Wuthering Heights ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
English Author Emily Brontë was born into a literary family in 1818. Her only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published in 1847 when she was twenty-nine years old. She died the next year, in 1848, at the age of thirty. Wuthering Heights is a seminal work of nineteenth century English literature that has stood the test of time. In the 171 years since its initial publication, it has never been out of the public consciousness.
The estate Wuthering Heights (house and grounds) is on the desolate Yorkshire moors in northern England (“a perfect misanthropist’s heaven”). Four miles away is Thrushcross Grange. All the action in Wuthering Heights takes place in either of these two places. The action that occurs inside the two houses is as storm-tossed as the weather that occurs outside on the wild moors.
When the story begins, kindly Mr. Earnshaw is the owner of Wuthering Heights. He lives there with his two children, Catherine (Cathy) and Hindley. He takes in a poor orphaned beggar boy and gives him the name Heathcliff. Heathcliff has no last name. As a man, Heathcliff is the pivotal character in the book. All the other characters sooner or later fall into his sphere.
Mr. Earnshaw dies and leaves Heathcliff to defend himself against the cruel nature of Hindley. Hindley treats Heathcliff as a servant and a stable boy and never lets him forget where he came from, calling him a “gypsy beggar.” Heathcliff and Hindley become mortal enemies, to the death. Hindley is a good-for-nothing drunkard and gambler, squandering the fortune his father left him.
And then there is Catherine. Her tortured relationship with Heathcliff forms the core of the novel. They are brought up together as brother and sister. As children, they are inseparable companions. They come to love each other deeply into adulthood. Catherine knows that Heathcliff is not of her world and is socially unacceptable, but she can’t help herself. As she tells her faithful servant, Nelly Dean, she and Heathcliff are one and the same. As we will see by the end of the book, their love is a love that transcends the physical world.
Against her nature, Catherine decides to marry Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange, at which point Heathcliff runs off to only-God-knows-where. Edgar is nothing like Heathcliff. He is from a wealthy family, cultured and educated, and he has a sweet nature. Catherine lives in wealth and refinement with Edgar and his sister Isabella at Thrushcross Grange. Then, after several years of domesticated bliss for Catherine and Edgar, Heathcliff returns. He is his old self, only prosperous. Wherever he has been and whatever he has been doing, he has acquired money and a good suit of clothes, if nothing else. He buys Wuthering Heights to pay off Hindley’s gambling debts. Soon Hindley conveniently dies.
Edgar Linton’s sister, Isabella, is drawn to Heathcliff, even though she has been warned against him. Heathcliff marries Isabella, if only to get back at Catherine and Edgar. He takes Isabella to Wuthering Heights to live and thereby makes her miserably unhappy.
Catherine and Edgar have a daughter, also named Catherine; Heathcliff and Isabella have a son named Linton. The unhappiness engendered by their parents is carried on into their own lives.
Wuthering Heights is a dark book, with plenty of cruelty, brutality, hatred and unhappiness to go around among its characters. Its nonlinear structure and shifting of narrators make it a moderately difficult book to read. Most of the story is being narrated by the servant Nelly Dean to Mr. Lockwood, Heathcliff’s new tenant. (We don’t know until the end of the book why Heathcliff even needs a tenant.) When the narrator shifts to somebody else, we are a little disoriented. It is, however, a valuable reading experience. I first read it when I was nineteen and decided it was worth another look.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp