Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (summary from Amazon.com):
Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only novel. 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 (as an adjective, wuthering is a Yorkshire word referring to turbulent weather). The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.
My Thoughts on Wuthering Heights and Other Adaptations:
In my experience, this book is a polarizing read. Almost everyone I know loathes it, and the first time I read it (freshman year of high school), I loathed it too. It actually took me until my junior year at university to see past my loathing — which mainly resided in Joseph’s dialect-ridden speeches and some rather ridiculous plot twists — and love it. The dialect became clear once I heard the audio recording. University is also where I found Anne Brontë’s poetry, and I highly recommend it. Not because we’re both named Anne, but because it has a certain delicious darkness.
If you’re one of the readers who loathed this book, I’d love to hear why.
This is a tragic love story. I tolerate squishy love when there’s a heavy dose of tragedy, and this novel delivers! Here’s what Heathcliff says to Cathy at her grave:
“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you — haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe — I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always — take any form — drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
It shares many similarities with Romeo & Juliet — the main one being two lovers divided. In Brontë’s novel, they’re divided by class (in some interpretations they might share a father, the incest taboo, but I’m not sold on that idea). Like the Nurse from R&J, Nelly the housekeeper is an unreliable narrator and horrible gossip. Except, in WH Cathy has to choose between the affluent Edgar Linton and the wild gypsy Heathcliff. Cathy says of Heathcliff and Edgar:
“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
This is also a ghost story. Mr. Lockwood imagines Cathy scratching at his window to be let in, and he tells Heathcliff, who has been pining for a sign. Heathcliff goes so far as to dig up her grave and lie down with her in the earth. What a fantastic way to show how much he misses her. Even her rotting corpse can’t sway his love. Also, he might be insane, but he’s the only character in this novel that never deviates from his own desire: to love Cathy Earnshaw Linton.
Everything he does he does for her. He overhears Cathy tell Nelly that she loves Edgar, and he doesn’t stick around to hear the rest of her speech (above). When he returns to his childhood home richer than his “brother”, he takes over the lands and house through devious means. He discovers Cathy’s married to Edgar. As revenge on Edgar, he marries Edgar’s younger sister Isabella and proceeds to torture her. In one scene, Heathcliff goes so far as to hang puppies off a chair. He is not a nice man; he’s a tortured man, but he continues to love Cathy, going so far as to sneak into her house while she’s dying, keep Edgar out of the room, and cling to her while she dies (of some silly 1850 excuse for sudden death that’s completely unbelievable, but I don’t care because I love this novel so hard).
This book has amazing female characters. Cathy Earnshaw is a force to be reckoned with. Her daughter, Catherine Earnshaw, is inquisitive, but not as wild. She grew up with no playmates and Edgar as a father. She does begin to come into her own when Heathcliff dies. Nelly is the glue that holds the story together, and she saves Catherine from Heathcliff when he locks her up. Isabella isn’t as strong-willed as Cathy or Nelly, but she manages to escape from Heathcliff and raise her son alone in London (I think) until her untimely death. So. Many. Untimely. Deaths. But it tracks because Emily, herself, experienced many tragic deaths in her own family. She also died at the age of 30, four months after WH‘s publication.
WH could be considered YA because most of the action revolves around young Cathy, Heathcliff, Edgar, and Isabella, but the narrators are adults looking back, and the story moves into more NA territory. I’ve read a number of updated versions (including Wuthering Bites – Heathcliff is a vampire, and Heathcliff – there’s incest galore!), but I’ve yet to read a YA re-telling. An argument could be made for Twilight, but I reject that argument on the grounds that if it were a true re-telling, then the characters wouldn’t make countless mentions to the original novel.
The book has given life to so many adaptations from two musicals (I prefer HEATHCLIFF staring Cliff Richard over WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Mostly because the lyrics work better, all the guitar in the score, and the cast.), operas (three that I know of), movies (watch
Voldemort, I mean, Ralph Fiennes take his turn as Heathcliff because it’s lovely. Or tragic. Yes, lovely tragedy.), to TV adaptations (if you can get your hands on the Italian version staring Alessio Boni and Anita Caprioli, you will not regret it – although it’s entirely without subtitles).
And who could forget this gem:
tl;dr Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a dark-love-ghost-tragedy, and you should read it or give it another chance. Then talk to me about it!