Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I selected Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte for my Mom's Club bookclub pick of January. I am pretty sure that the other members of my book club are ready to kill me at this point. They are not as big of fans of Victorian Literature as I am. We'll see what they have to say at our meeting next week.

I selected Wuthering Heights after is was referenced extensively in Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse. It has been a good ten years or so since I've read Wuthering Heights so I decided it was time to refresh my memory of it. It seemed like a great time to read the book. It was also mentioned in the Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society and has been remade into a two-part Masterpiece Theatre mini-series that will be aired later this month. PBS is giving away a copy of the book as well as Tess of the Dubervilles (also a great classic) if you are interested - I've signed up!

If you have never read or heard of Wuthering Heights, it is a complex tale involving love and vengence in two families through two generations. The Earnshaws and Lintons are the two greatest families in a lonely neighborhood in Yorkshire. Mr. Earnshaw has two children, Hindley and Catherine. One day on returning from Liverpool, he brings home a young boy who he adopts and names Heathcliff after another son who had died. Hindley and Catherine are upset at first, but Catherine soon becomes great friends with him. Hindley dispises him after he takes his place in his father's heart. Heathcliff knows how to work Mr. Earnshaw to his advantage, which works great . . . until Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley returns home with a wife and casts Heathcliff out of the house to work in the stable. Hindley's wife dies while giving birth to a son, Hareton, and Hindley sinks into alcoholism and depression.

Catherine and Heathcliff travel to Thrushcross Grange one day while playing and watch young Edgar and Isabella Linton playing. They are discovered and chased by dogs. Catherine is hurt and stays at the Grange for weeks while Mrs. Linton to make her into a lady. During this time, Catherine becomes interested in Edgar. When she returns to Wuthering Heights, she tries to keep her friendship up with the Lintons, but it causes great jealousy with Heathcliff. Eventually she tells housekeeper Nelly Dean that she has accepted a proposal of marriage from Edgar as it would be demeaning to marry Heathcliff. She then goes on to say how much she loves Heathcliff, but Heathcliff runs off after only hearing the first part. She eventually marries Edgar and they are happy until Heathcliff returns.

Heathcliff has mysteriously made a fortune and wants to get back at everyone who has done him and ill turn. He manages to buy up all of Hindley's gambling debts and takes over Wuthering Heights. He visits with Catherine and the Lintons at Thrushcross Grange and manages to spread discord in Edgar and Catherine's marriage. He elopes with Isabella as she is Edgar's heir. Catherine basically loses her mind and dies sortly after giving birth to a daughter, Catherine. Hindley dies shortly after Catherine and Heathcliff raises Hareton as a common laborer as he himself was treated after Mr. Earnshaw's death. Isabella runs off from Heathcliff after much abuse and gives birth to a young son named Linton.

Years pass and young Catherine is raised without knowledge of the Heights. One day she runs into Hareton and Wuthering Heights while exploring while her father is in town picking up Linton after Isabella's death. Catherine is offended that Zillah (the new housekeeper at the heights) says that Hareton is her cousin and lets it slip that Linton is coming to stay with her. Heathcliff shows up at the Grange and takes Linton back with him to Wuthering Heights. Over the years Catherine and Linton try to establish a relationship through secret letters and visits by Catherine. Heathcliff tries to force Linton into this in order to get Catherine and Linton to marry and thereby put the Grange under his control. Heathcliff eventually kidnaps Catherine and Nelly Dean while Edgar lies dying and won't let Catherine leave until she marries Linton. Edgar dies with Catherine by his side and Linton dies shortly after willing all of his and Catherine's estates to Heathcliff.

Catherine lives at Wuthering Heights and falls into dispair. She becomes a not nice person in keeping with the people she lives with. She eventually strikes up a relationship with Hareton and teaches him to read (after first making fun of him for not reading and then making fun of his attempts to learn). Heathcliff falls into dispair searching for his Catherine's ghost and feels that his vengence is for naught since Catherine and Hareton echo him and Catherine. Heathcliff dies and Catherine and Hareton get their rightful estates back.

Why do I like this book? The story is dark and most of the characters are extremely unlikeable. Heathcliff is not a dashing romantic hero, in fact, he is more a villian. I feel somewhat sorry for the circumstances that he was raised in and admire his all consuming passion for Catherine, but he is more than slightly unhinged. Catherine the elder is narcassistic and seemed to suffer from mental problems. Yet I find their story of all consuming passion that extends beyond the grave to be fascinating. Even more fascinating to me is the story of the second generation. That Heathcliff could be so diabolical to plot over the years to take down his enemies is riveting. I thought young Catherine was a nicer person than her mother and loved the father daughter relationship between her and Edgar. Edgar still loves Catherine the elder after all of these years, but his love is more tempered and resonable. I feel sorry for him as he wasn't sure what to do with the whole Catherine and Heathcliff situation. Edgar is an unsung hero of the story.

I could go on forever about different aspects of the story and what I think about them. I hope to discuss them next week at book club. What do you think, why has this book remained a classic for over 150 years? What keeps people intrigued? I think unique characters and storyline, what do you think?

Also - what do you think about the various movies? I just rewatched the 1992 version and the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre version. I think the 1992 is much better than the 1939 (sacralige - I know!) because it shows the entire story, not just the first half. It also shows Heathcliff in a much darker light, which is more true to the novel. That said, I still think there has been no movie/TV version of the book that really does it justice. I have high hopes for the new version on masterpiece this month.

In closing, check out this video of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" from the late 1970's. While I like the song, the dancing just makes me laugh.


  1. Love,love, love this book. At last, someone who feels the same way about Heathcliffe as I do. I can understand how some are drawn into the challenge of loving a a dark, brooding hero. But, who wants to live with one, day in and day out? I've heard it said that all women fall in Heathcliffe, but they marry Edgar Linton. Obviously, that's not always true. But, I think it would make for a more stable marriage. The only film I've seen of Wuthering Heights was the 1939 classic with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe and Merle Oberson as Catherine, which I liked. The end, where their spirits are finally joined and walk away together in a sea of mist is a little over the top, however. P.S. Am joining the Victorian challenge.

  2. Great! I think the Victorian Challenge will be quite fun. I watched the first half of the new Masterpiece Theatre version of Wuthering Heights and am very disappointed so far. It is not sticking to the book or the spirit of the book that well. Our book club got postponed until this upcoming Monday. I can't wait to see what they think about Heathcliff. At least I can tell them that someone else agrees with me!

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  4. I love Victorian books and this one was recommended to me by someone who loved it. I have to admit that I whilst the book kept me hooked I really didn't like any of the characters, especialy Heathcliff. He was so controlling and manipulative. He scared me at some points. I almost liked Ellen Dean, but even then there were some flaws in her character that I found frustrating at times.

    My review is at this link

    I also thought that there was a big question about nature vs nurture in the book which I found really interesting

  5. the first time i read this book it was a very complex novel so werer the character d. i belive that the book was mirrored tru bronte's life, some aspects though was what she atually wanted. i found heathcliff to be strikingly handsome a bit irrationale at times but i was intrigued by the structure and builiding up of the nevel i never read or saw anything like it

  6. Great Upcoming Movie,Wuthering Heights Movie is released on 5 October, 2012 related to Drama and Romance genre.Don't miss to watch Wuthering Heights Movie.