Wuthering Heights is the only novel by Emily Brontë. Written between December 1845 to July 1846, it was initially rejected for publication until first being published in December 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, and a posthumous second edition was edited by her sister Charlotte.
The name of the novel comes from the Yorkshire manor on the moors on which the story centres (as an adjective; wuthering is a Yorkshire word referring to turbulent weather). The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.
Now considered a classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared, mainly because of the narrative's stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty. Although Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was generally considered the best of the Brontë sisters' works during most of the nineteenth century, many subsequent critics of Wuthering Heights argued that it was a superior achievement. Wuthering Heightshas also given rise to many adaptations and inspired works, including films, radio, television dramatisations, a musical by Bernard J. Taylor, a ballet, three operas (respectively by Bernard Herrmann, Carlisle Floyd, and Frédéric Chaslin), a role-playing game, and a song by Kate Bush.
Prologue (chapters 1 to 3): Mr. Lockwood, a rich man from the south, has rented Thrushcross Grange in the north of England for peace and recuperation. Soon after his arrival, he visits his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff, who lives in the remote moorland farmhouse called "Wuthering Heights". He finds the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights to be a strange group: Mr. Heathcliff appears a gentleman but his mannerisms suggest otherwise; a reserved mistress of the house is in her mid teens; and a young man appears to be one of the family, although he dresses and talks like a servant.
Being snowed in, Mr. Lockwood stays the night and is shown to an unused chamber, where he finds books and graffiti from a former inhabitant of the farmhouse named Catherine. When he falls asleep, he has a nightmare in which he sees Catherine as a ghost trying to enter through the window. He wakes and is unable to return to sleep. As soon as the sun rises, he is escorted back to Thrushcross Grange by Heathcliff. There, he asks his housekeeper, Ellen Dean, to tell him the story of the family from the Heights.
The Childhood of Heathcliff (chapters 4 to 17): Thirty years prior, the Earnshaw family lives at Wuthering Heights. The children of the family are the teenaged Hindley and his younger sister, Catherine. Mr. Earnshaw travels toLiverpool, where he finds a homeless gypsy boy whom he decides to adopt, naming him "Heathcliff". Hindley finds himself robbed of his father's affections and becomes bitterly jealous of Heathcliff. However, Catherine grows very attached to him. Soon, the two children spend hours on the moors together and hate every moment apart.
Because of the domestic discord caused by Hindley and Heathcliff's sibling rivalry, Hindley is eventually sent to college. However, he marries a woman named Frances and returns three years later, after Mr. Earnshaw dies. He becomes master of Wuthering Heights, and forces Heathcliff to become a servant instead of a member of the family.
Several months after Hindley's return, Heathcliff and Catherine travel to Thrushcross Grange to spy on the Linton family. However, they are spotted and try to escape. Catherine, having been caught by a dog, is brought inside the Grange to have injuries tended to while Heathcliff is sent home. Catherine eventually returns to Wuthering Heights as a changed woman, looking and acting as a lady. She laughs at Heathcliff's unkempt appearance. When the Lintons visit the next day, Heathcliff dresses up to impress her. It fails when Edgar, one of the Linton children, argues with him. Heathcliff is locked in the attic, where Catherine later tries to comfort him. He swears vengeance on Hindley.
In the summer of the next year, Frances gives birth to a son, Hareton, but she dies before the year is out. This leads Hindley to descend into a life of drunkenness and waste.
Two years later and Catherine has become close friends with Edgar, growing more distant from Heathcliff. One day in August, while Hindley is absent, Edgar comes to visit Catherine. She has an argument with Ellen, which then spreads to Edgar who tries to leave. Catherine stops him and, before long, they declare themselves lovers.
Later, Catherine talks with Ellen, explaining that Edgar had asked her to marry him and she had accepted. She says that she does not really love Edgar but Heathcliff. Unfortunately she could never marry Heathcliff because of his lack of status and education. She therefore plans to marry Edgar and use that position to help raise Heathcliff's standing. Unfortunately, Heathcliff had overheard the first part about not being able to marry him and runs away, disappearing without a trace. After three years, Edgar and Catherine are married.
