Saturday, 2 June 2012

Book Review: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

This is one from my 101 Things list - to re-read Wuthering Heights and attempt to enjoy it. And nobody is more surprised than myself to discover that it was nowhere near as tedious as I found it on the first two reads!

I know, shocking, isn't it.

Don't get me wrong - Heathcliff and Cathy are still two fairly abhorrent human beings. They're rude and sneaky and inconsiderate and downright mean... but I think they really do love each other, and this book is touted as one of the greatest love stories in literature, and I'm beginning to understand why. You see, contrary to what we are fed by movies and poets and musicians and authors, love ain't always pretty. It's messy and it can hurt and there aren't always rainbows and puppy dogs abound as you skip down the road holding hands. The oft-quoted Corinthians got it wrong: Love isn't always patient or kind. It can be jealous and boastful and proud and rude and demanding. It can be irritable; and it can keep tally of grievances; and it doesn't always rejoice when the truth wins out. Heathcliff and Cathy demonstrate that quite soundly, I feel!

My best guess is that the last time I read the book - about six or seven years (which feels like a lifetime) ago, I was much more idealistic and naive. I don't think I'd ever really had my heart broken, or had to compromise in a relationship (or had a serious argument in one, come to that), or been badly betrayed, or even reached the age where relationships become permanent fixtures that are unable to be compromised just by telling a boy that you like him. So to me, back then, it was just a tedious tale of two cranky people who would love each other to the ends of the earth but who could never actually be together. I did understand unrequited love in a relatively juvenile way (or perhaps unrequited lust, or obsession, or something to the effect), but it had not yet occurred to me that loving someone could be that messy, and that the object of your affection could be anything but flawless in their conduct towards you and towards the world.

My other feeling is that between all the children named for their forebears, both Christian and surnames; and the fact that Cathy Jnr marries not one, but two of her cousins (not concurrently, but still, kinda icky!); and that one of the cousins is the son of Heathcliff, so that Heathcliff and Cathy Snr's progeny get it on, I have, in the past, been horribly confused by who was who. This time, however, I kept my finger firmly in the family tree page and continued to refer to it throughout the story.

For those who haven't read it, what follows is a rough plot synopsis.

Cathy and her brother Hindley Earnshaw are brought up at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, a stray that her father adopts and brings into the family. Hindley is always jealous of him and takes every opportunity to spite him, but Heathcliff and Cathy get along like a house on fire. Hindley goes off to university and meets a woman who he marries and returns to Wuthering Heights. He becomes master when Mr Earnshaw dies and forces Heathcliff into being a servent.

Nearby at Thrushcross Grange are the Lintons, Edgar and Isabella. Cathy grows closer to them when she is bitten by their dog and has to spend time staying with them recouperating. When she returns home she behaves as though she is better than Heathcliff. As time goes by she becomes closer and closer to Edgar until he proposes to her. She is overheard by Heathcliff when she confides in Nelly the housemaid (who narrates most of the story within a narration by the existing tennant of Thrushcross Grange), and tells Nelly that she doesn't love Edgar but that she can't lower herself to marrying Heathcliff, even though he has her heart. Heathcliff runs out before hearing that she does in fact love him, and that she only plans to marry Edgar so that she can help support Heathcliff and improve his existing situation of manservant. Heathcliff disappears after that and in the end is nowhere to be found for a few years.

Edgar and Cathy eventually marry after a couple of years, and several months later Heathcliff returns, much refined and much more wealthy. Heathcliff establishes himself at Wuthering Heights and sets about ruining Hindley, encouraging him to gamble and taking his fortune, piece by piece. He also influences Hindley's son Hareton and teaches him to be bitter and hateful and to neglect his studies and become worthless and unloveable. All of this is to gain vengeance for Hindley's poor treatment of Heathcliff growing up.

Cathy becomes ill following an argument with Edgar about Heathcliff being in her life, and her health spirals. Meanwhile, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella more or less to be spiteful. After the elopement Heathcliff finds out exactly how critically ill Cathy is and rushes to her bedside. In between her feverish ramblings they declare their undying love for one another, and then Cathy dies, but not before she give birth to Cathy Jnr.

Meanwhile, Isabella is also pregnant with Heathcliff's child, and runs away following a physical domestic dispute. She gives birth to Linton and brings him up alone.

Fast forward serveal years - when Linton is thirteen Isabella dies and he returns to live with his uncle Edgar; but Heathcliff finds out that Linton has come home and forces him to move in with him.

Linton is a sickly and petulant child, and Cathy Jnr feels quite sorry for him so spends quite a bit of time with him, reading and pandering to his whims so forth. By the time they are teenagers there is a bit of a flame there but Cathy doesn't seem 100% into it. Linton is more or less dying, as is Edgar, and one day Heathcliff lures Cathy Jnr into his house and refuses to let her leave until she and Linton marry. This is in a bid to combine the estates of the two people he hated most - Hindley, for making his life a misery, and Edgar, for marrying Cathy Snr - and thus seek his vengence.

So they marry, and it doesn't last long because Linton dies. I think Edgard dies first, though. And then Heathcliff dies! Creepy ol' fella seems to live (die) happily ever after, because he pays the sexton at the local church to prise open Cathy Snr's coffin lid on the side that he will be be buried, and to do the same to his coffin, so they can... hold hands?? Share worms?? Who knows. Weird cat, that one. Anyway, he's happy when he dies and everyone who's left living (Cathy Jnr and Hareton, I think, plus servants) are just as happy that he's six feet under. Huzzah!

(Yeah. Plagiarise that, uni students. I know you've done it before. I've seen what your search terms are, which server you come from and how long you loiter for. Statcounter knows evvvvvvverything... so cite me, biatches! I'm totes a reliable source!)

So there you have it. Two people who love one another, despite their (multiple, hideous) flaws, and who, though unable to be together in this lifetime, are determined to be together in the next. So I guess Corinthians isn't entirely wrong. Because Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. They both died knowing they were loved by the other, and that was enough for them.


  1. Wuthering Heights also disappoints me every time I read it. I have come back to it with a similar conviction that perhaps this time I won't hate it.

    Give me Jane Eyre or an Austen book any day over Wuthering Heights.

    1. Absolutely! I am lothe to go back for yet another read of WH now, because I somehow suspect that this not-hating of it may be a never-to-be-repeated fluke...

      If you enjoy the romances of this era (because let's face it, that's what they mostly are!), two of my other favourites are Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell), and The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins). The Woman in White has a touch of darkness about it as it is a bit of a mystery novel as well as a romance.

  2. I haven't read Wuthering Heights since High School! Thanks for reminding me of it. I love going back and reading classics :)

    1. So do I :) I have a larger pile of classics than most due to several years spent studying English literature at university, and they're always good for a second (or fifth!) read.

  3. Good effort, Ness. I'm amazed that you actually went through with it but well done. I'm still not going to bother to try it again.

    1. I will be very much surprised if I read it again, but then, I'm still young so anything's possible!


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