Friday, 20 May 2011

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

If you are desperate to read Wuthering Heights there’s kind of a major plot revelation in this post. Sorry but there was no way I could explain how I felt about this book without revealing it and if you haven’t read it, you’ll be as shocked as I was.

Pretty much the only reason that I set myself the task of reading more Classics this year was purely because, well....I didn’t feel I’d read enough Classics. You know, people would talk about a book and I would have to just smile emptily and either fake it or admit that I hadn’t read it.

Even so, you hear enough about some Classics to have a vague idea of what they’re about and the main themes and storyline.

Like Wuthering Heights.

Erm....not so much.

So I started off reading Wuthering Heights with the sound of Kate Bush in my head and a vague knowledge that there’s Heathcliff and Cathy and they love each other but life is in some way difficult and the story is going to be about their turbulent time together.

Yeah. No-one tells you that Cathy bloody dies halfway through the book do they?!

We start off on a bit of a slow burn. Mr Lockwood is a tenant at Thrushcross Grange and comes across his landlord, some bloke called Heathcliff at his house (that’d be Wuthering Heights to you and me). Somewhat perturbed by the strange set up he sees there, Mr Lockwood returns to Thrushcross and gets his housekeeper, Ellen, to tell him the background.

Ellen is our narrator throughout the whole book (how come she never gets mentioned when people are bleating on about the moors?!) and starts us off from the very beginning, when Cathy’s father brings in a bedraggled orphan called Heathcliff into the family home and raises him alongside Cathy and her brother.

A side note: The family relations in this book are confusing to the max. Thank goodness my copy had a family tree in the front of it because otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue who was who or what was what.

I won’t go into the whole plotline here, that’s why God invented Wikipedia. So you can read more there.
So there I am reading away, not really feeling the book to be honest. It’s one of those classics that requires concentration, which I’m not always brilliant at. But I’m sticking with it, even though I’m finding it hard to sympathise with any of the characters (seriously, Cathy’s just kind of a bitch and Heathcliff has some serious rage issues) when all of a sudden Cathy has a child (I must have missed the ever so subtle hints that she was pregnant, despite flicking back through the pages to find out where they were) and then BOOM she dies. What?! There’s still another book to go!

At this point I got in a bit of sulk with Wuthering Heights and put it to one side. I wasn’t really feeling the groove anyway and all of a sudden there was this curve ball into the mix and I didn’t know what to do. Plus there were Royal Weddings and Bank Holidays and stuff. But I knew I couldn’t give up and I had to make a concerted effort to get this finished by the end of the month if I was to stand a chance of completing my challenge.

The second half of the book is really all about Cathy and Heathcliff’s children, and Cathy’s nephew, Hareton, whom Heathcliff keeps cowed and deprived of his birthright of Wuthering Heights. (Hareton’s father, also Cathy’s brother, gambled the mortgage away to Heathcliff. Told you it was confusing.)

Cathy and Edgar’s child is helpfully called Cathy and she takes after her mother in her headstrong ways. Edgar tries hard to keep her away from Heathcliff but he eventually gets his grubby mitts on her, literally locking her up in Wuthering Heights and forcing her to marry his sickly, frail and totally irritating son, Linton.

In short the second half of the book is far more interesting than the first – the characters are more engaging, the plot is more interesting and it made me want to go back to the beginning of the book and read the first few chapters again, to better understand the situation that Mr Lockwood walks into when we first see Wuthering Heights.

I guess the book is about love. The inconvenience of love. The all consuming nature of love. Heathcliff and Cathy have that kind of destructive relationship that many people have either had themselves or know of someone else who’s had it. Heathcliff is the guy that you know you should stay away from, but for some reason, you can’t leave him alone, even though every bit of sense is telling you to stay away from him. Little Cathy shows the same destructive streak as her mother in his insistence on visiting Linton (before Heathcliff forces her to marry him). She says of her visits,

“...the rest of my visits were dreary and trouble – now, with his selfishness and spite; and now with his sufferings; but I’ve learnt to endure the former with nearly as little resentment as the latter.”

I nearly said out loud, “Why do you keep going back to bloody see him then you mentalcase?!”