Six months after the marriage, Heathcliff returns as a gentleman, having grown stronger and richer during his absence. Catherine is delighted to see him although Edgar is not so keen. Edgar's sister, Isabella, now eighteen, falls in love with Heathcliff, seeing him as a romantic hero. He despises her but encourages the infatuation, seeing it as a chance for revenge on Edgar. When he embraces Isabella one day at the Grange, there is an argument with Edgar which causes Catherine to lock herself in her room and fall ill.
Heathcliff has been staying at the Heights, gambling with Hindley and teaching Hareton bad habits. Hindley is gradually losing his wealth, mortgaging the farmhouse to Heathcliff to repay his debts.
While Catherine is ill, Heathcliff elopes with Isabella, causing Edgar to disown his sister. The fugitives marry and return two months later to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff hears that Catherine is ill and arranges with Ellen to visit her in secret. In the early hours of the day after their meeting, Catherine gives birth to her daughter, Cathy, and then dies.
The day after Catherine's funeral, Isabella flees Heathcliff and escapes to the south of England where she eventually gives birth to Linton, Heathcliff's son. Hindley dies six months after Catherine. Heathcliff finds himself the master of Wuthering Heights and the guardian of Hareton.
Bronte Society plaque at Top Withens
The Maturity of Heathcliff (chapters 18 to 31) Twelve years later, Cathy has grown into a beautiful, high-spirited girl who has rarely passed outside the borders of the Grange. Edgar hears that Isabella is dying and leaves to pick up her son with the intention of adopting him. While he is gone, Cathy meets Hareton on the moors and learns of her cousin and Wuthering Heights' existence.
Edgar returns with Linton who is a weak and sickly boy. Although Cathy is attracted to him, Heathcliff wants his son with him and insists on having him taken to the Heights.
Three years later, Ellen and Cathy are on the moors when they meet Heathcliff who takes them to Wuthering Heights to see Linton and Hareton. His plans are for Linton and Cathy to marry so that he will inherit Thrushcross Grange. Cathy and Linton begin a secret friendship.
In August of the next year, while Edgar is very ill, Ellen and Cathy visit Wuthering Heights and are held captive by Heathcliff who wants to marry his son to Cathy and, at the same time, prevent her from returning to her father before he dies. After five days, Ellen is released and Cathy escapes with Linton's help just in time to see her father before he dies.
With Heathcliff now the master of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, Cathy has no choice but to leave Ellen and to go and live with Heathcliff and Hareton. Linton dies soon afterwards and, although Hareton tries to be kind to her, she retreats into herself. This is the point of the story at which Lockwood arrives.
After being ill with a cold for some time, Lockwood decides that he has had enough of the moors and travels to Wuthering Heights to inform Heathcliff that he is returning to the south.
Epilogue (chapters 32 to 34) In September, eight months after leaving, Lockwood finds himself back in the area and decides to stay at Thrushcross Grange (since his tenancy is still valid until October). He finds that Ellen is now living at Wuthering Heights. He makes his way there and she fills in the rest of the story.
Ellen had moved to the Heights soon after Lockwood left to replace the housekeeper who had departed. In March, Hareton had an accident and has been confined to the farmhouse. During this time, a friendship developed between Cathy and Hareton. This continues into April when Heathcliff begins to act very strangely, seeing visions of Catherine. After not eating for four days, he is found dead in his room. He is buried next to Catherine. Lockwood visits their graves.
Lockwood departs but, before he leaves, he hears that Hareton and Cathy plan to marry on New Year's Day.
