I was never a big fan of classics. Too much hidden meaning, not enough plot, in my opinion. Despite this, I begrudgingly enjoyed reads of both Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, so I thought I’d give Wuthering Heights a try.
If you don’t know the plot, Wuthering Heights describes the events of two, isolated houses – Thrushcross Grange, and the eponymous ‘Wuthering Heights’. At the beginning of the novel, two siblings, Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw, are joined by an adopted homeless boy called Liverpool, named Heathcliff. This sets off a chain of events both for them, and the residents of Thrushcross Grange, Isabella and Edgar Linton.
Throughout their childhood years Heathcliff and Catherine become inseparable friends, while Hindley becomes Heathcliff’s childhood bully, regularly attacking and tormenting him. Once the Earnshaws’ father dies, the torments and beatings become worse, as Heathcliff is treated as less than a servant to the family, although his friendship with Catherine remains strong. When Catherine, by this point Heathcliff’s secret love, agrees to marry Edgar Linton, despite having feelings for Heathcliff too, he angrily departs, only to return years later, wealthy and hungry for revenge.
Wuthering Heights surprised me in the end. It’s not about to become my favourite book, but it did have an enthralling plot that had me up until the early hours of the morning, glued to it’s weathered pages and size five print, oddly important quotes messily underlined in coloured ink.
It was a very difficult book to get into – the writing is very old, with English clearly changed a lot since this book was written. For one thing, that my slightly childish humour found hilarious, the word ‘ejaculated’ used to mean something similar to ‘exclaimed’. This resulted in a lot of mid-conversation ejaculation; not your everyday book.
Many of the words themselves were also unfamiliar. Although my copy had translations for words at the end in a glossary, flicking back and forth makes for difficult reading. Instead, I vaguely understood the plotline from the tone of the novel and the words that made sense to me, meaning I got a good grasp of what was going on, without having to understand every sentence.
Having said that I missed a lot of crucial parts – in fact, and spoiler alert, I didn’t know Catherine Linton was pregnant until the baby was actually born! I completely gave up on understanding what Joseph was saying. With lines like “There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’ll not oppen ‘t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins till neeght”, it is virtually impossible, but I still had a vague idea of what was going on.
The first few chapters are very frustrating because of a deliberately confusing setting – the narrator, Mr Lockwood, enters Wuthering Heights and meets the main characters in the story, long before the backstory of the characters is told. Usually this would make me more curious to read the rest of the book and find out how the characters got to that stage of their lives, but in this case, combined with language that I was unaccustomed to, it was just annoying.
However once we get to hear the story of Nelly, Mr Lockwood’s housekeeper who previously worked at Wuthering Heights, I got really engrossed. None of the characters are very likable. Throughout the entire novel Mr Heathcliff is described as inhuman, and the reader is horrified as he progressively becomes more twisted, watching him ruin the lives of those around him.
Given Heathcliff’s sinister character, you would think it easy to feel sorry for the characters’ lives he is ruining, but that is most impossible. Most of the characters behave awfully – they are manipulative and sinister themselves, each using everyone else for their own means.
If anything, however, these complex, depraved characters earn the book its legendary status. The ending makes it worth the read – the story rounds itself off nicely, fixing the broken bond between the Earnshaws and Lintons to restore the families once more. Although the past can’t be undone, there’s hope for a future, with love and happiness returning to both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
The majority of the novel is narrated by Nelly Dean, and her narratives are what I enjoyed most. She shares her own opinions on the events as she describes them and is, on the whole, a relatable character. Although she doesn’t reveal anything about her personal life, her character comes across pretty well as she tells the story – her mistakes humanise her, with her playing a small role in the awful events that occurs, but mostly she tries her best to provide counsel and offer good advice. It’s clear she cares a lot for the various children she looked after, particularly Catherine and Edgar’s daughter. Through her narrative the reader can sympathise with the events of the novel and her happiness at the end, after being so hopeless in previous chapters.
I would recommend Wuthering Heights to anyone who has the patience to read past the older dialect and understand the story that is unfolding. It’s not an easy read, but the plot was gripping, and Emily Brontë doesn’t quite abandon her characters to their hopeless situations in the end.
Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Brontë, first published 1847.