94 pages 3 hours read

Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1847

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Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights was published in December 1847 under the pen name Ellis Bell. This literary classic is Emily Brontë’s only novel, and the book is currently widely appreciated as an exemplary sample of British Romantic literature. At the time of publication, most critical reviews of Wuthering Heights were disapproving at best and scathing at worst, so much so that her sister Charlotte Brontë, who wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell, was concerned that it might negatively impact the literary brand Charlotte and her sisters were trying to develop. Only the year before, in 1846, with their sister Anne Brontë, author of Agnes Grey under the pseudonym Acton Bell, Charlotte and Emily Brontë had published a joint collection of poetry titled Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Despite the negativity of the early reviews, Wuthering Heights is now celebrated as a unique work of literature, intriguing scholars and fans alike with its complexity and high emotion.

Most of the novel is told in retrospective narration by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights, and in Nelly’s story-telling, the reader may hear interesting echoes of Emily Brontë’s own voice; after a brief and unsuccessful career as a governess in Brussels, Emily Brontë returned home to West Yorkshire where she put herself in charge of domestics at the Brontë family home. The Brontës lived in a parsonage in Haworth, the West Yorkshire village set in a moorland landscape in north of England. Some scholars believe other autobiographical elements beyond this identification with the narrator-housekeeper can be found in Wuthering Heights.For example, it is possible that Emily’s own jealousy of her brother Branwell’s elevated status in the family inspired the competitive childhood relationship between Hindley Earnshaw and the foundling Heathcliff. As well, the possibility does exist that a young Emily Brontë herself was shut into a room that was haunted, much like Lockwood was forced to sleep in Catherine’s old bedroom one fateful snowy night. Some scholars believe that Emily cultivated in her own psychology a kind of misanthropic darkness that links her inextricably with the character of Heathcliff.

Wuthering Heights, a frame novel, contains clear evidence of the influence of second-wave Romanticism as exemplified by the poets Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. Gothic and supernatural elements—such as ghosts and mournful whispers from the past—bring fantasy and fairy tales to clash with real life. The role of the landscape of northern England plays a significant part in the emotionally intense lives of the characters. The residents of both Wuthering Heights and neighboring Thrushcross Grange seek to rise above the doldrums of their daily lives with books, hard labor, and tense exchanges with each other. Much like other Romantic characters in literature, they are all complex individuals with complicated motivations.

Nosy Nelly recounts what transpired in Wuthering Heights between the Lintons, the Earnshaws, and the Heathcliffs to Mr. Lockwood, a new tenant of the area. Lockwood frames Nelly’s tale—which is colored with her own perceptions and bias—and presents the account to the reader, also interjecting his own ideas about the characters and events. The core conflict revolves around the romance between the beautiful Catherine Earnshaw and the brooding Heathcliff. Lockwood meets Heathcliff firsthand as an adult when Lockwood approaches Thrushcross Grange to rent the manor, which Heathcliff owns. During his stay in the winter of 1801, Nelly explains how Catherine’s father brought Heathcliff to Wuthering Heights as an orphan boy. Subsequently, Catherine and Heathcliff spent their childhoods together and developed an affection for one another. Catherine’s brother, Hindley, resented Heathcliff’s relationship with his father, Mr. Earnshaw, and treated the orphan with disdain and cruelty.

After his father’s death, Hindley returns from university with his wife, Frances, and becomes the sole proprietor of Wuthering Heights. Hindley uses his position as master to treat Heathcliff like a servant, inadvertently solidifying the emotional bond between his sister and Heathcliff. At that time, the well-to-do Lintons owned Thrushcross Grange and had two children, Edgar and Isabella. After a dog attack, Catherine stays at the Lintons to recover and draws the attention of Edgar. Meanwhile, Frances dies during childbirth, leaving Hindley to care for his newborn son, Hareton. Hindley becomes more tyrannical towards Heathcliff.

Nelly affirms that Catherine is in love with Heathcliff, yet despite her feelings, she marries Edgar, as dictated per class etiquette. Upon this news, Heathcliff leaves the moors for three years. When he returns, he is in possession of a mysterious sum of money and is committed to enact revenge against Hindley for the years of abuse. Heathcliff tricks Hindley, who has become a severe alcoholic, into losing his rights to Wuthering Heights—which Heathcliff swiftly acquires. Heathcliff then weds Isabella but treats her unkindly during their marriage.

Catherine gives birth to a daughter, named Catherine Linton, but the mother falls ill and dies. Heathcliff becomes unhinged, and Isabella flees to London. There, she gives birth to Heathcliff’s son, Linton Heathcliff.Over the next 13 years, Edgar and Nelly try to shield young Cathy from the turmoil that surrounds Wuthering Heights and its unstable owner, Heathcliff. Cathy eventually forms a clandestine friendship with Hareton, who has become gruff and uneducated as a result of Heathcliff’s mistreatment.

After Isabella’s death, Edgar brings his nephew, Linton Heathcliff, to Thrushcross Grange with the intent to raise him away from the vengeance of Heathcliff. This attempt is in vain, as Heathcliff ensures the marriage of Linton and Cathy as a means to acquire the Linton manor, Thrushcross Grange. Eventually both Edgar and Linton pass, and Heathcliff reigns as owner of the moors. He has essentially imprisoned Cathy and Nelly and treats Cathy as a servant. When Lockwood approaches Thrushcross Grange, he meets Cathy in this position. Nelly then imparts to him her version of the events, which causes him to leave the area. When he later returns, Nelly details the blossoming romance between Hareton and Cathy, who intend to wed. Heathcliff has recently passed and died a broken man, haunted and maddened by the loss of his true love, Catherine Earnshaw.

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