Book Review: Wuthering Heights

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Author: Emily Bronte

No ISBN or RRP info for this one because the copy I read is out of print and older than me, and there are that many editions available online that I didn’t know where to start.

I am sitting here still debating whether or not I’m going to review Wuthering Heights. It is a classic that is adored or abhorred it seems, in almost equal measures. I land firmly in the adored camp, even after multiple decades since my first read.

Since beginning to review for Beauty and Lace I have lost the art of returning to old favourites and rereading, there is just not enough time. I made an exception for this one because I have just read the soon to be released companion novel Nelly Dean by Alison Case. I enjoyed this reread but I did begrudge it a few times in thinking the time would have been better spent reading one of my towering TBR titles, and it took me a long time to reread because the dialogue is often quite difficult to translate.

Wuthering Heights, a classic that has withstood the test of time and is still readily available more than 150 years after it was written, has always spoken to me of an enduring love story. On reading it I’m not so sure that is an accurate assessment. I am also a little concerned that my reading of Nelly Dean may influence my judgements of the characters.

It’s difficult to talk about where the story opens because it is actually told by an outsider, Mr Lockwood, who had the story told to him by the housekeeper. Mr Lockwood comes to tenant Thrushcross Grange which shares an owner with Wuthering Heights. He takes an afternoon amble to Wuthering Heights to call on his landlord and catches himself an illness on the way home in the damp. His fireside recuperation becomes quite tedious so he bids housekeeper Nelly Dean to fill him in on the tenants of Wuthering Heights and so the tale begins.

Nelly begins her tale somewhere around three decades earlier when she was sharing a childhood with the children of Wuthering Heights. Her life began like a foster-sister to the Earnshaw children of Wuthering Heights, Hindley who was about her age and Catherine who was younger. In those days they were happy and carefree with not a worry between them, until the day that Mr Earnshaw returned from a business trip with a young gypsy child he had found homeless on the streets. He wanted the family to take the foundling in to be raised as one of them, which the children may have been fine with had he not been the cause of their presents being destroyed on the trip home.

Hindley, Catherine and Mrs Earnshaw are less than impressed with the new addition and their rough treatment of him, named Heathcliff, only sees Mr Earnshaw heap more favour on him – widening the divide between Heathcliff and his own children.

Heathcliff suffers greatly at the hands of Hindley and in time Catherine becomes an ally to him, and their relationship blossoms. They are very much partners in crime and forever out roaming the moors or getting up to mischief.

The entire store is really a who’s who in the battle of wills and plotting of revenge. It begins with Hindley treating Heathcliff extremely badly but that could have been borne with Catherine by his side, except that she doesn’t stay by his side. She is seduced by the proper family of Thrushcross Grange and eventually marries into them, completely destroying any goodness left in Heathcliff, leaving his only purpose in life to revenge himself on everyone who has wronged him.

I find Wuthering Heights to be very atmospheric; it is dark and gloomy and gothic, very much like Heathcliff. It is supernatural and spooky with the veil between Wuthering Heights and the other side paper thin, at the request of Heathcliff.

wuthering heights

Regardless of all else going on I do still feel the enduring love story. The story is very much a study of opposites.

In the early days you can garner the light and airiness in Wuthering Heights but by the time of Hindley Earnshaw becoming master of the house it has become dark and gloomy like the countenances of the characters, right down to the dark hair and dark eyes of the inhabitants. Hindley is happy with the wife he brings home, until she dies soon after childbirth, and then Heathcliff and Catherine are left to suffer the brunt of his despair.

An evening of rambling sees them make the acquaintance of the Lintons at Thrushcross Grange where all is light and happy; and Catherine is seduced into becoming a real lady. Not to mention even more headstrong, stubborn and self centred. When I say everything is light at Thrushcross Grange, I mean that right down to the blonde hair and blue eyes of the Lintons. They are civilised and upper class, proper society.

In very simplistic terms Thrushcross Grange and the Lintons represent what is good and light, while Wuthering Heights is all about the darkness – both of manner and atmosphere. They are uncultured and wild. Edgar Linton brings Catherine out of the darkness and into the light, but in the end it stifles her.

As is often the way, a half heard conversation leads to a huge over-reaction and Heathcliff takes off. He can be found nowhere and so as time passes with no return Catherine is not torn in two directions, there is no fight for her affections so she succumbs to the lure of the Lintons and they marry, and then of course Heathcliff returns.

The bulk of the story is after all of this as Heathcliff plots revenge on everyone who played a part in keeping him from his love. If he can’t revenge himself on those who wronged him he will use their progeny as his pawns.

Rereading as an adult with a lot more experience gives me a different perspective and I can see how deplorable most of these characters are but I still can’t help but love the story and my apologies if this next bit is ***SPOILERIFIC*** but I think the story comes full circle. Heathcliff as the ruffian, unschooled foundling is thwarted in his love of the divinely beautiful Catherine as he loses out to the blonde and effeminate Edgar Linton. Thirty years later all his plans for revenge have played out and the offspring of the original Lintons, Earnshaws and Heathcliff have been used as pawns. Then in the final act we see the unschooled, uncivilised ruffian has managed to win the divinely beautiful child of Catherine with no effeminate blonde Linton in sight.

All of the names are repeated in the two generations and I don’t think this was lazy storytelling, I think this was quite ingeniously plotted to show who bested who in the final outcome.

Wuthering Heights has stood the test of time in the wider world but also in my personal experience. I think when I return to the library next it’s time to borrow all of the movies.

Look out for my review of Nelly Dean late this month, the reason for my return to the original Wuthering Heights to put all of the pieces back together.

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