Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
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Cannonball Read IV: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

By chasitymoody | Book Reviews | June 29, 2012 | Comments ()


Wuthering Heights is a story that spans generations. But don't be fooled. It's not a story of love so much as it is a story of revenge.

Heathcliff, a gypsy orphan, is adopted by Mr. Earnshaw. He is brought into a family that already has an older son and young daughter.

Earnshaw treats Heathcliff as a second son. There is no question of Heathcliff inheriting the family's property - because he won't, but Earnshaw definitely seems to prefer Heathcliff to his son.

Earnshaw's son, Hindley, hates Heathcliff for usurping his place in his father's affections (honestly, I never saw that the elder Earnshaw was all that affectionate to his son in the first place, but let's go with it).

Catherine, Earnshaw's daughter, develops a strong relationship with Heathcliff, because she sees herself as an outsider - since she is a tomboy who has no interest in how ladies are supposed to behave.

The rift between Hindley and Heathcliff is so strong, that Hindley is eventually sent away for schooling. Hindley returns a few years later, after the death of his father.

Even though Hindley has relegated Heathcliff to the status of a servant, rather than a part of the family, Catherine and Heathcliff continue their friendship. They spend countless hours exploring and enjoying the moors, while sharing secrets and generally falling in love with each other (because they are the only two people of comparable age who aren't in some way related to each other).

Evrything falls apart when Catherine and Heathcliff decide to spy upon a well-to-do neighboring family, the Lintons. They are caught and Catherine is injured. Heathcliff is sent back to Wuthering Heights and Catherine stays with the Lintons as she recuperates. While she is there, she learns more "lady-like" behaviors and is a different person when she finally returns home. Now, she joins in when people joke and make fun of Heathcliff. You know, because ladies make fun of those they consider to be beneath them.

Edgar Linton, the eldest son of the Linton family, courts Catherine and Catherine decides that it would be best if she marries him, even though she loves Heathcliff. Heathcliff overhears Catherine's decision, but doesn't hear that she loves him so, he runs away vowing revenge. That is the kind of crap that always makes me wonder how a movie managed to be made or a book came to be published. Hello? There is a huge gaping hole between the two lovers of this story that could easily be addressed by letting them have an actual conversation. That part is infuriating.

The rest of the story is where I take issue that this was a great romance. You see, once Heathcliff returns as a rich and educated man, he makes it his entire life's work to make everyone pay. He refuses to hear anything other than what he has played over and over in his mind when it comes to Catherine. He is no longer in love with her. He has become obsessed with making her see him differently, even if that means destroying her and her family.

He wants Catherine to pay because she married Edgar. He wants Edgar to pay because he married Catherine. He wants Hindley (who has become a totally pitiable human being due to the loss of his wife and his alcohol addiction) to pay because Hindley was mean to him when they were kids. Well, Ok, Hindley did relegate Heathcliff to the role of servant when he came back and that was really dick-ish. So, Heathcliff encourages Hindleyto continue drinking and gambling until Hindley loses Wuthering Heights to him.

All of that sits ok with me as a revenge story (Hindley was pretty awful). My problem is that Heathcliff decides to use innocent people to accomplish his ends. He notices that Edgar's sister, Isabella, has a crush on him and sets out to use her in his scheme.

Heathcliff convinces Isabella to elope; which causes her to be disowned by her family, and then he treats her like garbage because she isn't Catherine. Isabella is a nonentity to him. She is just a tool to make Catherine jealous and Edgar angry.

Let's cut to the chase. Isabella has Heathcliff's son, Catherine has Edgar's daughter, and Frances (the wife Hindley married while he was away from home) has Hindley's son. So, the entire relationship dynamic is recreated in a new generation. Only, this time, Heathcliff can see the dynamics from his revenge viewpoint. So, he manipulates what he can so that he can become the owner of both properties and somehow reap his revenge upon people who are no longer relevant to his life.

I won't tell you the ending, because even though this story was published in 1847, I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't had the chance to read it.

But, I will say that every character in this story is a selfish asshole. Earnshaw adopts Heathcliff out of eccentricity. He also seems to enjoy the rivalry between Heathcliff and Hindley. Hindley wants to get back at Heathcliff for stealing his father's affections. Catherine, may have actually loved Heathcliff at some point but really only wants him to love her regardless of her choices. Edgar may actually love Catherine, but still sees her as his possession to be won in the pissing match with Heathcliff.

