Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

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This is my 100th post on my blog! So I wanted to review a special book for this special occasion. Looking back through my posts, I realised I hadn’t yet reviewed any books from the Brontë sisters. I know, shame on me right?! So what better occasion to fix this oversight than my 100th post?

Let’s start with a little background on the Brontë sisters Anne, Emily and Charlotte. Charlotte Brontë was the eldest child (after their two older sisters died at a young age), born in April 1816. A poet and novelist, she wrote the acclaimed Jane Eyre and three other, lesser known, novels. The second eldest child was their brother Patrick Branwell Brontë, a poet in his own right, born 1817 who they were very close to. The middle sister, Emily Brontë was born in 1818 and wrote only one novel, Wuthering Heights, which was published one year before her death. The youngest sister, Anne Brontë born in 1820, was also a poet and novelist but differed from her sisters in that she did not write in a romantic style, but she adhered more to realism. She wrote two novels: Agnes Grey, which was largely autobiographical and the immensely successful Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Did you know by the way that the Brontë sisters wanted to start a school for young girls where they could study modern languages, which would had to take place abroad? And do you know where they wanted to start their school? Right here, in my own country: Belgium. They travelled to the Belgian capital Brussels in 1842 to study French and see about opening their school. Due to their father turning blind and their brother in decline due to his alcohol addiction, this project was abandoned.

As I just said, Emily only wrote one novel, but it was published twice. Emily published Wuthering Heights herself one year before her death. Her sister Charlotte edited it and released the edited version again one year after her Emily’s death. It’s now widely considered the best of the Brontë’s sisters’ work and has been adapted into numerous movies, books, for radio and television, turned into a musical, a ballet, operas and even songs. The storylines are still being taken and adapted for modern books to this day.

The book is basically made up of 4 parts. The first part takes place in 1801, when Lockwood rents a house in Yorkshire from landlord Heathcliff who lives in a remote farmhouse called Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is a rude gentleman, the mistress of the house is a teenager and another family member speaks and dresses like a servant. When Lockwood is snowed in, he gets to spend the night in the manor, in a bedroom that turns out to belong to Catherine who used to live there. During the night, Lockwood dreams of Catherine’s ghost trying to enter through the window. When he gets home the next day, he asks his housekeeper about the Wuthering Heights which is how the second part of the book – about Heathcliff’s childhood – starts.

Thirty years earlier, Mr Earnshaw lived in Wuthering Heights with his son Hindley and daughter Catherine. Earnshaw finds a homeless boy who he adopts and names Heathcliff. Catherine and Heathcliff become close, but Hindley hates Heathcliff for taking his place in his father’s affections. When Earnshaw dies, Hindley becomes the new master of the house. Since he is still jealous of Heathcliff, he takes every chance he gets to humiliate Heathcliff, only allowing him to stay on as a servant. At the same time, Catherine is growing closer to a neighbouring noble family. When the neighbour’s son Edgar proposes marriage, Catherine is torn between her wanting to be a lady and her love for Heathcliff. Heathcliff overhears and goes away in anger, only having heard that she finds him not good enough. Catherine eventually ends up marrying Edgar and loves living it up at the manor of her noble husband. When Heathcliff returns a wealthy gentleman, she is thrilled at first. Edgar’s sister falls in love with Heathcliff and he uses her as revenge against both Catherine and Edgar.

Heathcliff goes back to live at Wuthering Heights with Hindley, who has become a drunkard after his wife’s passing, and Hareton, Hindley’s son. In an effort to pay off his debts, Hindley sells Wuthering Heights to Heathcliff, who now has everything he wanted and takes the ultimate revenge by marrying Edgar’s sister Isabella. This upsets not only Edgar, but also Catherine who starts making herself sick. When Heathcliff and Isabella return after their honeymoon, he learns that Catherine is pregnant, sick and dying. After giving birth to her daughter Cathy, she dies. This prompts Isabella to leave Heathcliff and move to Scotland where she gives birth to a son alled Linton. Then, Hindley dies, leaving Heathcliff the master of Wuthering Heights.

