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About Wuthering Heights


About Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontė's only novel, and is considered the fullest expression of her deeply individual poetic vision. It obviously contains many romantic influences: Heathcliff is a very Byronic character, though he lacks the self-pitying that mars many Byronic characters, and is deeply attached to the natural world. When the novel was written, the peak of the Romantic age had passed: we should be very grateful that Emily Brontė lived such an isolated life, and was in some sense behind the times. The novel expresses deep criticisms of social conventions, particularly those surrounding issues of gender: notice that the author distributes "feminine" and "masculine" characteristics without regard to sex. Brontė had difficulties living in society while remaining true to the things she considered important: the ideal of women as delicate beings who avoid physical or mental activity and pursue fashions and flirtations was repugnant to her. Class issues are also important: we are bound to respect Ellen, who is educated but of low class, more than Lockwood.

Any reader of Wuthering Heights should recognize immediately that it is not the sort of novel that a gently-bred Victorian lady would be expected to write. Emily Brontė sent it to publishers under the masculine name of Ellis Bell, but even so it took many tries and many months before it was finally accepted. Its reviews were almost entirely negative: reviewers implied that the author of such a novel must be insane, obsessed with cruelty, barbaric... Emily's sister Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre was much more successful. Emily was always eager to maintain the secrecy under which the novel was published, understandably. She died soon after the publication, and Charlotte felt obliged ­ now that secrecy was no longer necessary ­ to write a preface for the novel defending her sister's character. The preface also made it clear that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were, in fact, different people: some readers had speculated that Wuthering Heights was an early work by the author of Jane Eyre. It appears that Charlotte herself was uncomfortable with the more disturbing aspects of her sister's masterpiece. She said that if Emily had lived, "her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree; loftier, straighter, wider-spreading, and its matured fruits would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom." Her apology for Emily's work should be read with the realization that Charlotte's character was deeply different from Emily's: her interpretation of Wuthering Heights cannot necessarily be trusted.

Wuthering Heights does not really belong into any cut-and-dried category, nor did it begin an important literary lineage. None of its imitations can approach its sincerity and poetic power. This does not mean that it has not been an important influence, however.

With the passing of time, an immense amount of interest has grown up about the Brontė sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne ­ they have achieved the status of the centers of a literary cult. Brontė enthusiasts are currently involved in convincing the world that the B 14214k1019o rontės' work should not be considered children's literature, merely because they are written by women. Nevertheless, it is not infrequent to find Wuthering Heights on lists of golden classics for children, which seems somewhat surprising considering its violent subject matter.


The conflict of Wuthering Heights must be viewed on two levels:

Level 1 - Heathcliff's story


The main protagonist of the novel is Heathcliff, who was an orphan brought home to live at Wuthering Heights. From the beginning, he was a "sullen, patient child; hardened perhaps to ill-treatment." As he grew, he became even more dark, morose, and gypsy-like, introducing strife into the peaceful lives of the Earnshaws and the Lintons.

During the novel, Heathcliff is described as "rough as a saw- edge and hard as a whinstone." His presence, like some brooding spirit of evil, darkly overshadows the events of the whole story.


Heathcliff's antagonists are all the evil and demonic forces within him, especially his vengefulness. Throughout the book, he is always plotting to get revenge for the poor treatment he has received from various characters, such as the jealous and brutalizing Hindley, the sulking Edgar Linton, the ambitious and ferociously intense Catherine, and the infatuation-driven and foolish Isabella Linton.


The climax for Heathcliff is reached in the novel with the death of Catherine. She has been the driving force of his life and his reason for living. After her death, he only wants vengeance for all the wrongs done to him.


Heathcliff's story ends in tragedy. At the end of the book, he dies a pathetic, lonely, and bitter man.

Level 2 - The tale as a love story


Viewed as a tale that is bigger that Heathcliff, the protagonist of the novel becomes the idea of love, in its true and purest form.