Heathcliff just wants revenge based upon a half of a conversation he heard between Catherine and the housekeeper. He has no qualms about forever living in regret if it means that he made Catherine and her family suffer. But, he still, somehow wants her to love him and mourns his love of her.

The only truly innocent person in that whole fiasco was Isabella. She didn't know that brooding does not equal romance, and she paid the price for that.

Heathcliff destroys lives and he has no real respect for actual love, as shown by how willing he was to sacrifice his child and Catherine's child for the sake of revenge. There is nothing romantic about this story.

This is a story of greed and obsession. There is no understanding of another's grief or the pain of another's tough decisions. None of the main characters look past themselves to see that it isn't just about what they want. There is just addiction, remorse, and death.

And call me crazy, but I don't think that any of those things equate to romance or love.

For more of chasitymoody's reviews, check out her blog, Parenthetical Views

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • ,

    It's a soap opera, innit?

  • guinimom

    Florence King: "Wuthering Heights has ruined more women than the cholera."
    The Romantics were not very.

  • Pat C.

    I also like the supernatural elements in this - Catherine's ghoset appearing to the frame narrator. I always wondered not just "Who was Heathcliff really?" but "What was Heathclff really?" A changeling who brought strife wherever he went?

  • Inshallah

    This is the best, most spot-on review of Wuthering Heights I've ever read. Well done!

  • the other courtney

    Heathcliff was a fucking sociopath and I will always despise the Brontes for inflicting the brooding man-child character into romance and literature. They are the reason why all those dumb girls with daddy issues marry drummers.

  • Guest
  • Tammy

    I can't hate - I may be wedded happily to a stand-up guy, but hoo boy did I love a broody hot mess in my youthful folly. Give me a knotted brow and antisocial tendencies, and my panties will flee. With glee.

    Tee hee.

  • BWeaves

    Oh, Gotopus, I hate this book. I had to read it in 9th grade and it bored me to tears. It didn't help that we'd discuss it in class and the teacher would mention things I never even noticed. For example, at the beginning of one chapter there's a sentence that Catherine has given Edgar an heir, and none of us knew what that meant. Teacher explained that Catherine had a baby, and we were all amazed that she'd been pregnant for the last 9 months, because there was some stuff with Heathcliff in the previous chapter that had a completely different twist if she was preggo with someone else's baby.

    Also, I was under the impression, although it never says this, that Heathcliff actually is Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son.

    I really should reread this as an adult. I'm sure I'd get more out of it, but I just hate the Bronte's. I hate Jane Eyre, too. Who names their kid St. John and then pronounces it SinGin?

    Oh, and:

    Marry Darcy (Colin Firth edition)
    Fuck Rochester (Toby Stephens edition)
    Kill Heathcliff (all of them)

  • marya

    You hate the book because you didn't read it closely enough? That's not a very solid reason to condemn it.

  • BWeaves

    I did say that I need to reread this as an adult. I was giving you my 14 year old idiot self's impression in my previous post.

  • Guest

    "Who names their kid St. John and then pronounces it SinGin?"

    To be fair, most of the British population, back in the day.

  • PaddyDog

    I've answered this before. It's derived from the Norman Saint Jean and over the years became anglicized as it became integrated into the Anglo-Saxon community in the same way that the name Beauchamp is pronounced "Beecham" in England. They started off with the real French pronunciation and and over the years became an hybrid of the French and the Anglo way of saying them but retained the French spellings.

  • Skyler Durden

    Look, here's the only thing you need to know about Wuthering Heights: On the BBC Masterpiece Classic adaptation, Heathcliff is played by Tom Hardy and his soft, pillowy lips. It is available on Netflix watch instantly. You're welcome.

