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Wuthering Heights  by Emily Brontë

 
Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë's only novel.

 

 

It was first published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, and a posthumous second edition was edited by her sister Charlotte. The name of the novel comes from the Yorkshire manor on the moors on which the story centres. The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys both themselves and many around them.


   Now considered a classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights's innovative structure, which has been likened to a series of Matryoshka dolls, met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared. Though Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was originally considered the best of the Brontë sisters' works, many subsequent critics of Wuthering Heights argued that its originality and achievement made it the best of the Brontës' works. Wuthering Heights has also given rise to many adaptations, including several films, radio, and television dramatisations, and two musicals (including Heathcliff). It also inspired a hit song by Kate Bush, which subsequently has been covered by a variety of artists.

Plot summary

The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and involves two narrators – Mr Lockwood and Nelly Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange, a grand house on the Yorkshire moors he's renting from the surly Heathcliff, who lives at nearby Wuthering Heights. Lockwood spends the night at Wuthering Heights and has a terrifying dream: the ghost of Catherine Linton, pleading to be admitted to the house from outside. Intrigued, Lockwood asks the housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.


   Nelly takes over the narration and begins her story thirty years earlier, when Heathcliff, a foundling living on the streets of Liverpool, is brought to Wuthering Heights by the then-owner, Mr Earnshaw and raised as his own. Earnshaw's daughter Catherine becomes Heathcliff's inseparable friend. Her brother Hindley, however, resents Heathcliff, seeing him as an interloper and rival. Earnshaw dies three years later, and Hindley (who has married a woman named Frances) takes over the estate. He brutalizes Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Catherine becomes friends with a neighbor family, the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange, who mellow her initially wild personality. She is especially attached to the refined and mild young Edgar Linton, whom Heathcliff instantaneously dislikes.


   A year later, Hindley's wife dies giving birth to a son, Hareton; Hindley takes to drink. Some two years after that, Catherine agrees to marry Edgar. Nelly knows that this will crush Heathcliff, and Heathcliff overhears Catherine's explanation that it would be "degrading" to marry him. Heathcliff storms out and leaves Wuthering Heights, not hearing Catherine's continuing declarations that Heathcliff is as much a part of her as the rocks are to the earth beneath. Catherine marries Edgar, and is initially very happy. Two years later, Heathcliff returns, intent on destroying those who prevent him from being with Catherine. He has, mysteriously, become very wealthy, and has duped Hindley into making him the heir to Wuthering Heights. Intent on ruining Edgar, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella, which places him in a position to inherit Thrushcross Grange upon Edgar's death.
   Catherine dies giving birth to a daughter also named Catherine, or Cathy. Heathcliff becomes only more bitter and vengeful. Isabella flees her abusive marriage a month later, and subsequently gives birth to a boy, Linton. At around the same time, Hindley dies. Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights, and vows to raise Hindley's son Hareton with as much neglect as he'd suffered at Hindley's hands years earlier.


   Twelve years later, the dying Isabella asks Edgar to raise her and Heathcliff's son, Linton. However, Heathcliff finds out about this and takes the sickly, spoiled child to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff has nothing but contempt for his son, but delights in the idea of him ruling the property of his enemies. To that end, a few years later, Heathcliff attempts to persuade young Cathy to marry Linton. Cathy refuses, so Heathcliff kidnaps her and forces the two to marry. Soon after, Edgar Linton dies, followed shortly by Linton. This leaves Cathy a widow and a virtual prisoner at Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff has gained complete control of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It is at this point in the narrative that Lockwood arrives, taking possession of Thrushcross Grange, and hearing Nelly Dean's story. Shocked, Lockwood leaves for London.


   During his absence from the area, however, events reach a climax; Cathy gradually softens toward her rough, uneducated cousin Hareton, just as her mother grew tender towards Heathcliff. When Heathcliff realizes that Cathy and Hareton are in love, he abandons his life-long vendetta. He dies broken and tormented, and Catherine and Hareton marry. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine (the elder), and the story concludes with Lockwood visiting the grave, unsure of what to feel.

