Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Like the misty, whispering moors of northern England, Emily Bronte’s one and only novel, gets under your skin….tapping oh so quietly on the lattice window like Cathy asking that you only let it in to come home. Every Thanksgiving break I read Wuthering Heights, don’t ask me why but somehow it became part of a holiday tradition but this year I was able to enjoy it knowing I was also reading it as part of both the Victorian Literature Reading Challenge and the Gothic Literature Reading challenges.

I had hoped to read loads more Victorian novels this year but sadly I don’t think I will satisfy my original challenge goal of 15 books, but I was able to read a fair few on my list….I guess there is always next year though. But when I started the challenge, I knew I would read this book…there is no denying that which one loves.

Some people talk of the moors like they are a mystical and enchanting place  perhaps they are….a place that even if you move far away, the moorland winds keep calling you back to the only place where you can ever truly be free….home.  I include myself in this analogy, though I am not a Yorkshire native by any long stretch of the measure but at times, the moors seem like a place that I could call home. Perhaps that’s why I love novels set on the moors…my mother would say that is my ‘Irish spirit’ longing for it’s homeland….not sure about that (sorry mom) but I do love the misty moors.

The moorlands are among some of the most solitary lands on earth….there is little society and much isolation. The moorland isolation provides one freedom though….a wild, untamed spirit. Perhaps that’s why even when people leave the moors they always find them calling them home no matter how far away they are. In Yorkshire there is one saucy, wild, moorland child who is nothing but a force of nature: Catherine Earnshaw.

It seems as though nothing can tame young Cathy…except her one true love, Heathcliff. The gypsy orphan, Heathcliff, is brought to Wuthering Heights by Cathy’s father when he is a young boy…quickly Heathcliff and Cathy are thick as thieves. Heathcliff is tormented by Cathy’s brother, Hindley…his hate for Hindley consumes him. The more he hates Hindley the more he clings to Cathy, his true love and savior. But after a hateful accident, Cathy and Heathcliff are forced apart while Cathy recovers at a nearby house, Thrushcross Grange.

The Grange is home to a fashionable family: The Lintons. Edgar Linton and his sister Isabella look after Cathy after her accident and some of their ‘fashion’ and manners rub off on the wild girl. When she returns to the Heights two months later, she is quite the young lady whereas her lover Heathcliff is still the same wild boy he was when they were separated. As their relationship changes, a new affection is rapidly forming: Cathy and Edgar Linton. Edgar falls in love with Cathy and when he asks her to marry him, she hastily accepts.

After some reflection, she begs her housekeeper and pseudo ‘mother’ figure Nelly, what she should do….she has already said yes but is not entirely sure it was the right thing to do. Nelly asks her a simple question: do you love him, which Cathy replies with a venomous ‘yes’. Nelly wants to know why, why do you love him. Cathy struggles to come up with a satisfying answer for Nelly….first its because he is nice to look at, then because he loves her, and he is rich and with his money she can help Heathcliff be successful. She feels that marrying Heathcliff would degrade her, though she loves him most dearly, she cannot marry him. Nelly presses her on hoping that she will follow her heart and since Bronte writes this famous monolog so beautifully, I will just quote it here:

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.

From this moment on, the lives of Heathcliff, Edgar, Isabella, Hindley, Cathy, and all the children are forever changed. Cathy chose to believe the lies she was telling herself….she tried to convince herself that she loved Edgar, and in a way perhaps she did but not the same way she loved Heathcliff….and Heathcliff knew it, a knowledge that would drive him insane.

You know as well as I do, that for every thought she spends on Linton she spends a thousand on me!

Cathy knew exactly what she was doing to Heathcliff when she married Linton….she was killing him like she was killing herself. Cathy longed to run free on the moors forever with Heathcliff, not in a gilded cage with Linton.

Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture?  If you do, I’ll keep you.  I’ll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t rest till you are with me.  I never will!’

When Cathy dies, Heathcliff  wants nothing more than to be haunted by her ghost…he can’t stand being without her, he begs her to come to him and never leave him. Night after night he lays in her old room with the lattice window open hoping the mist from the moors will bring Cathy’s ghost home to the Heights and to Heathcliff.

When I first read the book, I was not entirely in love with it….none of the characters are really endearing and redeeming in any particular way. This is so different from traditional characters and love stories….all the characters are cold, angry, vindictive, and just hard to love. Heathcliff is bitter and resentful, Cathy is a spoiled, saucy bitch, Linton is spineless and winey, Isabella is much like her brother, and Hindley is cruel and down right mean. But yet it is hard to not feel sorry for them all in their unfortunate lives….and I’ll admit it, I love Cathy. Even though she is mean and bitchy, you can’t help but love her spirit and wildness….other women do not compare to her….she is vibrant and a spirit is like fire, catching….she is truly unforgettable and unyielding.

Cathy and Heathcliff together are like kerosene and matches…a deadly combo but they are so perfectly matched for one another. Their passion and love rival any romantic novel of the period and in modern literature as well. In frigid Victorian England….Bronte (a ministers daughter by the way!) was writing two of the most unforgettably passionate and ardent lovers in British Literature.

Even though I didn’t love the book the first time I read it, it stayed with me….begging me to read it again and again….just like Cathy’s ghost, I could not ignore the tap tap tapping on the lattice. Since I have read it again and again and with each reading I love it more than the first time. Like Heathcliff….the book has become necessary….a necessary part of my holiday tradition :).

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

  • Kindle Edition
  • Published January 24th 2010 (first published January 1st 1847)
  • ASIN B0035WTOA2

This book counts toward: Victorian Literature Challenge and Gothic Literature Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (a timeless love story).

Genre:  Classics, British Literature, Gothic Literature, Victorian Literature

Memorable lines/quotes: 

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.

If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.

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15 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful, devoted review of a book that’s won a permanent place in my affections, too, even though I’ve only read it just the once! Many, many, lesser books (that I won’t name) have tried to recapture the acute, aching singularity of the bond between Cathy and Heathcliff, and failed miserably.

    I particularly liked your observation that none of the characters really endear themselves to you on the basis of their virtues, that you instead come to love them for everything that is irredeemable about them. I’ve found this to be true with my perception of the novel, also. There really can only be one ‘Wuthering Heights’, thankfully. I’m not sure my heart could withstand the brooding, windswept passion of another!

    A brilliant, thoughtful review — thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words and praise 🙂
      It is truly one of my fav books, so beautiful and yet tragic at the same time.

      PS, I hope you are enjoying the sun down there 🙂 Cheers!

      Reply
  2. A fellow Wuthering Heights addict! Great tribute.

    Reply
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