  • revbrandy

    Okay, so, the characters are clearly flawed and ultimately not relatable. Okay, so, their actions, their speech, the scenarios that lead them to more actions and more speech are all rather melodramatic and ultimately not relatable.
    I don't believe the story endures because the characters are not relatable. Because their actions are not relatable. Because situations are (heavy sigh) so simply resolved with discussion (BTW every plot of "Three's Company" - and even at a young age, I knew that eavesdropping was the source of every goddamned plot on that ridiculous show) instead of bad choice upon bad choice. The story endures because it is, and will always be, a turning point in gothic literature.
    I adore it for those reasons - the same reasons I adore Jane Eyre, and Rebecca, and The Turn of the Screw, and many of Hawthorne's equally unrelatable yet fantastic tales - because simply, it is what it is. And for what it is, for when it was written, it forms the basis of some of the utter shit and bunk and tripe to which we are subjected today. It also forms the basis of some of the amazing and heart wrenching character-driven stories we now celebrate.

  • Tammy

    OOOH OOOH OOOH, Let's play "Marry, Fuck, Kill?:Tormented 19th Century British Romance" edition.

    Mr. Darcy
    Mr. Rochester


  • Guest

    I'm with Kate Beaton and Anne Bronte on this one:


    None! :)

  • Tammy

    Haaaaaa, Ranylt, I think I love you. <3

  • Hadar

    Easiest one I've ever pondered upon: Marry Darcy, Fuck Rochester (especially the Fasssbender version) and Kill Heathcliff.

  • Malin

    I feel exactly the same way.

  • Tammy

    Of course they're assholes. It's a book about the damages a repressed culture takes on its inhabitants, written by a constantly-ill homebound girl stuck on the moors.

    I also love it, deeply. Ranylt's right - it's not meant to be romantic. If anything, it's a horror tale. It's about being haunted and damaged and in pain. I agree, everyone in this book is selfish. I also identify with their selfishness and rage, deeply, and the book hits me in my gut every time I read it. It's the conflict between what we actually need and what we think we should have.

    It is about love, but not romance: it's about what happens when our expectations of what love should be clash with the other baggage in our lives. I read this book at least once every other year (I alternate it with my ultimate favorite, Jane Eyre).

  • I may be suiting up as Captain Pedantic ("Away!"), but I wanted to correct a tiny mistake in your comment:

    The Brontes weren't "homebound" or "stuck on the moors." Elizabeth Gaskell had some strong reasons for suggesting this when she wrote the biography of her friend, Charlotte Bronte: there was actual fear from many Lady Writers that all of the Brontes' writing could make it difficult for other women to get published. So, Gaskell's account of the Brontes in her biography tried to ameliorate a lot of criticism by suggesting that these were, in a sense, Wild Children, cut off from society, left to their own. By doing this, I think Gaskell wanted to create the fiction -- and it is a fiction -- that the Bronte sisters couldn't help being coarse.

    This got picked up, and the fiction metastasized, as fictions do, and we end up with the mistaken idea they're homebound, and that they're stuck on the moors. Haworth Parsonage was actually pretty sizeable. The Brontes had neighbors, whom they'd visit. There was a theater that the Brontes attended. Concerts. Things of that sort.

    At the end, though, I don't want to undermine the Brontes' integral weirdness. These were weird girls (Ranked in Terms of Weirdness, Most to Least: Emily, Anne, Charlotte). But they were not Wild Girls of the Moors.

  • Tammy

    I should have clarified: I meant "stuck" as in their home was far from London and women of that time (without a lot of city access) had limited options, and that they were weird. Super duper weird. (They also had a drunk crazy brother who pissed away a lot of the family money. They really embraced that "Write What You Know" trope.)

    (This became very apparent to me when I read "The Brontes: A Life in Letters" - a book of their actual correspondence, which tells you a lot about their vivid fantasy life and Charlotte's super-fucked-up relationship with a Mr. Rochester prototype. It's a great read).

  • Oh, Branwell.

    I have a very soft spot for the father, Patrick, who ends up being sort of this weird Mrs Bennet figure in that he wants to marry his daughters off, but also wants to marry himself off as well.

    When his wife Maria died, Patrick is left with six kids -- all living at home. ("Mike, Mike, Mike: I KNOW this." -- But I so rarely get to talk Bronte anywhere, so I hope you'll just let me prattle on.)

    It's interesting to read about this time of the family's life, because it illustrates the importance of marriage from the male point of view. Patrick is desperate for a wife, not just for himself, but for his daughters.

