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"Whatever our souls are, his and mine are the same."

Wuthering Heights is an 1847 novel by Emily Brontë. Her only novel, it is the story of inseparable soulmates Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how betrayal, revenge and brutality led them down a dark path.

Published in December 1847, the novel was met with negative feedback, due to its inappropriate and controversial content, as well as challenging against strict Victorian classes and ideals at the time.

Brontë died just a year after publication but Wuthering Heights would be regarded as one of the most greatest classic novels, and is even an example of Gothic literature.

Plot Summary

In 1801, a gentleman named Mr. Lockwood stays as a tenant at a stately house Thrushcross Grange in the Yorkshire moors. He meets his landlord: a dark, brooding man named Mr. Heathcliff, who lives in the nearby house Wuthering Heights. While visiting his landlord's home, Lockwood gets snowed in and is forced to spend the night at the Heights. He stays inside a mysterious room where a ghostly woman tries to break through the bedroom window. After returning to Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood becomes ill and is confined to bed. While he is cared for by the housekeeper Nelly Dean, she tells him the story of Heathcliff and the family of Wuthering Heights.

30 years earlier, Mr. Earnshaw was the owner of the Heights in the mid 1770s, and he lived there with his wife and two young children, Hindley and Catherine. Nelly grew up with the Earnshaw's and would later be their servant. One day, Mr. Earnshaw goes to Liverpool on a business trip and brings home an orphaned, homeless boy he found on the streets. He names the child Heathcliff and adopts him into the family. Catherine and Heathcliff become close while Hindley is jealous of the boy. Both Heathcliff and Catherine grew into romantic soulmates.

After Mr. Earnshaw’s death a few years later, Hindley becomes the new owner of the Heights, and lives there with his new wife Frances. He treats Heathcliff cruelly and makes him a servant.

Heathcliff and Catherine often enjoyed exploring the moors together, but one night he returns to the Heights and not Catherine. He explains to Nelly that he and Catherine sneaked over to the Grange and spied on the Linton family's children Edgar and Isabella who lived there. They were spotted and tried to flee, but Catherine is bitten by the Linton's guard dog and is taken into the Grange to be looked after.

5 weeks later, Catherine returns and behaves more lady-like, even criticizing Heathcliff's dirty appearance. When the Linton's come over to the Heights, Heathcliff tries to impress Catherine, but he ends up trying to fight Edgar and Hindley humiliates him by locking him up. After he is released by Nelly, Heathcliff vows revenge on Hindley.

The following summer, Frances dies of consumption after giving birth to a son named Hareton. Hindley becomes an alcoholic, and Catherine spends more time with Edgar than with Heathcliff, and she and Edgar fall in love. She accepts his marriage proposal and confesses to Nelly that she cannot marry Heathcliff for she would degrade herself, due to his low social status and illiteracy. But she says that she still loves Heathcliff so much that they are essentially the same person with connected spirits. Heathcliff hears this conversation of Catherine not wanting to marry him and flees from the Heights.

3 years later, Catherine and Edgar got married and moved to the Grange. Heathcliff returns as a wealthy, polished gentleman shortly afterwards and Catherine is delighted to see him again, except Edgar. Heathcliff stays at the Heights, where he gambles with Hindley and offers him large sums of money, and teaches his son Hareton bad habits. In addition, Hindley wastes his money away and goes deeply into debt.

Meanwhile, Isabella has fallen in love with Heathcliff, but he doesn't love her back. But he would pretend to return his feelings to her as an act of revenge. Catherine argues with Heathcliff about this, and when Edgar finds out, he forbids her from seeing him again. Catherine locks herself up and her health starts to fail. She is also pregnant.

Heathcliff and Isabella elope, but he mistreats her. When he finds out Catherine is dying, Nelly helps him go over to the Grange to see her, where they have an emotional reunion and Heathcliff having a hard time forgiving her. Later that night, Catherine dies after giving birth to a daughter named Cathy Linton. Heathcliff becomes insane and demands Catherine's spirit to forever haunt him. His wife Isabella flees and seeks refuge in London, where she has a son named Linton Heathcliff. Hindley dies 6 months after Catherine, and Heathcliff becomes the new owner of Wuthering Heights.

