Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

“1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”

Read-along posts:  Chapters 1-9 / Chapters 10-17 / Chapters 18-26 / Chapters 27-34

I didn’t expect to love this book.  I had been avoiding it for years with just a vague feeling that it wouldn’t live up to expectations.  Then Maggie came along with her January Read-Along and I knew it was the impetus I needed to read it.  Honestly, I am glad I did read it but it turned out pretty much as I expected.  It’s certainly not a terrible book, far from it …… it has high drama, passion, tension, shock and best of all, it is very well-written.  Yet on the other hand, it is romanticized and highly sentimental with dialogue such as:

“Oh!” he sobbed, “I cannot bear it!  Catherine, Catherine, I’m a traitor, too and I dare not tell you!  But leave me and I shall be killed!  Dear Catherine, my life is in your hands; and you have said you loved me — and if you did, it wouldn’t harm you.  You’ll not go, then?  kind, sweet, good Catherine!  And perhaps you will consent —- and he’ll let me die with you!”


Family Tree
(source Wikipedia)

The plot is highly suspect with coincidence after coincidence, happenings such as Nelly giving in to Catherine or Heathcliff’s whims, time after time, when there is really no reason to, and in spite of the fact she is often worried about losing her position if she does.  Yet I think its worst defect is the insufficient human depth in many of the characters, as they often acted as if they were automatons with emotional buttons that get pushed whenever the authoress needed that particular emotion to drive the plot along.  Catherine swings wildly from willfulness to thoughtfulness, from vicious teasing, to caring empathy, traits that do not meld together to form a believable character.  Many of the characters suffer the same fate.

Emily Brontë was one of the three Brontë sisters who wrote under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  Wuthering Heights was her only novel, published a year before her death of tuberculosis at the age of thirty.  She would never learn of its success.


Emily Brontë
by Bramwell Brontë
source Wikipedia

While Wuthering Heights is certainly compelling and captures the reader’s attention, it does so by using devices such as twisted emotion, shocking circumstances and profoundly dramatized situations, techniques not worthy of a well-composed classic.  The writing is excellent yet the content reflects an immaturity in construction, perhaps the innocence of a sheltered young girl relating what is imagined about life without actually having the experience of living it.  Relatively juvenile plot devices were employed with perhaps a charming innocence.  Heated emotions do not necessarily mean an increase in love; and claims of sentiment which lack corresponding action are meaningless.  Is it an exciting read?  Absolutely!  Do you want to know what happens next?  Of course.  But to compare this novel to Jane Eyre is like comparing a diamond to crudely cut glass.  They are not in the same sphere.


The climb to Top Withens, thought
to have inspired the Earnshaw home
in Wuthering Heights
(source Wikipedia)

Now before I am too hard on poor Emily, I think her sister had brilliant insight into her sibling and the novel’s birth.

“I am bound to avow that she had scarcely more practical knowledge of the peasantry amongst whom she lived, than a nun has of the country people who sometimes pass her convent gates.  My sister’s disposition  was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home.  Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced.  And yet she knew them; knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but with them she barely exchanged a word.  Hence it ensued that what her mind had gathered of the real concerning them, was too exclusively confined to those tragic and terrible traits of which, in listening to the secret annals of every rude vicinage, the memory is sometimes compelled to receive the impress.  Her imagination, which was a spirit more sombre than sunny, more powerful than sportive, found in such traits material whence it wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like Catherine.  Having formed these beings, she did not know what she had done.  If the auditor of her work, when read in manuscript, shuddered under the grinding influence of natures so relentless and implacable, of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sheep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë) would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation.  Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree; loftier, straighter, wider-spreading, and its matured fruit would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience along could work: to the influence of other intellects, it was not amenable.”

Charlotte Brontë says it so well.  Wuthering Heights is a well-written novel, but the components are but mere twigs and undeveloped buds, showing promise of growth, but not yet ready to burst into the splendour of full form.  And sadly, they never would.



