Wuthering Heights is a renowned classic fiction novel written by English novelist and poet Emily Brontë under pseudonym “ Ellis Bell”. This piece of classic literature dives deeply into the topics of suffering, misfortune, and more specifically, drastic mental as well as physical cruelty. Brontë published the novel in 1847 and set the story in 1801 in a small town that is today recognised as part of the United Kingdom. The novel was written at a time of oppression of female writers. Brontë was forced to use a pseudonym, as her work would likely have not been published and her writing would have undoubtedly received significantly harsher critique than that of a male authors.
Also, during this time period people were much more accustomed to stark acts of cruelty being displayed in literature and plays. Back then, the novel was deemed controversial because of the gender of the author. Now, it’s regarded to as controversial because of the cruelty and contents within. Another point that makes the novel very interesting is that Brontë was very lyrical in her style of writing. She wrote many poems in her early literary career and a strongly notable rhythmic literary element is retained throughout the entirety of the novel. This story takes flight in Yorkshire, England. The protagonist, Lockwood, is a young and wealthy man who rents Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff, a seemingly mysterious and bitter man.
Upon a visit to his landlord’s place of residence, Wuthering Heights, a massive winter storm hits and Lockwood is snowed in. He is reluctantly allowed to stay the night in his landlord’s home, and is shown to his bedchambers: previously inhabited by Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff’s deceased love interest. During the night, Lockwood has a nightmare in which he sees Catherine trying to enter the bedroom through the window. The following morning Lockwood returns to Thrushwood Grange and falls ill not long thereafter. His housekeeper, Nelly Dean, cares for Lockwood during his time of illness and shares with him the tragic story of Wuthering Heights. In full disclosure, the first few chapters of this novel are somewhat difficult to follow as there are references made to characters that have not yet been formally introduced and events that have not yet been discussed.
This does not in any way take away from the quality of the literature, it just requires a higher level of attentiveness on the reader’s part. Also, as the novel continues the point of view interchanges without warning between Nelly and Lockwood. Between this and the slang language being used by both narrators, the plot weighs on the side of being somewhat hard to understand. The majority of the story is told through Nelly’s point of view, as she is the only character to have witnessed and experienced the entirety of the events that took place at the Heights.
Nelly told Lockwood stories of Heathcliff’s childhood and the previous owner of the Heights, Mr. Earnshaw. He lived with his son, Hindley, and daughter, Catherine at Wuthering Heights. On a trip to Liverpool, he adopted Heathcliff, who was an orphan, and brought him back to live as one of his own children. This sparked a bitter jealousy in Hindley, as he felt that he was being replaced by a new child. Catherine, on the other hand, grew close with Heathcliff. Not long after, Earnshaw died and Hindley inherited the residence and lived there with his wife Francis. He allowed Heathcliff to stay, only as a servant and mistreated him severely.
Catherine took an unexpected leave from the Heights after sustaining an injury and returned influenced by genteel peers. She resented Heathcliff and the classless way that he presented himself. He made several attempts to impress her but was ultimately humiliated by Hindley. Heathcliff was determined to get revenge for the way that Hindley treated him. The following year Francis passed away and Hindley fell into alcoholism.
A few more years passed and the already weakened friendship between Catherine and Heathcliff had seemingly almost entirely dissipated. Catherine took on a new lover, Edgar Linton. She confided in Nelly and told her that she had accepted Edgar’s proposal for marriage, but her love for Edgar was not comparable to the love that she harbored for Heathcliff.
She felt that she could not have confessed this love on account of Heathcliff’s low social status and lack of education. Heathcliff overheard part of this conversation, ironically only the part where Catherine said that marrying Heathcliff would “ degrade” her. Heathcliff disappeared without a trace. Three more years passed, Edgar and Catherine had married and lived at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff returned, now very wealthy and of high social status. Edgar’s sister, Isabella, fell for Heathcliff.
Although he despised her, he allowed the infatuation as a means of revenge. They eventually married. Enraged by this, Edgar forbid Heathcliff from ever seeing Catherine again. Heathcliff then moved back to the Heights to live with his old foe, Hindley. Several months later, he discovered that Catherine was dying, and with Nelly’s assistance he visited her secretly. Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Cathy, shortly before passing away.
Not long after her funeral, Isabelle left Heathcliff to live in the South of England and had a son, Linton. Hindley passed away and Heathcliff found himself the owner of the Heights. Twelve years passed and following Isabelle’s death Linton came to live at the Heights with Heathcliff. By then, Cathy had grown into a beautiful young girl. Linton and Cathy began a secret friendship in the following years, that eerily mirrored that of their parents. A year later, Nelly and Cathy were tricked into coming to the Heights by Heathcliff so that Cathy and Linton could be married. They were held captive there by Heathcliff.
Five days passed, Nelly was released and Cathy escaped with the help of Linton just in time to see her father before he passed away from illness. Heathcliff offered to let Cathy reside at the Heights, she accepted but shortly after she arrived Linton died and she withdrew from society. At this point, Nelly’s story returns to the present and after Lockwood recovers from his illness he leaves Thrushcross Grange. Eight months later, Lockwood visits the area by chance and Nelly informs him that Heathcliff has passed away in his absence. On his way to leave the Heights for the last time, Lockwood passes the graves of Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff and contemplates the tragic story of Wuthering Heights.
The detrimental impact that suffering has on people is a major theme in the novel. The author explores this with three specific characters: Catherine, Heathcliff, and Hindley. They all share the common burden of massive sufferings. They also are all able to find relief in tormenting others. This theme raises several questions in my mind regarding how the events affected the characters; would they all have made the same decisions and been affected in the the same ways regardless of their suffering? Or were they molded into this fragile state by these events? In Chapter 3, Heathcliff’s intense suffering is foreshadowed by Lockwood finding the writings left by Catherine that were present on the wall, “ this writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small- Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton (35).” These acts of passing the suffering on are not who the person really is, but instead what they have been conditioned to. Near the end of the book in Chapter 33, the effects of the suffering Heathcliff went through are shown.
“ I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand! That sounds as if I had been labouring the whole time only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity. It is far from being the case: I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing (397).” Heathcliff is talking about tearing down Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights near the end of his life. Only he now feels like destroying them because his pain is a waste of time. Events in the novel symbolize how the characters are often strapped with burdens that are not caused by things they can prevent or control. The frequent misfortunes show the characters that they are at the mercy of fate.
The location of the Heights symbolizes the raw, uncut passion and wildness that epitomizes Heathcliff and his relationships with others around him. It can be shown again by Heathcliff wanting to tear down the houses because of the tragic events that took place there over the years. “‘ It is a poor conclusion, is it not?’ he observed, having brooded awhile on the scene he had just witnessed: ‘ an absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished (397)!” Heathcliff is talking passionately about destroying the houses, much like he had destroyed relationships with many others. The symbolism used in the novel adds deep meaning to seemingly insignificant events. The plot of Wuthering Heights is complex and challenging, and dives deeply into the topics of suffering, and more specifically, drastic mental as well as physical cruelty. What transpires is a tale of fate and misfortune with deeply meaningful symbolism. Written beautifully and with careful craft, Brontë created one of the most controversial pieces of classic English literature.