The antagonists to true love are all the things in the novel that stand between two lovers committing themselves to one another. Although Heathcliff and Catherine passionately profess their love to one another, they are separated because Catherine has chosen to marry Edgar, a man who is more polished and civilized than Heathcliff. The younger Cathy is forced by Heathcliff to marry Linton, whom she does not love. By the end of the novel, however, she falls in love with and marries Hareton.


The climax occurs when Cathy and Hareton pledge their love to one another, proving that true love can conquer many obstacles.


At this level, the novel ends in comedy, for it is shown that love can overcome its antagonists in life. The novel ends happily when Hareton and the young Cathy marry, vacate the grim house on the Heights, and move to the Grange. Through their love, many of the novel's painful conflicts are resolved. At the end of the novel, Catherine and Heathcliff also are eternally united through death.


Major Theme

The major theme of the novel is love, especially that of Catherine and Heathcliff. It is the product of their rebellion against Hindley and Joseph and the natural result of their compatibility. Their love is realized only after death, but carried on symbolically by young Cathy and Hareton.

Minor Themes

Heathcliff's revenge forms a minor theme of the novel. He works out a plan of vengeance on both Hindley and Edgar. However, the spirit of Catherine prevents him from bringing his plan to its conclusion.

The supernatural is another minor theme of the novel. Heathcliff, Cathy, Nelly, and Lockwood are all subject to supernatural visions.


The overall mood of Wuthering Heights is best described as somber and tragic. The author says the plot is like a storm. On the last page of the novel, the reader sees the phantoms of Heathcliff and the elder Cathy restlessly walking the Heights in rain and thunder. However, there is a semblance of calm in Brontė's presentation of the second-generation's story. It appears that the author is trying to resolve the basic stormy conflict of the novel through the love of Cathy and Hareton. In contrast to the restless Heathcliff and Cathy walking in the storm, Hareton and Cathy are seen on the moors, peaceful and in love. They decide to leave Wuthering Heights, abandoning it to the still restless spirits of Heathcliff and his Catherine.


All Emily Brontė's girlhood was an unconscious preparation for the writing of Wuthering Heights. In her preface to Wuthering Heights, Charlotte describes her sister's feeling for the moors: "her native hills were far more to her than a spectacle; they were what she lived in, and by, as much as the wild birds, their tenants, or as the heather, their produce." Wandering over the moors in all seasons and weathers, Emily Brontė loved them with as passionate and intimate a knowledge as that with which she endowed her heroines of Wuthering Heights, the two Catherines. Those heathery wastes around her home fed her imagination as vitally as they nourished her physical well being. Emily Brontė's love and knowledge of her native place undoubtedly played a powerful part in the writing of the novel, which Charlotte described as "moorish, and wild, and knotty as a root of heath."

Emily might have taken the idea of Heathcliff's revenge from the Tales of Hoffman and other German romances she read while at school in Brussels in 1842. The sources of her characterization and incidents were various. As a child she had listened to the tales of her father over the breakfast table. Some of these were weird Irish legends from his youth. Others were lurid true stories of their own neighborhood in the recent past. Emily's lively imagination eagerly absorbed all of his descriptions and changed some of them into characters and events in Wuthering Heights.

In addition to all the tales she had heard, Emily Brontė had first- hand experience with the wretched spectacle of masculine depravity. Branwell, the brother of Emily, had high literary and artistic ambitions that were doomed to disappointment. Always in trouble, and slowly destroying himself with drink and drugs, he was an unending source of worry to his family. Emily's portrait of the disintegration of Hindley in Wuthering Heights reflects Branwell's own disintegration


The structure of Wuthering Heights is not typical, for it is told as a flashback out of chronological order. Emily Brontė, however, strives to tie all of the loose ends of the story together by the last chapter. What was not understood by Lockwood or the reader in the beginning chapter has been fully explained by the last one. In spite of the broad span of time that passes in the book, the author also strives to weave the tale into a unified whole by a repetition of theme, a small setting, and the constancy of character in the person of Heathcliff, who dominates also the entire plot.