13 years later, Cathy grows into a beautiful, lively girl. After hearing that Isabella is dying, Edgar goes to London to retrieve her son Linton and bring him back to the Grange. While he is gone, Cathy sneaks out of the house and explores the moors. She comes across the Heights and meets her cousin Hareton, who is now living at the Heights as a servant. Linton arrives, but Heathcliff wants to keep him in his custody. After he brings him to the Heights, Heathcliff becomes more abusive and cruel to the boy just like he was to his mother.

When Cathy is 16 years old, she and Nelly encounter Heathcliff on the moors and brings them back to the Heights for Cathy to meet Linton. Cathy and Linton have a secret relationship until Nelly finds out, and Heathcliff hopes they would marry. He forces Linton to court Cathy and marry her so he can claim inheritance of the Grange.

Edgar's health worsens the following year and is dying. Nelly and Cathy were out on the moors when Heathcliff tricks them into coming over to the Heights, where he holds them hostage and won't release them until Cathy has married Linton. Nelly is released after 5 days and Linton helps Cathy escape so she can go see her father on his deathbed.

Heathcliff is now the owner of both houses and has Cathy live at the Heights as a servant. Linton dies after marrying her, and both she and Hareton bond. After Nelly's story catches up to the present, Lockwood ends his tenancy and leaves Yorkshire.

6 months later, Lockwood returns and continues his tenancy again, where he learns of the latest information when he was away. Nelly is now living at the Heights after one of the servants left and she took her place. Hareton and Cathy have fallen in love while Heathcliff starts acting strangely. He stops eating, wanders the moors alone, and has thoughts of Catherine. Nelly later finds Heathcliff dead in his room, and is buried in the same cemetery as Catherine and Edgar.

Cathy and Hareton plan to marry on New Year's Day and live at the Grange together. As Lockwood leaves, he stops to view the graves of Catherine, Edgar and Heathcliff and ponders the peaceful quietness of the Yorkshire moors.

Characters

Heathcliff- The main protagonist/anti-hero. Discovered on the Liverpool streets as an orphaned, homeless child by Mr. Earnshaw, he is taken into Wuthering Heights and treated as a member of the family. He falls deeply in love with his foster sister Catherine but is abused and bullied by his foster brother Hindley. When he is betrayed and left out, he immediately decides to plan revenge on everyone who had wronged him over the years; even if it involves inflicting abuse and hatred towards them.

Catherine Earnshaw- The daughter of the Earnshaw's. She was raised at Wuthering Heights and becomes close to her adoptive brother Heathcliff and they develop into inseparable, romantic soulmates. She is a quick-tempered, rebellious and haughty young woman, and after she lets down Heathcliff by marrying another man, she is forced to choose who she loves the most.

Edgar Linton- A well-bred, handsome aristocratic man who lives at Thrushcross Grange. He is in love with Catherine and marries her, but he hates Heathcliff as he sees him as a threat to his family. He is also a coward and is unable to fully protect his family home from Heathcliff's act of revenge.

Nelly Dean- A housekeeper and longtime servant to the Earnshaw family, as well as a mother-figure to Hareton and Cathy. She narrates most of Heathcliff's story to a tenant named Lockwood, and is one of the main narrators. She is a kind, sympathetic woman to everyone she had served, even to the two tragic main characters Heathcliff and Catherine.

Mr. Lockwood- A gentleman from London who stays as a tenant at the Grange. He is fascinated by Heathcliff's dark demeanor and the haunting setting of the Heights. He is the chief narrator of the novel and documents it all in his diary. He learns the story of Heathcliff from Nelly and copies it down.

Catherine "Cathy" Linton- The daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw. She is a beautiful, free-spirited girl who shares the same personality traits as her mother: arrogant, fiery and mischievous, but is also more passionate and gentle. She is curious of what life is like outside of her home the Grange, but later finds herself a prisoner and servant to Heathcliff. She was forced to marry Linton Heathcliff but falls in love with her cousin Hareton.

