heathcliff.
Heathcliff and Catherine, on the other hand, get along very well and are inseparable playmates as children. They love to roam the moors together and explore the outdoor world. Things start to go awry, however, when they are teens and young adults. Cathy, as Heathcliff affectionately calls her, falls in love with Edgar Linton, one of their neighbors at Thrushcross Grange, and eventually marries him. This sets off a lifelong rage in Heathcliff, whose love for Catherine never dims.
That’s the underlying situation that sets these two families off on a twisting path of rage, vitriol, and revenge that will last not only a lifetime but through generations. Hindley hates Heathcliff who, in turn, hates Hindley. Heathcliff loves Catherine, but she’s married to Edgar, and so, by extension, Heathcliff hates all of the Lintons. Heathcliff harbors this boiling rage his whole life, with a revenge scheme that he carries out not only on those he hates but on their descendants as well.
The whole novel is set within the framework of the Earnshaw’s beloved servant, Nellie, telling the history of the two houses and two families to Mr. Lockwood, a current tenant at Thrushcross Grange. Mr. Lockwood is mystified and curious after meeting his sullen and wrathful landlord, Heathcliff, so when he retires back to Thrushcross Grange, he asks Nellie to explain the strange situation at Wuthering Heights to him. Nellie, who also grew up as a small child among the three Earnshaw siblings, starts from the beginning, and brings him up to the present.
Wuthering Heights is a dark, brooding novel (a perfect fit for my RIP XI Challenge this month). It’s a story of passionate – but unrequited – love that lasts a lifetime and possibly beyond (there are intimations of restless ghosts here, too). It is also a story of a plan of revenge so deep that it is the culmination of a lifetime of hatred enacted on multiple generations. Most of the characters are somewhat unlikable, though there are often reasons for their wretchedness, and you feel empathy for what they have been through to make them the way they are – even Heathcliff. Despite all this darkness, there is an element of hope at the end, a hint that life will improve for the next generations. All in all, it is a satisfying, passionate family drama that is beautifully written; it’s easy to see why it is a classic.
320 pages, Signet Classic