Emily Brontë’s masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, has been dividing audiences for nearly two centuries. Readers will either hate this book with the fire of a thousand suns or love it, there is no middle ground.
Wuthering Heights is an estate on the Yorkshire Moors, a bleak and unwelcoming home, haunted by ghosts of the past. A housekeeper, Nelly Dean, tells a tale of the family who lived there before, recounting the chain of events that lead back to the present day where a brooding tyrant is now master of the house.
The story begins with Mr Earnshaw, farmer and owner of Wuthering Heights, bringing home a young orphan boy named Heathcliff. He will raise Heathcliff alongside his own son and daughter, Hindley and Catherine. Mr Earnshaw loves Heathcliff as his own and provides him with the same education and opportunities as his biological children. Catherine loves Heathcliff endlessly and they spend their childhood frolicking around the moors together, forging a pure and natural bond in their own little world. Hindley, on the other hand, despises the love and attention his father has bestowed upon Heathcliff, igniting a jealous rivalry between the two.
After Mr Earnshaw’s death, the hierarchy changes. Now head of the house, Hindley becomes a cruel and vindictive master, lowering Heathcliff to the rank of farm hand and ruling over him with a violent fist. Cathy remains devoted to Heathcliff, but is disheartened by the way Heathcliff antagonises Hindley, worsening his situation.
Disrupting their microcosmic world at Wuthering Heights, the wealthy Linton children, Edgar and Isabella, from the neighbouring property, Thrushcross Grange, enter the scene. Cathy begins spending time at Thrushcross Grange with the Linton family, making Heathcliff jealous and bitter.
Time passes and Edgar Linton proposes to Cathy. She is divided by her feelings for Heathcliff, but declares to Nelly that she could never marry him. Cathy is assured of a life of wealth with Edgar and makes the pragmatic choice. Heartbroken Heathcliff overhears Cathy’s declaration, prompting him to flee Wuthering Heights for three years. Cathy pines for Heathcliff while he is gone, but eventually gives up hope of him returning and marries Edgar Linton.
In rebellion, Heathcliff marries Isabella Linton and mistreats her terribly. Cathy is thrown into a right royal tizzy, but is delighted when Heathcliff finally returns. Things escalate quite quickly from here. Cathy becomes unwell, gives birth to a daughter, and then dies – leaving behind an inconsolable Heathcliff, who plunges deeper into darkness and insanity.
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 can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!
I have seen Wuthering Heights branded the most romantic story of all time, to which I shake my fist in the air and wholeheartedly disagree. Catherine and Heathcliff spend half of the novel trying to spite each other. They do poetically express how life without their other half would be pure agony, but are ultimately too proud and stubborn to surrender to their own vulnerability for one another.
The wicked games that transpire between Catherine and Heathcliff are supposed to hint at their passionate love for one another, but they seem to thrive more on the turbulence of their relationship than the prospect of living happily ever after.
Dark and brooding anti-hero Heathcliff is often the subject of passionate debate – tormented romantic, handsome rogue, or psychopathic brute? He is motivated relentlessly by love and hatred, but despite his capacity for brutality, I paint Heathcliff with a sympathetic brush. Heathcliff is a product of the troubled environment in which he was crafted.
I actually found Cathy more hateful and vindictive by nature. She won’t accept Heathcliff as her equal, but can’t live without him either. She wants to have her cake and eat it too. Just when you think that death is surely her last possible opportunity to manipulate Heathcliff’s heartstrings, she comes back to haunt him from the afterlife!
When Cathy dies, Heathcliff makes his choice. He could plunge a dagger into his black cold heart, or he could orchestrate an elaborate revenge plot instead. He has nothing to live for, except the perverse gratification of avenging the happiness he was denied, so he chooses revenge.
Despite all the gloom and death, I was captivated by the malevolent rage of a scorned lover. Wuthering Heights is not a grand romance, rather the tale of a toxic relationship. The psychological destruction of Heathcliff and his capacity to love is the true story. Disorder and vengeance govern the plot, not romantic love. Heathcliff and Catherine are a disaster – they say their lives and souls are intertwined, yet thrive on the torturous heartache of being separated.
Pragmatic Cathy knew that if she were to run away with Heathcliff she would be giving up money, property, stability, and status. Isabella Linton naïvely gave up all of those things willingly to marry Heathcliff, so why couldn’t Cathy do the same? The relationship that is formed between Cathy and Heathcliff in childhood is pure and untainted by class and wealth, but Cathy’s refusal to sacrifice the material world is the true tragedy.
I quite despise Cathy, but do understand her hesitancy. Heathcliff had already proven himself a loose canon and not exactly husband material. The only time Cathy could have changed her fate was at the crossroads when she makes her big speech to Nelly. Heathcliff is her soul mate, but not socially suitable.
He’s more myself than I am.
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.
I love the tragedy of Wuthering Heights. The heartbreak lies in the alternative scenario of what would have happened if Cathy chose Heathcliff? I think the reader is positioned to see Catherine’s decision as the catalyst of all the misery that follows, suggesting that denying a natural love goes against nature.
Wuthering Heights sweeps you away to the weathered landscapes of the Yorkshire Moors. A wild terrain, much like the relationships enclosed inside the novel. The eerie moors will linger and infiltrate your dreams. The melodramatic environment and theatrics result in a twisted gothic romance with the makings of a modern psychological thriller infused with malice, revenge, wrath, and desire.
I love pretty fairy tale romances with perfectly manicured happy endings, but the dark essence of Wuthering Heights unleashes the bubbling anger that lurks dormant inside all jaded romantics who have had their heart broken. Cathy and Heathcliff, a tragic love that echoes from beyond the grave and transcends the mortal world.