Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I first read Wuthering Heights in my Intro to Literature class during my sophomore year in college. Initially skeptical about being assigned to read a British literature classic, I was surprisingly pleased at how much I actually enjoyed it. I remember being assigned to write a paper on the book and, frustrated with my lack of inspiration, went for a walk around town when it hit me that the theme of love and revenge would be a great topic for a paper. That paper ended up being one of my best papers I wrote in college and the one I’m most proud of (and I got an A!).
For those who haven’t read this classic, Wuthering Heights centers around families of two large estates in the moors of Yorkshire, England – the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights and the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange. Mr. Earnshaw travels to Liverpool and brings home Heathcliff, an orphan boy whom he will raise as his own child, along with his other two children, Hindley and Catherine. Hindley hates Heathcliff, treating him cruelly, while Catherine becomes quite fond of her mysterious adopted brother. The two become inseparable. When Catherine chooses to marry Edgar Linton for his status, Heathcliff runs away. He eventually returns to Wuthering Heights but spends the rest of his life in a state of revenge-driven rage, his unresolved love destroying both families.
The one thing I remember from both the first time reading and this time was how difficult it was to keep up with the how the characters were related to each other and frequently had to look at the Earnshaw/Linton family tree. I eventually got the names and relationships straight in my mind but the fact that Bronte gave characters such similar names (both first and last) was confusing!
I often thought about Bronte’s choice in narration and her use of the characters Nelly and Mr. Lockwood. Although creating Wuthering Heights as a “story within a story” is an interesting and different storytelling vehicle I wasn’t sure of the purpose it played or what it added to the plot. I wondered why Bronte decided to have Nelly narrate and not just tell the story from a third person point of view, or from the point of view of another character. I do like this choice, however, because the reader gets to see everyone’s feelings and thoughts, as so many characters tend to confide in Nelly.
When I first read this book in college, I was fixated on Heathcliff’s mistreatment and how that drives him into madness and leads to his obsession with revenge. But this time, I was saddened by the mistreatment of the most innocent of victims in the story: Cathy Linton, Hareton Earnshaw and Linton Heathcliff (Hindley, Catherine and Heathcliff’s children). Because of the hatred their parents have towards each other, they are in turn, neglected and abused and are the victims of unwarranted revenge.
Soon after reading this book for the first time, I considered it one of my favorite books, and I’m happy to report that I still consider it a favorite. I probably won’t reread it that often because of its intensity but I am still in love with the story’s deep relationships, themes of love, revenge and status and its social commentary. The vivid setting and multi-dimensional characters have rarely been replicated in another story.
Wuthering Heights was published in 1846 by Thomas Cautley Newby.