Wuthering Heights Read-Along Week #4

Read-Along hosted by Maggie at An American in France

Chapters 27 – 34 (end)

Such a few chapters but chock full of drama, intensity and characters acting with wild impracticality.  It is now certain that Edgar Linton will die, the question is only when.  Catherine, accompanied by Ellen/Nelly, meets Linton Heathcliff.  When his father appears, Linton combines temper tantrums and manipulative coersion by appealing to his sickly state, to convince her to return with him to Wuthering Heights.  Upon their arrival, Heathcliff imprisons Catherine and Nelly, physically abusing Catherine when she crosses him.  Curiously, although Nelly is liberated after five days, through various coincidences her applications of assistance for Catherine do not work and Catherine must escape herself to reach her father’s bedside minutes before his death.  Yet the brief freedom means nothing, as Heathcliff eventually forces her to marry Linton, so his heir gets both Wuthering Heights and the Grange, avenging himself finally on both the Earnshaws and Lintons.  Linton is a smaller, yet weaker copy of his father and while he does not perpetrate violence upon Catherine because he is hampered by his health, he relates the cruel treatment he would subject her to if he was able.  Soon afer, Linton succumbs to his weak health.  Time passes and Catherine, who has throughout the whole novel despised, taunted and depricated Hareton, decides to be nice to him.  He returns her advances and they “fall in love”, much to the annoyance of Heathcliff who has other problems churning his mind.  It appears Cathy is haunting him; he feels her presence along with a feeling of elation and, for once is distracted from his machinations, neither eating nor sleeping until he dies and is buried, according to his wishes, near Cathy and Edgar Linton.  Hareton and Catherine marry and, at the end of the book, decide to live at Thrushcross Grange.

Yorkshire Dales
photo courtesy of Greg Neate
source Flickr

It was a real struggle to finish this novel.  Thus far, it had been reasonably interesting, if not well-constructed, but for the last quarter of the read, the wild flights of improbable drama often made me want to close the book and go on to something else.  I could not find one redeeming feature in Heathcliff, his nature entirely vicious, base and twisted.  His love for Cathy was more an obsession, his desires at times blinding him to both her health and well-being, his actions done with complete disregard for future consequences.  Yet overall, I am glad that I read this novel.  Emily Brontë writes well and there are hints that if she had lived, her writing would have matured, honed by practice and life’s experiences.

Read-along posts:  Chapters 1-9 / Chapters 10-17 / Chapters 18-26 / Chapters 27-34 / FINAL REVIEW

Many thanks to Maggie who hosted this wonderful challenge!

Wuthering Heights Read-Along Week #3

Read-Along hosted by Maggie at An American in France

Chapters 18 – 26

Twelve years pass, for housekeeper Ellen (Nelly), a delightful time as, with Cathy’s death, the passionate drama has disappeared and she is only left to look after Catherine, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Cathy.  Within the realm of Thrushcross Grange, Catherine grows up very sheltered and protected.  In spite of being a caring and gregarious child, she exhibits her mother’s reckless willfulness and waits until her father’s has left to visit his dying sister, Isabella before sneaking away from home.  Inadvertently, she finds herself at Wuthering Heights where she meets Hareton, her cousin, the son of Cathy’s brother Hindley.  Shocked at this display of headstrong behaviour, Ellen drags Catherine home, yet imbedded in Catherine’s head is the idea of returning to meet the uncle whom she has never met.  Edgar returns home after Isabella’s funeral, bringing her boy, Linton, whom Catherine pets and cosets, yet Heathcliff will not allow him to remain and, reluctantly Edgar instructs Ellen to deliver the sickly boy to Wuthering Heights.  Years later Catherine and Ellen encounter Heathcliff on a walk and he encourages them to visit.  Catherine and young Linton get along well, in spite of his peevish nature, yet it is apparent that Heathcliff’s desire is for them to marry so his heir will become heir to Thrushcross Grange.   There is foreshadowing as to the deaths of both Edgar Linton and his nephew Linton.

Yorkshire Autumn
Photo courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger
(source Flickr) Creative Commons License

Did this novel get darker during these chapters or does the black, wicked oppressiveness of Heathcliff’s corruption cast a shroud over the whole novel, leaving nothing but negative obscurity?  Will Catherine and Linton marry or will he even survive that long?  We pretty much know what will physically happen to her after her father’s death, but how will her new circumstances affect her character?  Yet the question that is screaming at me is:  Is there any hope in this novel?  Everyone, from the first character to the last, all seem pawns in Heathcliff’s lust for vengeance and what is most annoying is that everyone conveniently seems to play into his hands.  He drains the life from anyone he comes into contact with, yet with receiving life, only seems to move further from it.  I can’t imagine how this is going to end ……. well, I can imagine it, but I don’t want to think about it.

Read-along posts:  Chapters 1-9 / Chapters 10-17 / Chapters 18-26 / Chapters 27-34 / FINAL REVIEW


Wuthering Heights Read-Along Week #2

Read-Along hosted by Maggie at An American in France

Chapters 10 – 17

The tension builds, a number of occurrences adding to the heightened drama.  Heathcliff returns after three years, apparently richer although he will not reveal how his fortunes changed.  On the outside he appears more worldly and dapper, as though he can now stand among equals, yet we can glean from certain clues that his character may even be darker and more perverted than before.