Hareton Earnshaw- The son of Hindley Earnshaw and a loyal servant to Heathcliff. As a child, Hareton was uneducated and instead was used to inflict mean and cruel behavior on others by Heathcliff. In the years that follow, Hareton became a stable boy and a servant to his master. Despite his gruff, unkempt appearance, he is a good-hearted, sensitive young man with very little contact with the outside world. He finds solace in himself when he falls in love with his cousin Cathy.

Linton Heathcliff- The son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. He is a sickly and whiny young man who constant demands are very irritable to those around him. He once lived a happy and safe life in London with his mother, but after her death, he is sent back to live with his father. He is forced by Heathcliff to marry Cathy and have his father claim Thrushcross Grange's inheritance. His health worsens and he dies shortly after marrying.

Hindley Earnshaw- The brother of Catherine Earnshaw and a mortal enemy to Heathcliff. After his foster brother is taken into the family home for the first time, Hindley is immediately jealous of him and when he becomes the new owner of the Heights, he abuses Heathcliff and makes his life miserable. However, Hindley ends up drinking heavily and loses his money as Heathcliff takes his revenge on his longtime opposer.

Isabella Linton- The sister of Edgar Linton and wife of Heathcliff. She is a beautiful, witty woman who was raised alongside her brother in an aristocratic, noble lifestyle. She falls in love with Heathcliff, but was warned by her sister-in-law that he is a bad influence. Isabella ends up ruining her own life by marrying him and being treated cruelly by Heathcliff and his servants. Her relationship with him results in the conception and birth of a son, Linton.

Mr. Earnshaw- The patriarch of the Earnshaw family and the original owner of Wuthering Heights. He discovers young Heathcliff and adopts him as his own son. He treats the boy with love and affection, and lets Heathcliff and Catherine be close together until he passes away.

Mrs. Earnshaw- Mr. Earnshaw's wife. She is disapproved and not impressed when her husband brought home an orphaned boy and doesn't show any love or affection to him. She died less than 2 years later.

Frances Earnshaw- Hindley's silly, simpering wife who he had met and married when at college. She died of consumption soon after the birth of their son Hareton.

Joseph- A longtime, elderly servant at Wuthering Heights. He is known to speak with a thick, Yorkshire accent.

Mr. and Mrs. Linton- The parents of Edgar and Isabella. They treat Catherine like a proper woman and introduced her to their lavish, rich lifestyle.

Zillah- A servant at Wuthering Heights.

Writing History/Reception

Brontë may have started working on Wuthering Heights around 1846-47 at her parsonage home in Haworth, England. Following the publication of her and her sisters' poetry collection that wasn't well received, Brontë and the sisters decide to write their own novel and have it published under male pseudonyms, with Brontë using Ellis Bell.

The publisher Thomas Cautley Newbey accepted Brontë's work, but it wasn't published until a few months after her sister Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre, which became a best-seller. When Wuthering Heights was published, it was met with negative and criticized feedback. Many critics panned it for its violence, passionate but brutal characters, and amoral story. It wasn't even considered to be the most proper novel for any Victorian lady to read. The critics also condemned the pen name "Ellis Bell" (and even Brontë herself), for being cruel, savage and insane to write such a thing. Readers were shocked when they first read it, as the content it has was never featured before in any other novel that they had ever read before.

After Brontë's death the following year after publication, Charlotte edited the original manuscript of her sister's controversial novel and added a preface, revealing the true identity of the novel's pen author Ellis Bell, as well as a biographical article as a way to defend her sister and her family name from being condemned by criticism. The preface was written and published in the 1850 edition.

Brontë had passed away, knowing that her only novel would be a failure and would be a disgrace to society, but over 150 years after the publication, Wuthering Heights would be regarded as one of the best novels in English literature. Her novel has even invented such unique Gothic words as "Wuthering" and "Heathcliff".

Themes

Intense Romance

Heathcliff and Catherine may had a passion for one another, but as Nelly and even Brontë had described, their relationship is far from being passionate. This often questions readers and critics of what kind of romantic love is the author depicting and how it works out. An example of this is that they are soulmates with an over-the-top, intense infatuation with each other. Heathcliff refers to Catherine as his "soul" and is driven mad after he is possessed by her spirit, while Catherine states that the both of them share the same souls and claims she is Heathcliff as her own being. Their extreme romance is one of the reasons why Wuthering Heights is not a typical love story unlike other romance stories prior to its publication.

