Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
Release date: 1847
Publisher: Thomas Cautley Newby; reprinted by Oxford University Press USA
Genre: Gothic fiction
Format: Audiobook and paperback
Source: Lit2Go and library
Rating: 4 out of 5
Wuthering Heights is a dark tale of enduring passion and violent love. Set on the wild, rugged Yorkshire moors of northern England, this classic gothic novel follows the story of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, adopted siblings and lifelong lovers. Narrated through the diary of Mr. Lockwood, a tenant of nearby Thrushcross Grange, this strange and fantastic story tells of a love that transcends all boundaries—even death.
Mr. Lockwood is paying a polite visit to his landlord, Heathcliff, when he is unexpectedly stranded there during a snowstorm. Forced to stay the night at Wuthering Heights, despite Heathcliff’s clear displeasure, Lockwood finds an unoccupied room in the grand house. Unable to sleep, however, he stumbles upon the diary entries of a young girl named Catherine Earnshaw, who writes of adventures with her young friend Heathcliff. After nodding off to sleep, Lockwood is awakened when the Catherine’s ghost appears at his window, pleading to be let in.
When Lockwood returns to Thrushcross Grange the next day, he asks his housekeeper, Ellen (Nelly) Dean, to tell him the story of Heathcliff and the others at Wuthering Heights. Nelly begins her story thirty years earlier, when Mr. Earnshaw brings home an orphaned Heathcliff to raise with his own children, Hindley and Catherine.
Though Catherine and Heathcliff are, for many years, inseparable despite Hindley’s cruel persecution, eventually the two seem to drift apart. Catherine becomes a proper young lady, and since Hindley forces Heathcliff to work in the fields after their father’s death, Heathcliff becomes ignorant and angry. Catherine chooses to marry Edgar Linton, a rich neighbor whom she naively believes will take care of her and Heathcliff. However, Heathcliff interprets this move as rejection, and he runs away for several years.
When he returns, he has mysteriously acquired wealth and prestige, though his brooding nature has not been appeased. He has vowed revenge against all of those who have wronged him. When Catherine is confronted by her two loves, Edgar and Heathcliff, she falls ill and dies after giving birth to a baby girl, Cathy. Before she dies, however, she and Heathcliff reassert their undying love to each other.
Now, many years later, Heathcliff is more embittered than ever, and he lives to torment the offspring of his long-dead enemies. But he is constantly conscious of Catherine’s post-mortem presence, and he is pulled toward eternal love and happiness with her beyond the grave.
Despite the many narratives-within-a-narrative (the story is a diary entry, often recording Nelly’s narrative, who in turn often relates the detailed speeches of others), I found the story surprisingly easy to follow on audiobook. I enjoyed listening to the heavily accented speech of Joseph and other characters, though I also checked a paperback out from the library to understand what they were actually saying!
Nelly’s judgmental comments about the devilish behavior of Catherine and Heathcliff, which only seems to worsen with time, make the pair seem irresponsible and deserving of any punishment that they receive. Nelly supports this viewpoint with the opinions of Edgar Linton and Hindley, both of whom despise Heathcliff and become frustrated with Catherine, and she portrays the lovelorn couple as ungrateful and spiteful.
It struck me as odd that such a seemingly selfish and cruel pair would feel so deeply for each other. In my experience, relationships between truly destructive people such as Catherine and Heathcliff never end well. But their love persists and even grows stronger with each passing year.
All of the other characters in the story judge the actions of Catherine and Heathcliff quite harshly, but their persecution only serves to strengthen the depth of feeling between the two. Every time Nelly criticizes their irreverent and even cruel behavior, I felt more sympathy and understanding for them and I began identifying with the persecuted couple. No one believes in them but themselves, and that is what makes their love so powerful and endearing.
I found Wuthering Heights to be an enjoyable read; even more than Jane Eyre. Such a powerful story of love and loss ages well, and the unconventional use of an unreliable narrator had an interesting effect upon my view of the characters and story.
The very subtle addition of Catherine’s ghost, which could be interpreted as real or could be read as merely a figment of Lockwood’s and Heathcliff’s imaginations, does not diminish the credibility of the story. On the contrary, the supernatural elements throughout the novel only serve to add to the dark, intense feelings between the two lovers.