In actuality, the plot of the novel is divided into five different phases, which correspond to the five stages in the plot of a classical drama. The brilliantly conceived first section of the novel forms its exposition. It establishes the nature of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, their relationships to each other, and the strange atmosphere that surrounds them. Events in the novel are set in motion by the arrival of Heathcliff, picked up as a waif of unknown parentage on the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw, who brings him home to raise as one of his own children. This opening narrative, told by Nelly, deals mainly with the childhood and personalities of Heathcliff, Catherine, and Hindley.

The real rising action of the novel's plot begins when Mr. Earnshaw passes away; his death brings forth a quick succession of events that complicate the plot. Bullied and humiliated by Hindley, Heathcliff develops a passionate and ferocious nature that finds its complement in Earnshaw's daughter, Catherine. Their childhood affection develops into an increasingly intense, though troubled, attachment to one another. Catherine, however, decides to marry Edgar Linton, for he is wealthy and more polished than Heathcliff, her true love. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights before the marriage of Catherine and Edgar takes place.

There are several key incidents that lead to the climactic moment of the novel. Heathcliff returns three years later and finds the married Catherine is still attracted to him, a fact that devastates her husband, Edgar. Heathcliff is allowed to stay at Wuthering Heights with Hindley, who is now widowed with a son, Hareton; he has become a hardened gambler and loses everything to Heathcliff. As a result, Heathcliff becomes the master of Wuthering Heights and brings Hindley and Hareton completely under his power. Ruled by a desire for vengeance, Heathcliff makes the two of them suffer as he has previously suffered under Hindley's cruelty. As part of his revenge, Heathcliff also marries Edgar Linton's sister, Isabella, and cruelly mistreats her. He also unintentionally hastens Catherine's death, which is the point of climax for Heathcliff.

The unraveling of Heathcliff's revenge forms the falling action. He lures the young Cathy, the daughter of Catherine and Edgar, to his house and forces a marriage between her and his son, Linton. Since Linton is a sickly young man, Heathcliff knows he will soon die, putting Heathcliff in a position to control both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. After Linton's death, he forces Cathy to stay on at the Heights, a situation that allows an affection to spring forth between her and Hareton. She does her best to educate him and eventually falls in love with him. Heathcliff's desire for revenge eventually wears out, and he allows Cathy and Hareton to pursue their relationship. All Heathcliff longs for now is death, which will at last reunite him with Catherine.

The denouement, or conclusion, of the novel is reached with the death of Heathcliff. In and through Heathcliff's death there is the promise that the two contrasting worlds and moral orders represented by the Heights and the Grange will be united in the next generation in the union of Cathy and Hareton.


Wuthering Heights is unique for many reasons. It is told by several different narrators, including Nelly Dean and Lockwood. It is also told as a flashback, not entirely in chronological order. It is also an interesting study in the Yorkshire dialect, even though the dialogue can sometimes be a little stiff and artificial. The language used by Nelly seems particularly improbable, coming as it does from a housekeeper, no matter how well read she may be. It seems improbable, too, that Nelly should recall so many conversations verbatim after a period of many years.

The images in the novel, which are vivid and powerful, contribute to its style. The figures of speech are effective. Nelly describes Edgar's reluctance to leave the Heights after his quarrel with Catherine through a powerful metaphor: "He possessed the power to depart, as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten." Heathcliff says of Edgar: "I'll crush his ribs like a rotten hazel nut." Edgar's growing interest in Cathy after the death of his wife is described in the following manner: "for a few days . . . he seemed regardless of the puny successor to the departed: that coldness melted as fast as snow in April." These are but a few examples of Emily Brontė's picturesque style.

