Wuthering Heights was an... Experience
“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Ah, yes, the sheer romance that infamous quote sets you up for as you embark upon a first-time read of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. How quickly your dreams are shattered!! Waste no more time sitting in doubt—this book is not the sweeping Moorish romance you expected it to be. It has nothing of the immersive heartache of your beloved Jane Eyre, and certainly not a single iota of its beauty and goodness.
I stepped into Wuthering Heights well aware it was going to split a few hairs, and whatever my feelings toward it would be, it would raise an opinion which in itself would be worth the ride. I recollected what my two favorite English professors once told me at college—one, that it was the best book she'd ever read, and the other, that after being forced to read it once in his life, he vowed never to read it again if he could help it. It seemed to me this one would be, in its own way, the Mansfield Park of the Brontë books—whether you loved Fanny and the Crawfords or hated them, you had strong opinions nonetheless.
Disclaimer: This book review contains spoilers!
My delve through the Brontë books as a relative novice has been thrilling, to say the least. When I discovered Jane Eyre last fall (find that review here), my experience was all the more golden for knowing nothing about it when I stepped in. I felt I'd discovered something new and precious in these mysterious Brontës. I might as well tell you now that my happy novelty has quite worn off since becoming acquainted with Emily!
Catherine and Heathcliff, Cathy and Heathcliff
My trek through Wuthering Heights began with a bit of a shock, to say the least. Straightaway we are met with a grim scene at the titular house, where the dour-and-sour Heathcliff resides with companions who are scarcely less dour-and-sour than himself! But besides the initial soberness, one must recall our beloved Jane Eyre's depressing beginning, so I kept my hopes up. Remember Helen Burns!
I'd scarcely covered twenty pages before I realized that Emily Brontë had little imagination when it came to naming her characters, and I was forced to resort to the handy family tree included at the start of my Penguin Classics edition. For goodness' sake, there are not but one Catherine and Heathcliff—but two!!! I was flabbergasted to learn that. Basically, older Heathcliff has a son who is also called Heathcliff, and Catherine has a daughter who is also called Catherine. The first Heathcliff is living, though the second Heathcliff died—and the first Catherine died, while the second Catherine is living. Dare to make sense of that one, if you will! It took me quite a while to figure out "who's-who" with this book, I'm afraid.
These people are nuts: Wuthering Heights, a Summary
From the start, Heights was horrific, shocking, appalling—and yes, intriguing! I found myself racing through the first quarter of the book in sheer amazement that these characters could be so terrible, so monstrous as this! It began to feel more like a "sensational" story than a classic. Oh, how quickly the novelty of sensation wore off!!
I wasn't half-way through before I began to get really tired of saying "These people are insane," under my breath every two and a half pages. I was no longer edge-of-my-seat gripped once I realized that this book was literally scandal-and-uproar after scandal-and-uproar. Oh, and with quite a host of hateful, spiteful characters to spice it up a bit! I was overwhelmed with loathing for the monstrous Heathcliff and the psychotic Catherine, and rather disappointed to find their story such an ugly mess of betrayal, jealousy and vengeance, when I had expected a romance!
I expected love and heartache, not psychopathology!!
I kept hoping, time and again, that just maybe, Heathcliff would find redemption in the end. Just maybe, there would be light at the end of the long, dark, vengeful tunnel. I found myself slogging through the last two-thirds of the book because picking it up was giving me a headache. If you're an anxious person, or one who, like me, gets very absorbed in fictional works, I'd stay away from Wuthering Heights by all means—it's liable to make you miserable for a time.