Main Characters

Heathcliff is the central male character of the novel. An orphaned foundling raised by the Earnshaw family, he fell passionately in love with his foster sister, Catherine Earnshaw, whilst at the same time nursing a bitter rivalry with his foster brother, Hindley. A passionate, vindictive man, his anger and bitterness at Catherine's marriage to Edgar Linton sees him engage in a ruthless vendetta to destroy not only his enemies but their heirs, a crusade that only intensifies upon Catherine's death. Catherine Earnshaw is Heathcliff's adoptive sister. A flightly, free-spirited and somewhat spoiled young woman, she returns Heathcliff's passionate love but doesn't consider herself able to marry him, instead choosing another childhood friend, Edgar Linton. Upon Heathcliff's return, her physical and mental health is destroyed by the feud between Heathcliff and Edgar, and she dies in childbirth. Edgar Linton is a childhood friend of Catherine Earnshaw's, who later marries her. A mild and gentle man, if slightly cold, cowardly and distant, he loves Catherine deeply but is unable to reconcile his love for her with his bitter antagonism with Heathcliff, and it's partly this which leads to Catherine's mental breakdown and death. He is incapable of competing with Heathcliff's guile and ruthless determination. Hindley Earnshaw is Catherine's brother and Heathcliff's other rival; having loathed Heathcliff since childhood, Hindley delights in turning Heathcliff into a downtrodden servant upon inheriting Wuthering Heights. However, his wife's death in childbirth destroys him; he becomes a self-destructive alcoholic, and it's this that allows Heathcliff, upon returning to Wuthering Heights, to turn the tables and to swindle the property away from him. Nelly Dean is, at various points, the housekeeper of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, and is one of the two narrators of the novel. Having been a disapproving witness to much of the events between Heathcliff and both the Earnshaw and Linton families for much of her life, she narrates the story to Lockwood during his illness. Catherine Linton is the daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton. She inherits both her mother's free-spiritedness and her father's gentle nature, and Heathcliff plays on this to manipulate her into marrying his own son, Linton. Despite initially regarding him with cruel contempt and disgust, she later falls in love with Hareton Earnshaw. Hareton Earnshaw is the son of Hindley Earnshaw, who is adopted by Heathcliff upon Hindley's death. Heathcliff spitefully turns Hareton into a downtrodden, illiterate servant, much as Hindley had once done to him; despite this, Hareton remains loyal to him. Quick tempered and easily embarrassed, he falls in love with Catherine at an early point despite her contempt for him, and is thus inspired to improve himself. Joseph is a servant of the Earnshaws and later Heathcliff. A bullying, lazy and snide man, he hates Heathcliff but is somehow bound to be his servant. An intensely religious man, he's a very sanctimonious and self-righteous person who is largely held in contempt by those around him. He speaks in a thick Yorkshire brogue. Lockwood is the other narrator of the novel. A recently-arrived tenant at Thrushcross Grange at the beginning of the novel, he's intrigued by the curious goings-on at Wuthering Heights, and persuades Nelly Dean to tell him the story of what happened during a bout of sickness.

Timeline

1757

Hindley born (Summer)

1762

Edgar Linton born

1764

Heathcliff born

1765

Catherine Earnshaw born (Summer); Isabella Linton born (late 1765)

1771

Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr Earnshaw (late summer)

1773

Mrs Earnshaw dies (Spring)

1774

Hindley is sent off to college

1777

Hindley marries Frances; Mr Earnshaw dies; Hindley comes back (October); Catherine goes to stay at Thrushcross Grange (November), then returns to Wuthering Heights (Christmas).

1778

Hareton is born (June); Frances dies (autumn)

1780

Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering Heights; Mr and Mrs Linton both die

1783

Catherine marries Edgar (April); Heathcliff comes back (September)

1784

Heathcliff marries Isabella (January); Catherine dies and Cathy is born (20 March)' Hindley dies; Linton Heathcliff is born (September)

1797

Isabella dies; Cathy visits Wuthering Heights and meets Hareton; Linton is brought to Thrushcross Grange and is then taken to Wuthering Heights

1800

Cathy meets Heathcliff and sees Linton again (20 March)

1801

Cathy and Linton are married (August); Edgar dies (September); Linton dies (October); Mr Lockwood goes to Thrushcross Grange and visits Wuthering Heights, beginning his narrative

1802

Mr Lockwood goes back to London (January); Heathcliff dies (May); Mr Lockwood comes back to Thrushcross Grange

1803

Cathy marries Hareton

Local Background

Though tourists are often told that Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, near the Haworth parsonage, is a the model for Wuthering Heights, it seems more likely that the now demolished High Sunderland Hall, near Halifax was the model for the building. This Gothic edifice, near Law Hill, where Emily worked briefly as a schoolmistress in 1838, had grotesque embellishments of griffins and misshapen nude men similar to those described by Lockwood of Wuthering Heights in chapter one of the novel: » "Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date "1500"".

The originals of Thrushcross Grange have been detected at Ponden Hall near Haworth and, more likely, Shibden Hall, near Halifax.

Literary allusions

Traditionally, this novel has been seen as a unique piece of work conceived in solitude by a genius confined to the lonesome heath, and as almost detached from the literary movements of the time. However, one may be surprised to learn from the Biographies that, besides Charlotte, also Emily (even though she kept up a somewhat monkish behaviour and returned to England sooner than Charlotte did) received some thorough literary training at the Pensionnat Héger in Brussels by imitating and analyzing the styles of classic writers, and also learned German. In this way, she could also read the German Romantics in the original, apart from Lord Byron, who was admired by all three sisters.

 
   The brother-sister relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy (who are brought up together) is reminiscent of the brother-sister-couples in Byron's epics (together with the idea of a shared identity, as expressed in the famous "I am Heathcliff!"), with the role of the Byronic hero quite well-cast. There may still be a multitude of other influences yet uninvestigated, as, for example, the scene of a woe-begone Catherine plucking feathers from the sofa-cushion and naming the birds they once belonged to evokes Ophelia handing out her various flowers.