The generations of the Linton and Earnshaw families seem doomed to perpetuate the mistakes of the previous generations. Hareton is treated by Heathcliff in the same way that Cathy treated Heathcliff when he was growing up in Wuthering Heights. Linton is as weak and ineffectual as his Uncle Edgar. To be honest, you can’t help but begin to despair of them all until the end of the book when Mr Lockwood returns to the area to discover that both Linton and Heathcliff have died, thus releasing everyone of the ties that bind them and allowing Cathy and Hareton to declare their love for one another.

Yeah you’re right. They are cousins. Don’t judge. This is an old book.

To be honest, my head is still a bit of a whirl when it comes to this book. I couldn’t tell you if I liked it or I didn’t, mainly because I’m still having to readjust my expectations and come to terms with the reality of this book rather than the Cathy and Heathcliff twaddle that everyone else seems to talk about. I’m starting to think that no-one has actually read the book and everyone’s faking it and just keeps talking about the same two people in the hope that no-one rumbles them.

But yeah, loving this challenge. Bring on the next one.

(It’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’m not being easy on myself.)


  1. I went to school in the Yorkshire Dales and had to study this. My romantic teenage soul thought this was brilliant, until I had to read the book. And several years later, I still can't work out whether I actually *like* it... you totally hit the nail on the head!

  2. I couldn't really get to grips with Wuthering Heights properly. I can see why it's a classic - it's so INTENSE - but I found it just too unremittingly bleak. I always thought it was supposed to be romantic, but Cathy and Heathcliff (and their relationship) are, not to put too fine a point on it, insane! I totally understand the depiction as love of a kind of madness but if anyone thinks THAT'S romantic, they're crazy (or they've never had to experience that kind of 'love' in real life and just think it would be ~so amazing and passionate~).

    I have to warn you that Tess of the D'Urbervilles involves lots of terrible things befalling the heroine, but it is an absolutely wonderful, brilliant, beautiful and evocative book - I hope you love it as much as I did.

  3. I think the only thing I remember about this book is creepy dead hands tapping at a window and honestly, I think that might have been from a tv adaptation rather than reading the book because I have NO recollection of most of the plot that you mention! I think I must be one of those dreaded fakers you mention.

  4. I have so often started and re-started Wuthering Heights and never got to the end so I skipped through much of this post and read your comments. I think I really must start and finish it once and for all!

    I too always get the Kate Bush song in my head when I think about it. My childhood dance teacher created the swaying dance that Kate does in the video. It always makes me chuckle to think how similar our dance exam routines were! x

  5. I did this book for A level English Literature for fun after I left school. If I had done it at school I wouldn't have like it at all, and if I had read it on my own, a lot of it would have gone over my head. I did enjoy studying it with a teacher who gave me explanations. I remember a lesson about the imagery of windows ie Heathcliffe looking in through the windows and the eyes being the windows to the soul etc. Its not an easy book to

  6. Wuthering Heights starts of quite hard because it is written in a style that matches the first narrator: Lockwood. I almost put the book down after the 1st page at the age of 17 - I thought screw this, I'm never going to be able to read classics if they're all written this way! When Nelly Dean then takes over it picks up pace because she's more colloquial and one for spinning a story. Personally, I think it is an amazing book. Emily Bronte's only book and of all the Bronte's I think she was the genius but then, I am one for drama. I still vividly remember the last few scenes of Heathcliff and Catherine and the drama and violence of them. I think if you had studied it at school you might have really grown to love it (or loath it). It was my first serious classic and it is my favourite book. I really enjoyed reading your impressions though! xxx

  7. Hmm, I've wanted to read this for a while but I think it's only because of Kate Bush ... and from your description I wonder if I'm best off sticking with her. I knew that Cathy dies, but Total Revelation that there are other characters in the book! How has this happened? EVERYONE must be faking it!

  8. I just came across your great blog. I was pretty sure that I had read wuthering heights but none of this sounds familiar ... Maybe I was too young and have forgotten and will have to go back to it (someday when I have time to read again)

  9. Yep it is garbage. Jane Eyre is fairly readable if you're desperate to try out another Bronte but honestly I think they barely count as literature.

    I've got a fairly low opinion of Thomas Hardy too but he's better.

  10. Yes, I remember being surprised in much the same way when I read this. The writing is beautiful but the storyline is crazy and I didn't come away with that "wow, Cathy and Heathcliff's love was so beautiful" thing everyone else talked about. Definitely prefer Charlotte and Anne Bronte.


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