Linton, Catherine and Heathcliff—and Linton, Cathy and Heathcliff
I suppose the central plot revolves around a set of three people: in the first half, it's Heathcliff, Catherine, and John Linton—and in the second, it's the same Heathcliff, the second Catherine, and Heathcliff's son who is called Linton. (Again, the names in this book drive me bonkers.) It's a never-ending cycle driven by Heathcliff himself to seek vengeance on others for his own unhappy circumstances. Catherine (Sr.) marries Linton (Sr.), instead of him, so Heathcliff must punish Linton (Sr.) and Cathy (Jr). and his own son (Linton Jr.). The names!!! Emily, what were you thinking!? Aside from the unhappy trios, there's Hareton and Hindley (who I could scarcely discern between for much of the book) and Linton's ill-used sister, Isabella.
Isabella!! She was the first character in the book that I pitied—because, in a way, I had to have somebody to root for between these awful people. Isabella, eighteen, has a bit of a crush on Heathcliff when she firsts meets him, and Catherine (Sr.) teases her cruelly for it and tells Heathcliff straightaway. He secretly devises a plan to entice Isabella and elope with her, without her family's consent (because he wants to hurt Linton, her brother, and also spite Catherine, I guess?), and having done this, Isabella is introduced to a most horrible transformation of her circumstances. Wuthering Heights is no home of dreams!! Her new husband, she discovers, is a cruel and unfeeling man who doesn't care for anybody in the world but himself and his beloved Catherine who was destined never to be his. Isabella rapidly declines after suffering his neglect and abuse, and soon enough I found myself hating her, poor thing, just as I hate everyone else in this miserable book.
I confess I glazed over the second-half of the book as quickly as I could. It become a trial to finish, and I had no enjoyment in it. Though, more happily, I did discover a single character who I grew somewhat fond of: Catherine the younger. She, though certainly imperfect, didn't behave like a fiendish screwball as all the other characters did. Sometimes I casually disliked her, but on the whole, I didn't hate her—and her patience with the loathsome W.I.B. (Whining Invalid Baby, as I so affectionately call Linton Jr., was actually pitiful and endearing. Yes, I did like Cathy—and by the time that odious Heathcliff forces her to marry the W.I.B and locks her up in Wuthering Heights, I felt terribly over her.
At this point, I'd lost count of how many times I'd outright blurted, "Can one of these crazy people just go and kill off Heathcliff so everyone can be happy again?!?!?!" Honestly, what a horrible, twisted creature he is. As long as he remains alive, the Lintons must go through life as though under an ancient family curse. In the end, I can't quite tell you what happened to him. He dies under circumstances that Emily doesn't quite make clear. I gather he killed himself to be with his beloved dead Catherine, but I feel like there must've been more to that. Was he ill? Was he completely insane? (As if we didn't already know that one...). Did he starve himself to death? Maybe? Sort of? Who's to say! I suppose whatever happened there, Emily hesitated for the constraints of the time period.
So comes the end, and what a happy end it is! No, no, I don't mean that it actually ends happily...just that I have truly never been so happy to finish a book in my life.
I have heard that some uphold Wuthering Heights as a story worth reading year in, year out, and that others, like me, would never want to look on a single page of this singular, bitter book again. I am sure there were deeper meaning and themes buried in these pages, but I don't think I cared at all enough to search for them. Yes, I can see that Heathcliff's life was tortured cruelly by the treatment he received as a child, and I'm sure there are lessons to be learned from the insanity and vengeful malice of the characters...but I just didn't want to see them. The characters in this book are not ones I'd ever wish to meet in real life, and I find them too loathsome and terrible to be thought over too much, I'm afraid.
At its heart...
Wuthering Heights is one that I'm afraid I won't be reading again any time soon, if ever. I think, at it's heart, it's a story about how love has the potential to corrupt and destroy. A grim outlook, to say the least, but in all, everything revolves around Heathcliff's jealous love for Catherine, and the lives he tries to manipulate for the sake of that wronged love. It's distorted, torturous, malevolent—and that's exactly why I resented this book so much. It's theme is the exact opposite of a certain quotation from Scripture that I think it would be best to leave off on...
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Thanks for reading through my take on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this haunting story if you fancy sharing in the comments below!
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Until next time!