Gothic and supernatural elements

The novel contains many Gothic and supernatural elements although the true nature of the latter is always ambiguous. The mystery of Heathcliff's parentage is never solved: described by Hindley as an 'imp of Satan' in chapter four, by the end of the novel Nelly Dean is entertaining notions that Heathcliff may be some hideous changeling or vampire. The awesome but unseen presence of Satan is also alluded to at several points in the novel and it's noted in chapter three that 'no clergyman will undertake the duties of pastor', at the local chapel, which has fallen into dereliction.

 
   Ghosts also feature: at the beginning of the novel, Lockwood has a horrible vision of Catherine (the elder) as a child, appearing at the window of her old chamber at Wuthering Heights, begging to be allowed in; not only does Heathcliff, on hearing of this, lend it credence, but when he dies it's noted that the window of his room was left open, raising the possibility that Catherine returned at the moment of his death. After Heathcliff dies, Nelly Dean reports that various superstitious locals have claimed to see Catherine and Heathcliff's ghosts roaming the moors, although in the closing line of the novel Lockwood discounts the idea of "unquiet slumbers for those sleepers in that quiet earth."

Allusions/references from other works

  • In Albert Camus' essay "The Rebel", Heathcliff is compared to a leader of the rebel forces. Both are driven by a sort of madness: one by misguided love, the other by oppression. Camus juxtaposes the concept of Heathcliff's reaction to Cathy with the reaction of a disenchanted rebel to the ideal he once held.

  Maryse Condé's novel Windward Heights adapted Wuthering Heights to be set in Guadaloupe and Cuba.

  Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes both have poems titled "Wuthering Heights".

  Ann Carson wrote a poem titled "The Glass Essay" in which is woven multiple references to Wuthering Heights and the life of Emily Brontë.

  James Stoddard's novel The False House contains numerous references to Wuthering Heights.

  Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels often mention Heathcliff as the most tragic romantic hero.

  In the preface of his novel Le bleu du ciel, the French writer Georges Bataille states that, in his view, Wuthering Heights belongs to those rare works in literature written from an inner necessity.

  The opening line of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a reference to Nellie Dean and to the inset narrator used to recount the stories from both novels.

  Wuthering Heights is discussed in Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse by Bella and Edward and why Bella enjoys the story so much.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  1920: the earliest version of Wuthering Heights is filmed in England, directed by A.V. Bramble. It is unknown if any prints still exist.

  1939: Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon as Catherine Linton, Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, David Niven as Edgar Linton, Flora Robson as Ellen Dean, Donald Crisp as Dr. Kenneth, Geraldine Fitzgerald as Isabella Linton and Leo G. Carroll as Joseph Earnshaw. The film was adapted by Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and John Huston. It was directed by William Wyler. The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It didn't depict the entire novel, portraying only half.

  In 1948 BBC Television staged a live 90-minute version of the novel. This wasn't recorded.

  A 1953 adaptation on BBC Television was scripted by Nigel Kneale, directed by Rudolph Cartier and starred Richard Todd as Heathcliff and Yvonne Mitchell as Catherine. This version doesn't survive in the BBC archives. According to the Kneale, it was made simply because Todd had turned up at the BBC one day and said that he wanted to play Heathcliff for them; Kneale was forced to write the script in only a week as the adaptation was rushed into production.

  A 1954 (loose) Spanish-language adaptation filmed in Mexico by Luis Buñuel, titled Abismos de Pasión.

  In 1962, BBC Television screened a new production of their 1953 version. This was again produced by Rudolph Cartier and has been preserved in the archives. Kneale's adaptation concentrates on the first half of the novel, removing the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons entirely. Claire Bloom played Catherine and Keith Michell was Heathcliff.

  1970: Wuthering Heights starring Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff and Anna Calder-Marshall as Catherine (the elder). It doesn't cover the whole story.

  1970: Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 2 episode # 15 featured a sketch "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights".

  1978: Another BBC adaptation, directed by Peter Hammond and produced by Jonathan Powell, with screenplays by Hugh Leonard and David Snodin. Ken Hutchison plays Heathcliff and Kay Adshead plays Cathy. This adaptation covers the whole story, and has been reissued on DVD.

  1985: French film adaptation Hurlevent by Jacques Rivette.

  1991: A Filipino film adaptation Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, starring Richard Gómez and Dawn Zulueta. It was reprised in 2007 with an English title, The Promise, starring Richard Gutiérrez and Angel Locsín.

  1992: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights starring Juliette Binoche in two roles, Catherine Earnshaw and her daughter, and Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff.

  1998: Adaptation by Neil McKay for London Weekend Television directed by David Skynner and starring Sarah Smart as Catherine and Robert Cavanah as Heathcliff. Also broadcast by PBS television as part of Masterpiece Theatre.

  2003: Wuthering Heights for MTV. It starred Erika Christensen, Mike Vogel, and Christopher Masterson.

New versions

In 2006 it was reported that a new film adaptation was in development, with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp presently attached to star, however, no further developments appear to have been forthcoming. M. Night Shyamalan was once offered the project to direct, but he turned it down to work on The Village, which he later revealed to be inspired partly by the novel.
   ITV has commissioned a new remake, to be adapted by Blackpool writer Peter Bowker. The three-hour Bronte is expected to be broadcast in early 2008.

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