Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Posted 16 June, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 16 Comments

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Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
Published: 1847  Pages: 344
Genre: Literary Classic
Rating: Unrated (I’m a chicken)

Where do I start a review for a book that I have revered above so many other books for over ten years since I first read it as a senior in high school–a book that I credit for my love of literature and maybe even the reason why I received two degrees in English literature?  I’d say I’m at a loss for words but that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

The short of it:
Wuthering Heights is a timeless tale of obsession and unrequited love.  Set during the late 1700s in a rural and secluded area of England, the story begins when a young gypsy ruffian, Heathcliff, is brought to the homestead of Wuthering Heights to become the adopted brother of sorts or plaything to Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw.  When neighboring cousins, Edgar and Isabella Linton, enter the picture, young Catherine must choose between her soul mate, Heathcliff, or a life of comfort and adoration with Edgar.  It’s not a pretty picture who she chooses and the whole rest of the lot suffer throughout the rest of the book because of it.

The long of it (I can’t promise no spoilers so read with caution):
It had been ten years since I read Wuthering Heights and the story had become foggy in my mind but what I remembered most from my previous readings was the language and descriptions of Brontë’s haunting story.  And the language didn’t let me down ten years later.  It isn’t often anymore that I read with a pencil in hand, but my brand spanking new copy of WH is so underlined and annotated it would make you book purists blush with shame.  I almost feel like I am alone in this sentiment, but Brontë’s writing is so rich that I could almost get drunk on her descriptions and expressions alone. 

Cathy: “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire” (82).

Heathcliff: “Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort–you deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears. They’ll blight you–they’ll damn you. You loved me–then what right had you to leave me? What right–answer me–for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or satan could inflict could have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart–you have broken it–and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you–oh God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?” (165).

Heathcliff: “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you–haunt me, then!  The murdered do haunt their murderers.  I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth.  Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad!  only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God!  it is unutterable!  I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!” (171). 

Heathcliff: “And yet I cannot continue in this condition!–I have to remind myself to breathe–almost to remind my heart to beat! And it is like bending back a stiff spring…it is by compulsion, that I do the slightest act, not prompted by one thought, and by compulsion, that I notice anything alive, or dead, which is not associated with one universal idea…I have a single wish, and my whole being, and faculties are yearning to attain it.  They have yearned toward it so long, and so unwaveringly, that I’m convinced it will be reached–and soon–because it has devoured my existence–I am swallowed in the anticipation of its fulfillment” (331).

I’m sorry–I don’t care what you say and how abominable these characters are (because they are tremendously effed up), that is passion in those words.  Pure unadulterated passion.  Or obsession.  It’s a fine line with this novel.  For me it was tough not to get swept away in these moments.

But the characters are awful.  And nearly everything that happens in this novel is awful.  I spent the first half of the novel seeking justification for why Heathcliff and Catherine act the way they do to one another.  I wondered if Hindley had treated Heathcliff differently or if Heathcliff hadn’t overheard Catherine’s dismissal of him to Nelly that this story might have had a happier outcome, but they all proved to be utterly wretched.  I finally gave up my search for hope and watched one disaster after another occur within the pages.

At the end, though, I think there was a turn around with Cathy (the younger) after nearly everyone else is dead and gone.  She finally gives Hareton a shred of rope and slowly pulls him out of his own state of abuse and to me this small light brought worth to the novel but it was also a case of too little too late.  By then so much damage and destruction had been done that I sincerely hope there are no Cathy or Hareton juniors to continue the [incestuous] cycle of horror.

But classics are still read for a reason and this one has endured for over 150 years.  I don’t spend a lot of time wondering why a particular book has continued its popularity and stood the test of time, but as I was reading this one painfully slow I couldn’t help but wonder why this book is still celebrated within the classical canon of literature.  The language and writing alone partially answer this question for me, but I think this book also raises interesting questions about human nature and if we are products of the environs from which we come and if we are able to overcome the obstacles we face to become something other than what we are destined for.  For Catherine and Heathcliff they fell victim to what was prescribed for them but for Cathy and Hareton I think they proved that we aren’t simply products are our environment but we also have some innate goodness that given the opportunity can win and shine through.

Or I’m just rambling a bunch of psycho-babble.  Either way I am left with a love-hate relationship with Wuthering Heights.  I wouldn’t recommend reading it as slowly as I did or dissecting the characters until you can’t see any goodness within them.  I think this book needs to be read quicker and looked at as a whole instead of all its miserable parts.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it is just a miserable book.  But, I still contend that it’s being read 150 years later for a reason.  I may not understand that reason and I may never understand that reason, but I don’t doubt that when I pick this book up again in 10 years that I’ll still fall in love with the language even if the despair is sometimes more than I can handle.