One of the most striking features of Emily Brontė's style is its lyrical quality. Among the most celebrated in the novel is the young Cathy's description of her ideal way of spending a summer day, contrasted with that of her cousin Linton. "He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee." The prose rhythms of Cathy's description almost cry out to be sung. All the 'm' sounds in Linton's description, such as "morning," "middle of the moors," and "bees humming dreamily among the bloom" convey exactly the desired impression of lazy drowsiness. With Cathy's description the prose at once becomes brisker and full of movement. She uses verbs like "rocking," "blowing," "flitting," and "undulating (in waves to the breeze)." They help to build a picture of sparkling, dancing vitality. The last sentence in the novel is a good example of Emily Brontė's unfailing sense of rhythm: "I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

The language of the novel also characterizes human beings, establishing the cultural differences between man and the social world he enters. Lockwood's speech is pompous, mannered, bookish, and delightfully free from dialect. In spite of his lack of education, Heathcliff is able to address Lockwood, the stranger, with elaborate politeness. Joseph's language is different from the language Catherine uses. His is the typical dialect spoken by a servant, while Catherine's speech is typical of a well-to-do young lady who grew up in the country. Nelly Dean's language is a fine specimen of standard English with a slight regional flavor. The language successfully reveals part of each character's background.


Emily Bronte uses both symbolism and imagery in her novel. The two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, are highly symbolic. The Heights represents a "storm," whereas the Grange stands for "calm." Lockwood explains the meaning of "wuthering" as "descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather." Brontė takes pains to stress the house's ordinary, unfinished, and provincial nature. But its chief characteristic is exposure to the power of the wind, which makes it appear fortress-like. It is an appropriate house for the Earnshaw family: they are the fiery, untamed children of the storm, especially Heathcliff, the foundling. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange is set in a civilized valley and stands in a sheltered park. Here, the effects of weather are always gentler, filtered, and diluted. The Grange is a house of soft, clinging luxury, and its inhabitants are guarded by servants and bulldogs. It is "a splendid place," rich, carpeted and cushioned with crimson. In contrast to the Heights, it belongs to "civilization," which values comfort more than life itself. Thus, it is a natural home for the children of calm: the gentle, passive and timid Lintons.

Animal imagery is used by Emily Brontė to project her insights into human character. Catherine describes Heathcliff as a wolfish man. Isabella Linton, after she becomes his wife, compares him to "a tiger, or a venomous serpent." Nelly Dean sees his despair after Catherine's death as not like that of a man, but of a savage beast. Heathcliff himself, when he wishes to insult his enemies, compares them to animals. However, these are not wild creatures he respects for their strength, but gentler animals that he despises. Edgar Linton is "a lamb" that "threatens like a bull." Linton, Heathcliff's son, is a "puling chicken." Heathcliff hates Hindley Earnshaw because he sees him as the author of all his misfortunes. When he dies before the arrival of the doctor, Heathcliff brutally says that "the beast has changed into carrion."

Symbolism is implicit also in various events of the novel. For example, on the fateful night of Heathcliff's departure from the Heights, the storm comes "rattling over the Heights in full fury." It symbolizes the storm that eventually destroys the lives of Cathy and Heathcliff. Then again, after three years, on Heathcliff's return, he and Cathy meet by the light of fire and candlelight, symbolizing the warmth of their affection for one another. In these ways, and many others, images and symbols in Wuthering Heights add meaning to characters, theme, tone, and mood.


Major Theme

The major theme of the novel is love. This theme is developed with constant references to the special affinity that exists between Heathcliff and Catherine. It is the product of a mutual rebellion against the harsh regime of Hindley and Joseph. From another point of view, it is also the product of their rebellion against the kind of adult tyranny exercised against children in the period in which they lived. Their own strong personalities, coupled with their various mistakes and failures, compound their problems. Consequently, life keeps them apart, even though they both pledge their love and devotion to one another.

Catherine is a prisoner of her own class and upbringing. The situation is further complicated by the fact that one part of her genuinely loves Edgar and genuinely desires the kind of life he represents. But she is telling an undeniable truth when she says that her love for Heathcliff "resembles the eternal rocks beneath." She knows that the love that she has for Heathcliff is something very special and beyond comparison. Nevertheless, she accepts Edgar's proposal of marriage even though she feels guilty for betraying Heathcliff. For some time she hopes to have the best of both worlds by marrying Edgar and retaining Heathcliff as a friend. But such compromises are inevitably doomed to fail. She is in an impossible situation, caught between irreconcilable forces.