- Heathcliff: Found, and presumably orphaned, on the streets of Liverpool, he is taken to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw and reluctantly cared for by the rest of the family. He and Catherine later grow close, and their love becomes the central theme of the first volume; his revenge and its consequences are the main theme of the second volume. Heathcliff is typically considered a Byronic hero, but critics have found his character, with a capacity for self-invention, to be profoundly difficult to assess. His position in society, without status (Heathcliff serves as both his given name and surname), is often the subject of Marxist criticism.
- Catherine Earnshaw: First introduced in Lockwood's discovery of her diary and etchings, Catherine's life is almost entirely detailed in the first volume. She seemingly suffers from a crisis of identity, unable to choose between nature and culture (and, by extension, Heathcliff and Edgar). Her decision to marry Edgar Linton over Heathcliff has been seen as a surrender to culture, and has implications for all the characters of Wuthering Heights. The character of Catherine has been analysed by many forms of literary criticism, including: psychoanalytic and feminist.
- Edgar Linton: Introduced as a child of the Linton family, who resides at Thrushcross Grange, Edgar's life and mannerisms are immediately contrasted with those of Heathcliff and Catherine, and indeed the former dislikes him. Yet, owing much to his status, Catherine marries him and not Heathcliff. This decision, and the differences between Edgar and Heathcliff, have been read into by feminist criticisms.
- Ellen (Nelly) Dean: The second and primary narrator of the novel, Nelly has been a servant of each generation of both the Earnshaw and Linton families. She is presented as a character who straddles the idea of a 'culture versus nature' divide in the novel: she is a local of the area and a servant, and has experienced life at Wuthering Heights. However, she is also an educated woman and has lived at Thrushcross Grange. This idea is represented in her having two names, Ellen—her given name and used to show respect, and Nelly—used by her familiars. Whether Nelly is an unbiased narrator and how far her actions, as an apparent bystander, affect the other characters are two points of her character discussed by critics.
- Isabella Linton: Introduced as part of the Linton family, Isabella is only ever shown in relation to other characters. She views Heathcliff as a romantic hero, despite Catherine's warning her against such a view, and becomes an unwitting participant in his plot for revenge. After being married to Heathcliff and abused at Wuthering Heights, she escapes to London and gives birth to Linton. Such abusive treatment has led many, especially feminist critics, to consider Isabella the true/conventional 'tragic romantic' figure of Wuthering Heights.
- Hindley Earnshaw: Catherine's brother who marries Frances, an unknown woman to the family, and only reveals this when Mr. Earnshaw dies. He spirals into destructive behaviour after her death and ruins the Earnshaw family with his drinking and gambling.
- Hareton Earnshaw: The son of Hindley and Frances, initially raised by Nelly but passed over to in effect Joseph and Heathcliff. The former works to instill a sense of pride in Earnshaw heritage, even though Hareton has no right to the property associated with it. The latter strives to teach him all sorts of vulgarities as a way of avenging himself on Hareton's father, Hindley. Hareton speaks with a similar accent to Joseph and works as a servant in Wuthering Heights, unaware of his true rights. His appearance regularly reminds Heathcliff of Catherine.
- Cathy Linton: The daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton, she is a spirited girl, though unaware of her parents' history. Edgar is very protective of her and as a result she is constantly looking beyond the confines of the Grange.
- Linton Heathcliff: The son of Heathcliff and Isabella, he is a very weak child and his character resembles Heathcliff's, though without its only redeeming feature: love. He marries Cathy Linton, but only under the direction of his father, whom he discovers only as he enters his teens.
- Joseph: A servant at Wuthering Heights who is a devout Christian. He speaks with a very thick Yorkshire accent.
- Lockwood: The narrator of the book, he comes to rent Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff to escape society but finally decides he prefers company rather than ending up as Heathcliff.
- Frances: A generally amiable character, her marriage to Hindley is unrevealed until Mr Earnshaw dies.
- Kenneth: A doctor in the nearby village of Gimmerton.
- Zillah: A servant to Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights in the time after Catherine's death.