This is when we end up in the third part of the book, playing out in Heathcliff’s mature years. It starts twelve years later. Little recap: Catherine is dead, and so is her brother Hindley. Catherine’s husband Edgar is raising their daughter Cathy, who has become a beautiful and high-spirited girl. Isabella, Edgar’s sister, is living in Scotland with her and Heathcliff’s son Linton. Heathcliff himself is living in Wuthering Heights with Hareton, Hindley’s son.

When Edgar learns that his sister Isabella is dying, he goes to Scotland to adopt and educate her son Linton. Cathy takes advantage of the opportunity that her overbearing father is not home to leave her house. She ends up at Wuthering Heights where she finds out that Hareton is also her cousin, and not just Linton. She tells Heathcliff that Edgar has gone to get Linton, so when the two return, Heathcliff insists that his son come live with him. A few years later, Linton and Cathy become close friends – just like their parents Heathcliff and Catherine were. In an attempt to fix the mistakes in the past, Heathcliff wants Linton and Cathy to marry. While Edgar has fallen very ill, Heathcliff kidnaps Cathy and forces the marriage between her and Linton. Linton helps Cathy escape to see her father one last time right before he dies.

By now, Heathcliff is master of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange (where Edgar’s from, where Catherine played lady of the manor, where Cathy grew up). He brings Cathy to live with them at Wuthering Heights, but then Linton dies. Hareton (Hindley’s son) tries to be kind to Cathy, but she withdraws from the world. And that is where the story catches up to Lockwood in 1801 again. After he learns all this, Lockwood falls ill because of bad weather. Once he’s healed he leaves the area.

A few months later, Lockwood returns to the area by chance, and decides to stay there again. That is when he learns how the story of Heathcliff and Catherine ended. Ever since the night that Lockwood dreamed of Catherine trying to enter Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff began to act strangely. He kept having visions of Catherine, stopped eating and died a few days later. He was buried next to Catherine. As for the children, they did get a happy ending. Hareton had an accident which confined him to the house for a while, during which time he and Cathy grew close. Their friendship developed into love, and they were planning on getting married.

Sorry for all the spoilers, but seriously, any fan of reading has read this book. And even if you’re not a big reader, you’ve probably talked about it in school and/or watched one of the many movie adaptations. This is really one of my favourite books, even despite the quite heavy and melancholy subject. Obviously I was frustrated by all of the miscommunication. If Catherine got over herself a little and Heathcliff talked to her, they would have gotten their happy ending and that would have been the end of it. Instead they caused each other and their families a whole lot of heartache. But, still, just such a great book!

It was not too unbelievable and I can definitely see this happening in the 19th century when men and women talking about their feelings was just not done. I know some object to Catherine’s ghost, but if you think about it, it’s not that crazy. The first one to see it is Lockwood. He arrives in the dark in this weird, big manor house. The lord of the house is a gentleman but seems rude and doesn’t have any manners. The lady of the house is a young teenager, locked in her own little world, and the other man in the house is more like a servant. Made to be felt very unwelcome, he is allowed to stay the night because he is snowed in. He ends up in this mausoleum of a chamber, where he finds writings and diaries of a sickly woman who used to live there named Catherine. So it’s no wonder that his mind goes into overdrive and he dreams about this woman, trying to get back in.

And the next person to come in contact with Ghost-Catherine is Heathcliff himself. The man who loved her more than anything and made something of himself in order to prove himself to her. When he lost the love of his life, he did some despicable things in the name of revenge. He ended up hurting a lot of people, including Catherine herself who made herself so sick that she eventually died. In trying to fix the past, he inadvertently made Catherine’s daughter unhappy and to top it all of he lost his own son. Obviously he feels an enormous amount of guilt for the woman he still loves and feels very bad in how he treated not only her but their and his family. Thinking that he is seeing his love again, makes him both happy and sad at the same time and so caught up in that, he stops taking care of himself and dies (much like Catherine made herself sick and died).

The final scenes of the book really gave me a chill as they see Lockwood leaving Wuthering Heights for good. But not before passing by the graves of Catherine, Edgar and Heathcliff, victims of miscommunication, pride, misplaced good intentions gone wrong and love. I absolutely love this book, and I also love rereading it (with a handkerchief in reach).

How about you? Loved this book as much as I did? I definitely agree that it is the Brontë sisters’ best work – I think it’s better than Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Happy reading,

Loes M.

 

 

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