Heathcliff also begins to undergo degeneration in the process. He too tramples on the special bond that ties him and Catherine so closely together. Their feelings become distorted into bitterness and hatred. As a result, Catherine dies an early death, and Heathcliff becomes a bitter, vengeful man. The reunion with Catherine, for which Heathcliff so longs, is denied to him by her parting. It is only through death that they can be eternally united. Appropriately, after Heathcliff's death their spirits are seen wandering together on the moors.

In order to give a more positive view of love than the troubled relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, Emily Bronte brings together a younger generation that can pursue true love. Even though young Cathy, Catherine's daughter, is forced by Heathcliff to marry Edgar, his son, she rises above her problems. When her husband dies, Cathy develops an attachment for Hareton and eventually marries him out of true love. At the end of the novel, they plan to leave Wuthering Heights forever to begin a fresh, new life together at Thrushcross Grange. In the end, Wuthering Heights emerges as a truly great novel that affirms love's glory, both in life and death.

Minor Themes

The theme of revenge is also very important to the entire novel. As an "orphan" child growing up at Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is abused by Hindley, who is jealous about his father's affection for this gypsy outsider. When old Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff grows more brutal. The only thing that makes his life bearable is the attention paid to him by Catherine, Hindley's sister. Then she betrays him and marries Edgar Linton. Heathcliff is devastated and promises to get revenge on both the Lintons and the Earnshaws. He goes away for three years and amasses some wealth so that he can put his plan of revenge into motion.

Upon his return to the Heights, Heathcliff becomes a cruel and unfeeling demon as he carries out his plan. In vengeance, he marries, Isabella, the simple and infatuated sister of Edgar Linton. He mistreats Hareton, Hindley's son, in much the same way he has been mistreated. He takes advantage of the drunken, gambling Hindley, winning Wuthering Heights from him as the collateral for his gambling losses. In fact, it is revenge that dominates Heathcliff's life and the second half of the novel.

In the end, Heathcliff is unable to fully carry out his plan of revenge against Hareton and Cathy because they remind Heathcliff so much of Catherine and himself. He, therefore, finally abandons his vengeful plans and waits for death to reunite him with his beloved Catherine.

The Supernatural as a theme

The supernatural element in the novel issues from Brontė's intense awareness of an unseen world beyond the tangible, visible earth. A connection with this other world is vitally important to many of the characters of the novel. Heathcliff declares, "I have a strong faith in ghosts. . .I have a conviction that they can, and do, exist among us!" Even the practical Nelly believes that Heathcliff himself may be a fiend, a visitor from another world. Catherine, too, relates her dream of having been flung out of heaven to Wuthering Heights. When she is delirious, she vows that she will not lie in the churchyard alone without Heathcliff; and she keeps her word, for her sprit haunts him for the remainder of his mortal life. When Heathcliff finally dies, Joseph and many other local people swear that they have seen his and Cathy's ghosts wandering in the night together on the moors. This pervasive presence of and references to ghosts contribute to the supernatural element in Wuthering Heights.


Emily Bronte's language is both spare and dense, which is why
it's often compared to poetry. When you finish the novel, you
have a firm sense of the bleak beauty of the moors, for
instance, yet there are remarkably few descriptions of the
landscape. What is there is immediately evocative.

Her prose is also unusually rhythmic, often violent and abrupt.
The verbs themselves are almost hysterical, until the final
paragraph, in which the moths "flutter" and the soft winds

Her two sources of imagery are nature (animals, plants, fire,
the land, the weather) and the supernatural (angel/devil,
heaven/hell). These are evident in the words she uses and the
mental pictures she evokes.


