Emily Bronte wrote only one novel in her short lifetime; and what a novel it was. Bronte published Wuthering Heights in 1847 under the pen name of Ellis Bell, because she worried that society, and the publishers, would consider the book too violent and brutal for a woman to write. With its tones of revenge and cruelty, Wuthering Heights gives us the story of the Earnshaw family, who reside at an English country-side manor named Wuthering Heights. Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw have two children, Hindley and Catherine, but Mr. Earnshaw one day arrives home from Liverpool with an orphan boy named Heathcliff. He is described as “a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough to both walk and talk” and at first the two Earnshaw children don’t really care for him, but eventually Heathcliff and Catherine become quite close and spend a lot of time together playing on the moors. But Catherine’s brother, Hindley, is much less taken with Heathcliff, and grows to resent him.
Mr. Earnshaw dies when Hindley is away at college, and Hindley, now married, returns to Wuthering Heights to claim it as his inheritance of the manor. This causes much disturbance in the household, as Hindley treats Heathcliff poorly. But Catherine and Heathcliff remain close, and one day while playing on the moors, they arrive at Thrushcross Grange, a close manor owned by Wuthering Heights. There they find the Linton family, with children Edgar and Isabella. Catherine must stay at Thrushcross Grange because she is bitten by an animal and falls ill. During her five week stay there, Mrs. Linton teaches Catherine how to behave as a “proper” lady, and she becomes quite taken with Edgar as a “proper” man. Once recovered, returning to Wuthering Heights, Catherine finds her relationship with Heathcliff becomes more complicated because of her feelings for Edgar and his social status, one that Heathcliff does not possess.
Meanwhile, Hindley’s wife dies while giving birth to their son, Hareton, and Hindley turns to alcohol to aid in his depression. Hindley becomes more cruel and abusive to Heathcliff, and eventually Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering Heights for three years. During this time, Catherine eventually accepts Edgar’s offer of marriage, because he can give her a life of financial and social stability. Shortly after they are married, Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights to seek revenge upon those who have wronged him, including Catherine. With an unexplained wealth, Heathcliff loans Hindley money, knowing that Hindley had no means to repay the debt, and that this would contribute to his alcoholism and depression. Soon after, Hindley dies, and Heathcliff inherits Wuthering Heights. He marries Isabella Linton, mostly out of spite to Catherine, but he treats Isabella very poorly. Catherine gives birth to a daughter, but becomes ill during the birth. She dies soon thereafter, and Heathcliff mourns for her to the point that he begs her to stay with him, even as a ghostly spirit.
The story is far from over at this point, as it continues with the same acts of struggle and revenge. But this story is about more than love and romance, and it is about more than vengeance and spite. It is a story about human shortcomings and jealousy. It is about people accepting one another and making peace for what has happened in the past. It is about fitting in and belonging to someone or something. And it is about dying with regret and being unable to let go. Wuthering Heights is a story that takes human emotion to new heights by showing us the ugly side of love and how it can affect us in a negative way if not handled right and allowed to run out of control. When Emily Bronte wrote this novel over 150 years ago, she may not have known how huge of a success it would be. But she definitely understood human emotion, and she displays it well in Wuthering Heights.
By Teresa Boyer/Adjunct Instructor, Lourdes University
Toledo Reads Contributor