Have you read Wuthering Heights?  Do you see any worth within the book or simply a continuous avalanche of wretchedness?

A big thanks to Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for hosting the Wuthering Heights Wednesday Readalong.  Don’t miss out next month when we tackle Brothers Karamazov in a new readalong.

Check Out These Other Participants in the Readalong:
Literate Housewife •Vivienne (Serendipidy) •Messy Karen •Victoria •Jenny (Take Me Away) •Ti (Book Chatter) •Lisa (Lit And Life) •Dar (Peeking Between the Pages) •J.C. Montgomery (The Biblio Blogazine) •Whitney •JoAnn (Lakeside Musing) •Gentle Reader (Shelf Life) •Amy (New Century Reading) •Geri (One More Foggy Notion) •Rob (Books are Like Candy Corn)

I am an Amazon Associate and if you buy Wuthering Heights or any other Amazon products through this review I receive a small portion of the purchase price.

16 Responses to “Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë”

  1. I read Wuthering Heights years ago and can see why people like it, but I thought it was only okay. It didn’t sing to me the way it does to those who love it, I’m afraid. Maybe it was the characters, maybe it was the story. I think maybe it was a combination of both.

  2. Nice wrap-up! I too have wondered why this thing has endured. It makes you wonder if the whole 150 years, readers were saying, “why is this so popular?” :–)

  3. I have to admit, one of my biggest problems with this book was the bad writing! I didn’t like the style or setup, and I thought the writing was sloppy. Just goes to show different perspectives, no?

    I do wonder if this is a book that people love better if they first read it in high school. Every person I know who loves this book first read it then, and everyone who dislikes it read it as an adult. It’s as polarizing Catcher in the Rye!

  4. I did like this book, but not anywhere near as much as you did. The read-along experience was definitely the best part for me.

    I saw more obsession than passion, and the ‘happy’ ending seemed to come out of nowhere. There were some very memorable quotes though!

  5. I can honestly say I loved the book to begin with, but I hated it by the end. I wish I felt a little more like you about it, but I couldn’t stand it. I am beginning to think classics are not for me. I have only loved Pride and Prejudice so far. I won’t give up though.

  6. Congrats on finishing the book Trish especially with how depressing it sounds like it was. I’m glad I didn’t continue- I doubt I could have handled that much bleakness along with all that was going on.

  7. “Continuous avalanche of wretchedness”…yup, I do believe that sums it up just perfectly. :-D

    I’m afraid I don’t pay that much attention to beautiful phrasing, although I will admit that this was MUCH easier to read than P&P, which was way too stuffy for me.

  8. *Lit Feline – Amanda said after you that she’s noticed that people who love this book first read it in high school. Maybe she’s on to something? The characters and story are both awful, I’ll admit. :)

    *Rhapsody – And it’s been made into so many different movie versions! Even the third Twilight book is loosely based on Wuthering Heights. I’m guessing in another 50 years, etc, it will still be around.

    *Amanda – To me there’s a difference between the bad writing and the language. I agree with you that the writing is loose and rambling. A lot of times she uses so many words to say nothing. But there are just those nuggets in there that I can’t help but love. And interesting idea about reading this one in high school or after. I think had I read this years later it probably wouldn’t have made such an impression.

    *JoAnn – LOL–I think I’m an anomaly! I’m glad you mostly liked it, though. :) But you’re right about the quotes!

    *Vivienne – It does start off with promise doesn’t it? I’m sure you’re probably not wanting to jump back into the Brontes, but lots of people love Jane Eyre. And it’s a little happier than this one.

    *Darlene – It’s probably good that you stopped where you did. This novel was nothing but bleak! And mean characters! And death. It’s truly awful. :P

    *Softdrink – Ya, I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan. I’ll read several pages before I realize my mind has wandered and I have no idea what I read. This one is at least captivating…like watching a bad wreck on the highway you just can’t look away. :P Thanks for hosting dearest.

  9. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, but sadly, I haven’t read it yet. I’ve seen the movie with Laurence Olivier though, if that counts. ;)


  10. I was doing a readalong of this and got busy and haven’t finished it. I was thinking that I had a much greater appreciation for Heathcliff and then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t stand him. I’ve got to get back to it because there are some wonderful bits that make the whole worth reading.

  11. I’m afraid I’m another vote for “continuous avalanche of wretchedness”. I have tried, time and again to reread this book and never get very far. The overwhelming negativity gets to me every time. The mental image I get when thinking about Wuthering Heights is dark grey turning to black. I’m afraid this one is never going to make it to my favourites list.

  12. I still remember my roommate in college hurling her copy of WH at the wall — she hated it that much! I think she used the word “wretched” as well. I still haven’t read it. Suppose I should so I can at least have an opinion ;o)