- black line: son or daughter of; if dotted it means adoption
- red line: wedding; if double it means second wedding
- pink line: love
- blue line: affection
- green line: hate
- light yellow area: active heroes
- violet area: external observers
1500 The stone above the front door of Wuthering Heights, bearing the name of Hareton Earnshaw, is inscribed, possibly to mark the completion of the house.
1757 Hindley Earnshaw born (summer); Nelly Dean born
Edgar Linton born
1765 Catherine Earnshaw born (summer); Isabella Linton born (late 1765)
1771 Heathcliff brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr Earnshaw (late summer)
1773 Mrs Earnshaw dies (spring)
1774 Hindley sent off to college
1777 Hindley marries Frances; Mr Earnshaw dies and Hindley comes back (October); Heathcliff and Catherine visit Thrushcross Grange for the first time; Catherine remains behind (November), and then returns to Wuthering Heights (Christmas Eve)
1778 Hareton born (June); Frances dies
1780 Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering Heights; Mr and Mrs Linton both die
1783 Catherine has married Edgar (March); Heathcliff comes back (September)
1784 Heathcliff marries Isabella (February); Catherine dies and Cathy born (20 March); Hindley dies; Linton born (September)
1797 Isabella dies; Cathy visits Wuthering Heights and meets Hareton; Linton brought to Thrushcross Grange and then taken to Wuthering Heights
1800 Cathy meets Heathcliff and sees Linton again (20 March)
1801 Cathy and Linton are married (August); Edgar dies (August); Linton dies (September); Mr Lockwood goes to Thrushcross Grange and visits Wuthering Heights, beginning his narrative
1802 Mr Lockwood goes back to London (January); Heathcliff dies (April); Mr Lockwood comes back to Thrushcross Grange (September)
1803 Cathy plans to marry Hareton (1 January)
There are several theories as to which building was the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. One is Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, that is located in an isolated area near the Haworth Parsonage. Yet, its structure does not match that of the farmhouse described in the novel, and is therefore considered less likely to be the model. Top Withens was first suggested as the model for the fictitious farmhouse by Ellen Nussey, a friend of Charlotte Brontë's, to Edward Morison Wimperis, a commissioned artist for the Brontë sisters' novels in 1872.
The second option is the now demolished High Sunderland Hall, near Halifax, West Yorkshire. This Gothic edifice is located near Law Hill, and was where Emily worked briefly as a governess in 1838. While very grand for the farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, the hall had grotesque embellishments of griffins and misshapen nude men similar to those described by Lockwood of Wuthering Heights in chapter one of the novel:
"Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date '1500'".
The inspiration for Thrushcross Grange has been traditionally connected to Ponden Hall, near Haworth, although very small. More likely is Shibden Hall, near Halifax.
Early reviews of Wuthering Heights were mixed in their assessment. Whilst most critics recognised the power and imagination of the novel, many found the story unlikeable and ambiguous.[note 1] Released in 1847, at a time when the background of the author was deemed to have an important impact on the story itself, many critics were also intrigued by the authorship of the novels.[note 2] H. F. Chorley of the Athenaeum said that it was a "disagreeable story" and that the 'Bells' (Brontës) "seem to affect painful and exceptional subjects". The Atlas review called it a "strange, inartistic story", but commented that every chapter seems to contain a "sort of rugged power". It supported the second point made in the Athenaeum, suggesting that the general effect of the novel was "inexpressibly painful", but adding that all of its subjects were either "utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible".
The Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper critique was more positive, emphasizing the "great power" of the novel and its provocative qualities; it said that it was a "strange sort of book—baffling all regular criticism" and that "[it is] impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it". Although the Examiner agreed on the strangeness, it saw the book as "wild, confused; disjointed and improbable". The Britannia review mirrored those comments made on the unpleasant characters, arguing that it would have been a "far better romance" if the characters were not "nearly as violent and destructive as [Heathcliff]". The unidentified review was less critical, considering it a "work of great ability" and that "it is not every day that so good a novel makes its appearance".