Catherine has a break-down due to a conflict between her husband, Edgar and Heathcliff.  I had a hard time reconciling her stubborn willfullness to her fragile state of health and I really wasn’t sure what precipitated her collapse.  At one time she screams at both men that neither would listen to her and that nobody exhibited the proper concern for her, so perhaps it was simply spleen that she was not getting her own way.  In any case, her condition grows serious and the outcome is her death.  At times she appears to want it, to relish the thought, because of the effect it will have on other people.

Yorkshire View
Photo courtesy of Paul Stevenson (sourced Flickr)
Creative Commons License

Heathcliff himself is an enigma.  I had expected him to take a darker road, but thought that his descent would still be held in tension with his love and/or devotion to Catherine, however his behaviour belies an almost severing of his soul from humanity.  His seduction of Edgar’s sister, Isabella, is despicable, his intent only to torture and humiliate her, an act of deliberate vengeance upon Edgar.  His wild carousing with Hindley and dark prowling about, only serve to underline the depravity of his character.  His concern for Catherine’s health is evident, but he does not or refuses to exhibit any conception of how his actions influence her for good or ill.  I was actually quite perplexed by Brontë’s sketching of his character.

Where is this book going?  We have finished slightly more than half of it and Catherine is dead, so I have to question whether the main theme of the novel is enduring love, which you often hear people speak of when referring to Wuthering Heights.  To be honest, I’m finding Heathcliff quite repellent; I cannot find one glimpse of a redeeming feature or even something to draw from him that is a teachable moment.  Hmmm ……

Well, I shall keep reading …….

Wuthering Heights Read-Along Week #1

Wuthering Heights is one of the few Brönte novels that I have not read and, in spite of previously feeling somewhat ambivalent towards this book, I’m looking forward to it for this read-along hosted by Maggie at An American in France blog.

Chapters 1 – 9

Wuthering Heights begins in media res, with Mr. Lockwood visiting his landlord, Heathcliff at his home, Wuthering Heights.  While initially curious about Heathcliff’s strange means of living and intrigued by his caustic manner, his second visit arouses a much altered response.  Treated to disrespectful treatment by the servants, occupants and master alike, he is dismayed to find himself an overnight guest courtesy of a snowstorm.  While in his room that night, Lockwood has a horrifying dream that ends with a young girl named Catherine Linton (yet he has also seen her name scratched on the windowsill as Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Heathcliff) grasping his hand through the window and begging to be let in.  His cry summons Heathcliff who, pale as death, agrees with Lockwood’s decision to leave early and as Lockwood leaves the room, Heathcliff calls out in despair to his “Cathy”.  Later Lockwood is told the story of the Earnshaw family: how Heathcliff was brought home by Master Earnshaw from the streets of Liverpool and brought up within the family, although both the wife and brother hated his presence, while Catherine, the daughter, eventually chose him for a constant companion.  We learn of Heathcliff’s dark, silent suffering that perhaps conceals more than we have yet seen, and of Catherine’s willful, selfish spirit, each negative quality of these characters, nurtured by the lonely, loveless environment in which they live, and the harsh or indifferent treatment they receive from the father, mother and especially Hindley, Catherine’s brother, who becomes their guardian after the parents’ deaths.  At the end of chapter 9, Catherine has agreed to marry Edgar Linton, a son of a respectable family, yet she vows a lifelong faithfulness to Heathcliff and a desire to enhance his life by her new respectable and influential position.  Given Heathcliff’s sullen pride, dark brooding tempers and possessive inclinations towards her, one wonders how she can justify her decision using such an untenable explanation.

Photo courtesy of Steve Calcott (source Flickr)
Creative Commons License

What connects the reader to the two main characters of the novel?  So far neither have engaged my admiration but I think we can all feel a silent sympathy for their plight.  Their sheltered lives, amongst people who failed to nurture even a sentiment of human feeling in either character, evoke a tentative compassion, as their choices seem to have already been made for them, instead of being products of stable, empathetic temperments.  The tension at the end of the chapter is palpable, as a shocking car wreck that we cannot look away from, the foreshadowing of intensity of the coming situation evident.

And so we continue ………… can Catherine convince Heathcliff of the merits of her marriage?  Will she be happy?  Or will Heathcliff instead chose a destructive path that will affect more people than just himself?  ………  

Read-along posts:  Chapters 1-9 / Chapters 10-17 / Chapters 18-26 / Chapters 27-34 / FINAL REVIEW