There is no single point of view in this novel. The story is told
by Lockwood, by Catherine, by Ellen Dean, by Heathcliff, by
Isabella, by the younger Cathy, and by Zillah, the other
housekeeper. Since the author never explicitly tells you what to
think, you must evaluate the story in the same way that you
evaluate each of the characters telling it.

Lockwood and Ellen, who tell most of the story, appear more
"normal" than most of the people they talk about (Lockwood is
a conventional man about town, despite his brief sojourn to
Yorkshire, and Ellen displays a practical, homespun wisdom),
but you can't overlook their biases. Neither of them can
appreciate the passion between Heathcliff and Catherine. You
as a reader, can, however. You can see much more than any
single character can tell you. Evaluating what each character
says helps to draw you into the book.


Part of what makes Wuthering Heights such an extraordinary
novel is its complicated narrative structure. Although telling a
story from different, limited points of view has become
common in this century, when Emily Bronte was writing, most
novels featured an omniscient narrator-someone (often, but not
always the author) who was not a character in the book, but
who could address the reader, comment on the action, and
describe the thoughts and feelings of any of the people in the
story. Wuthering Heights broke the mold; it is told solely by
characters in the book, most notably Mr. Lockwood and Ellen
Dean, although portions of Ellen's narrative include stories told
to her by others.

The narrative itself consists of stories-within-stories-within-
stories. Take a look, for instance, at Joseph's description of the
dissipation at Wuthering Heights after Heathcliff's return. It is
quoted in Ellen's warning to Isabella against Heathcliff, which
is in her story to Lockwood, which is in Lockwood's story to
you. Early readers were put off by this, seeing it as
unnecessarily complicated and confusing; but most readers
today view it as one of the novel's great strengths.

This book is full of doubles. There are two generations, each
occupying half the chapters. There are two households, each
with distinctive qualities. And the actions revolve around pairs
of children (Heathcliff and Cathy, the younger Cathy and
Linton, the younger Cathy and Hareton).

Heathcliff and Cathy die without making a fact of the oneness
they both feel is theirs. To Emily Bronte, their marriage is
unthinkable. It can happen only as distant parody: the marriage
of Hareton and Cathy the younger at the end of the book.
Hareton is a watered-down Heathcliff; Cathy is a pale, though
still vivacious, replica of her mother. [Wuthering Heights and
Jane Eyre] end similarly: a relatively mild and ordinary
marriage is made after the spirit of the masculine universe is
controlled or extinguished.

Richard Chase, in Twentieth Century Interpretations, 1947

Heathcliff's revenge may involve a pathological condition of
hatred, but it is not at bottom merely neurotic. It has a moral
force. For what Heathcliff does is to use against his enemies
with complete ruthlessness their own weapons, to turn on them
(stripped of their romantic veils) their own standards, to beat
them at their own game. The weapons he uses against the
Earnshaws and Lintons are their own weapons of money and
arranged marriages. He gets power over them by the classic
methods of the ruling class, expropriation and property deals.

Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel, 1951

Any choice between "the Heights" and "the Grange," any
writing up and writing down, will be the manufacture of the
critic, not the novelist. Emily Bronte's places of the heart are
not stages in the development of the highest self, but totally
different ideas of love, speaking different languages. What we
do in reading the book is learn to understand the two
architectures, and begin to measure the full and complex
implications of their opposition, revealed to us with scrupulous

Mark Kinkead-Weekes, in Twentieth Century Interpretations,

None of the other Victorians can successfully describe a death
scene. Awestruck at so tremendous a task, they lose their
creative nerve; their imaginations boggle and fail, and they fill
up the gaps left by its absence with conventional formulas. A
stagey light of false tragic emotion floods the scene; the figures
become puppets, squeaking out appropriately touching or noble
sentiments. But Emily Bronte's eagle imagination gazed with
as undaunted an eye on death, as on everything else. The light
she sheds on it is the same light that pervades her whole scene,
and it is the light of day.

David Cecil, Early Victorian Novelists,

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