    Maria's sister, Elizabeth, had moved in with the family to care for Maria during her final bout with cancer (oh! And there's a HEARTBREAKING note scribbled in the pages of a medical book in Patrick's library -- next to an entry about cancer, and how the recovery rates for it tend to be high, and Patrick writes something in the margin like, "But not always" after Maria dies...); I think he makes his first proposal three months after Maria's death, to a family friend, and is turned down.

    A year later, he tries for a woman named Isabella Dury, who also turns him down, and writes a sort of bitchy letter to a friend, saying, "I never should be so very silly as to have the most distant idea of marrying anybody who had not some fortune [n.b. Patrick's living brought in 170 pounds a year], and six children into the bargain. It is too ridiculous to imagine any truth in it."

    Another attempt was with a woman whom he courted when he first came to England, named Mary Burder. He didn't marry her (years ago) because she's a Congregationalist and he's Church of England, and a mixed marriage like that would have crippled his rise up the Evangelical ladder. Mary held on to that for YEARS. Patrick writes a tentative letter to Mary's mother first, hinting around about how well he's doing for himself (still a stretch, since he's still only pulling in that 170 pounds a year -- however, it's money that's raised via rents on the property and not through the giving of the parishoners, so it's a secure 170 pounds). When he writes to Mary directly, though, she fires back loaded for bear: "I know of no ties of friendship ever existing between us which the last eleven or twelve years have not severed or at least placed an insuperable bar to any revival." Oh, and in his letter, Patrick may have mistakenly said something about how, seeing as Mary was still single and all, she might be interested in marriage to him since she wasn't doing anything else with her days. She answers that with, "My present condition on which you are pleased to remark has hitherto been the state of my choice and to me a state of much happiness and comfort." She closes by suggesting that "maybe the Lord could supply all your and your children's needs."

    You'd think after a smackdown such as this, Patrick would just lick his wounds quietly and move on, but no! He writes her again and tries to argue her into accepting his offer.

    He's very tenacious. I love him.

  • Guest

    Horror indeed; WH is part of the second wave of Gothic fiction. Only now the horrors aren't in far-flung Catholic Spain or Italy (see: Monk, Radcliffe, the 1790s in general), but on our doorstep--in the neighbouring manor, or up in the boss's attic.

    To elaborate on your great point, WH is also recognized as a scream against Victorian marriage from the POV of women--the violence and abuse and loss of agency/body/life are exaggerated for that purpose. The rules of domesticity and its expectations suck for pretty much everyone, not just women, is what Bronte is saying. It's pretty raw. And then there's the whole class critique...

    I think it's brilliant and a great read both, and the only reason I don't teach it (or Jane Eyre, or Frankenstein) is because it's too commonly taught in university and it's just too easy to poach/plagiarize essays online. I vex the students with more obscure books instead, hard-ass that I am.

  • Malin

    Everything you write is completely true. Not a single person in this book is likeable. The book should not be advertised as this great romance, but a revenge narrative (although as you point out, it's pretty rubbish to swear eternal revenge and devote your entire life to it based on a snippet of conversation that you overheard). It's a story about madness and obsession, love really doesn't play into it at all. None of the characters in the story seem capable of actual love.

    I read the book for the first time when I was about 13, and was scared away from any Brontës because of it. Then I reread it at University and learned to properly put into words all the various ways in which I detest this book and all the people in it. I'm a Jane Eyre gal, all the way.

  • Belkwinith

    My boyfriend is a dark-haired, dark eyed charming gypsy. He is just like Heathcliff, if Heathcliff tried to heat Wuthering Heights with a collection of re-wired electric yoga mats bought on Ebay. Now that is a "real" gypsy. Not so romantic now, huh Bronte.

  • Guest

    "WH" isn't a "love story" any more than "Emma" or much of Austin is. Unfortunately 20C pop culture (and some high school teachers, no doubt) reshaped them that way, giving modern readers false expectations and tearing the bottom out of these novels in the process.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I just finished this book last night - I'm not kidding. Hadn't read it in HS or college, so it had to happen at some point. And you're right. Every person in this book is an asshole. There are a couple of redemptive bits, but I swear, I pretty much hated everyone. I had to start an Agatha Christie book just to cleanse my palate.

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