Love versus Hatred

The relationship between the two love interests sparks a battle of love versus hate with the majority of the characters in the novel. Heathcliff and Catherine are an unusual couple, since their attraction is mysterious and strange to others. His isn't just in love with the woman he grew up with, as he is obsessed with her and his obsession causes him to become more insane and demented. Catherine is naïve but self-centred, and despite the fact that she betrayed him for not wanting to marry him, she still had affectionate feelings for him and for his troubled soul. Heathcliff's presence had sparked many hatred and resentment to various characters around him. Hindley and Mrs. Earnshaw resented him for his Gypsy appearance and him being affectionately loved by Mr. Earnshaw and Catherine. Edgar despised Heathcliff for coming back into Catherine's life and taking his home and family away from him. The intense disapproval of him causes Heathcliff to turn his fearsome hatred towards those who have opposed him and died thinking he would be loved again by his soulmate. The theme of love vs hatred also played out on the younger generations, mainly towards Hareton, Cathy and Linton. Linton was pressured to love Cathy, while she originally turned her hatred towards Hareton, but by the end of the story, both Cathy and Hareton have loved each other like their parents had.

Betrayal and Revenge

Wuthering Heights is a tragic love story that is jumbled by betrayal and has an effect on the storyline. Many of the characters are betrayed by their loved ones through forbidden love, abuse and determination. Hindley was meant to be the master of Wuthering Heights and his family, but his jealously and alcoholism causes him to lose his money, home and family name. Isabella becomes permanently disgraced by her family after she elopes with Heathcliff, since the Linton's disapprove of their relationship, and Cathy Linton disobeys her father and caregiver by visiting Wuthering Heights and manipulated to marry Heathcliff's love. But the most significant betrayal is when Catherine leaves Heathcliff to marry Edgar. She also betrayed herself as she casted out Heathcliff due to his low social status and denying the love life they used to have; which in the end, it ends up destroying her. Every time each of the characters turns against their allies, they end up facing grim consequences for their actions, mostly in death.

When betrayal is committed in Wuthering Heights, that character who is left out will turn to vengeance to ease their anger and satisfaction against their traitorous opposers. Heathcliff was betrayed by the woman he loves and was abused throughout his youth by Hindley; since Hindley himself is using his vengeance against him by making him a servant as his father loved him affectionately than him. Following Catherine's marriage to Edgar, Heathcliff vows revenge, and he comes up with intelligent plans to make it work out. He uses his vengeance on Hindley by supporting his gambling addiction until he goes deeply into debt, and then he elopes with Isabella but takes his abuse out on her as his revenge on Edgar and the Linton family. However, just like how traitors have consequences, Heathcliff's revenge on everyone brings misery to them and even to himself. Since Catherine died as a result of her betrayal, Heathcliff's successful vengeance plans would cause others living under his shadow to share his pain. Hareton and Cathy lived as his servants and were hostile to each other and to visitors. Towards the end of the novel, Heathcliff starts to understand what his vengeance has caused and decides he will end his revenge by joining Catherine in the grave, and allowing the two sole survivors of both families to bring a united redemption to their homes and families.

Social Class Structure

In the late 18th to early 19th century, before the Victorian period, there was a social class structure that was formed into anyone whose lifestyle and power they had. The Linton family were the highest of the class as they are equally civilized and noble in their own right. Edgar and Isabella were spoiled in their rich home, but as adults, they still had a piece of their nobility on them. Edgar is devoted to himself, his social class and his home, while Isabella ends up abandoning her position and would never again be welcomed back into her civilized life.

The Earnshaw family are part of the working class despite having servants. They take part of their work to earn themselves their keep and their stability in their simple home. Hindley, while he was born to working class parents, came home from college wealthy and polished, as if his recent marriage and education allowed his structure rank to move up. Heathcliff, however, didn't get to be part of any of the social classes as he is an orphan, and many orphans like Heathcliff do not get to be part of the structure. Since he started off as poor and illiterate, he was overlooked by Catherine as a result of his lower class status. Hareton and Cathy made have suffered it badly like Heathcliff as they were both born into aristocratic nobility and meant to live at the highest of the classes. Hareton ends up denied an education like Heathcliff and Cathy stripped of her class and made into a servant. By the end, however, they were able to finally claim what was theirs and leave their impoverished lives behind to be more noble.

Gothic Elements

Like her sister Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights also depicts gothic elements that are often featured in the main setting and characters. Wuthering Heights is described as a dark, decaying house that contains hidden clues of the inhabitants' secret pasts; such as when Mr. Lockwood discovers Catherine's diary entries that details her life with Heathcliff, which was written during her lifetime, as Catherine was already deceased when Lockwood visits the Heights. The house itself also has an eerie atmosphere, since it is surrounded in shrouded darkness and often infected by bleak winds. The weather itself can even have an element in the Gothic, as the weather in the novel is usually dark and gloomy, which can even depict the moods of several characters. But the most well-known of the Gothic elements is the supernatural. Catherine's spirit is seen haunting the Heights, for she desperately wants to come home and Heathcliff constantly pining for her soul and presence.

Heathcliff represents the Gothic as he is a mysterious character with an unknown background and his intentions in the story. His love for Catherine causes him to turn insane, as her spirit refuses to leave him alone and whose hauntings constantly torment him. He even allegedly digs her grave to view her body and then bribes to have him buried next to her. He experiences extreme emotions, for his intense hatred towards Hindley and the Linton's, his mistreatment to his wife and son, and his compassionate love for Catherine shows how characters who had little known origins are prone to madness and desires of the paranormal.

Symbols

Ghosts

Several ghosts, such as Catherine Earnshaw, are spotted haunting Wuthering Heights and the moors. The spirits symbolize the past, memories and lost souls of the Heights, as well as supporting the themes of good vs evil and love and obsession, as well as the Gothic. Catherine's ghost possesses Heathcliff since their love is obsessive and even in death, he would not be separated from her and her hauntings is a curse of anguish.

The Moors

The hilly, barren landscape in Yorkshire and the main setting. The moors symbolize Catherine and Heathcliff's freedom from society where they can run freely, since the hills and terrain are part of the theme of good vs evil between the Heights and the Grange. However, the moors can also symbolize danger. They are usually wet, soggy, cold and unpredictable. Nelly and Cathy were feared to be drowned when they were out on the moors and Lockwood is afraid to walk alone outside at night.

The Two Houses

Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are the two major settings in the novel. The Heights, home to the Earnshaw family and sits on top of a hill overlooking the moors, symbolizes simplicity, passion and darkness. Most of the characters who grew up at the Heights shared the traits that represent the house, such as Heathcliff. He was raised in the home as a foster child, who was originally simple and passionate. But in adulthood, he becomes a dark person not just for his personality, but for his appearance as he is described as a "dark-skinned gypsy".

The Grange, surrounded by a valley and home to the Linton family, symbolizes a civilized, cultural and welcoming home. A lavish, ornate house for the noble, the inhabitants of the Grange are noble and proper to their society, such as Edgar Linton. He originally grew up spoiled by his rich lifestyle, but as an adult, he is devoted to his nobility and his house is a haven to anyone. After claiming ownership of the Grange, Heathcliff opens it to lodgers rather than live in it since he cannot adjust himself to be more civilized and noble like his opposers.

Foreshadowing

  • Lockwood's visit to Wuthering Heights and its rude, unwelcoming residents. Foreshadows the mystery of the lives and resentments of the people who live there.
  • Lockwood's encounter with Catherine Earnshaw's ghost in his nightmare. Foreshadows the upcoming insanity of Heathcliff in his final days
  • Lockwood discovers Catherine names written over her room. Foreshadows the tragic, harsh backstory of the Catherine's of the Heights (e.g. Earnshaw and Linton).
  • Heathcliff demands Catherine's spirit haunt him and drive him mad. Foreshadows his restlessness and insanity after the events of his storyline.

Adaptations

  • A film adaptation of Wuthering Heights was released in 1939, starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberson as Catherine Earnshaw. Directed by William Wyler, the film was critically acclaimed and received 8 Oscar nominations.
  • A two-part TV series of Wuthering Heights was released in 2009 on ITV, starring Tom Hardy as Heathcliff and Charlotte Riley as Catherine Earnshaw.

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