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Wuthering Heights

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses, see Wuthering Heights (disambiguation).

Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontė's only novel. It was first published in 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 manor on which the story centres.

Now considered a classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights' innovative structure, which has been likened to a series of Matryoshka dolls,[1] met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared.[2] Some critics saw it as "a work of great ability" with "great power", while another described it as "a strange, inartistic story". However, her sister Charlotte propagated reports that the early reviews had been overwhelmingly negative, a rumour which still exists to this day. [3] Though Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre was originally considered the best of the Bronte sisters' works, many subsequent critics of Wuthering Heights argued that its originality and achievement made it the best of the Brontės' works.[4]

Wuthering Heights has given rise to many adaptations, including several films, radio, and television dramatisations, and two musicals (including Heathcliff). It also inspired a hit song by Kate Bush, which subsequently has been covered by a variety of artists.

Plot summary

Brontė's novel tells the tale of Catherine and Heathcliff, their all-encompassing love for one another, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them both. Social tensions prevent their union, leading Heathcliff to shun and abuse society. The plot is given here in detail, as the book's narration is at times non-linear.

The story is narrated by a character named Lockwood, who is renting a house from Heathcliff. The house, Thrushcross Grange, is close to Wuthering Heights.

Much of the action itself is narrated to Lockwood during his illness by the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean. Lockwood's arrival is after much of the story has already happened - but his story is interwoven with Dean's.

Dean's story provides insight into how the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine would have far-reaching repercussions for their families. Heathcliff's passion for Catherine is so dark and sinister that he becomes hellbent on destroying the happiness of her sister-in-law, her daughter and even his own son. This mission of destruction, though fervent during Catherine's lifetime, becomes still more impassioned after her death.

Part One

The plot is complicated, involving many turns of fortune. It begins with Mr. Earnshaw, the original proprietor of Wuthering Heights, bringing back the dark-skinned foundling Heathcliff from Liverpool. Initially, Earnshaw's children - Hindley and Catherine - detest the boy, but over time Heathcliff wins Catherine's heart, to the resentment of Hindley, who sees Heathcliff as an interloper of his father's affections. Later, his father sends Hindley off to college. Catherine and Heathcliff become inseparable.

Upon Earnshaw's death three years later, Hindley comes home from college and surprises everyone by also bringing home a wife, a woman named Frances. He takes over Wuthering Heights, and brutalizes Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Despite this, Heathcliff and Catherine remain fast friends. By means of an accident (a dog bite), Catherine is forced to stay at the Linton family estate, Thrushcross Grange, for some weeks, wherein she matures and grows attached to the refined young Edgar Linton. When she returns to Wuthering Heights, she goes to some trouble to maintain her friendship with both Edgar and Heathcliff, in spite of their having an instantaneous dislike for each other.

A year later, Frances dies soon after the birth of Hindley's child Hareton. The loss leaves Hindley despondent, and he turns to alcohol. Some two years after that, Catherine becomes engaged to Edgar, causing Heathcliff to leave, furious at the fact that he can no longer be with Catherine.

Part Two

After Catherine has been married to Edgar for about half a year, Heathcliff returns to see her. In the interim, he has amassed significant wealth (by means that are not revealed). He has duped Hindley into owing him Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff learns of, and takes advantage of, a crush Edgar's sister Isabella has on him and he seduces and elopes with her, much to Edgar's despair. This places Heathcliff in a position to inherit Thrushcross Grange, as well. After his marriage, Heathcliff's true contempt for Isabella emerges and he shows cruelty to both her and Hareton, the son of his old rival, Hindley.

Back at Thrushcross Grange, Catherine dies in childbirth, giving birth to her and Edgar's child, a girl, also named Catherine. Isabella flees Heathcliff's cruelty a month after, and later gives birth to a boy, Linton. At around the same time, Hindley dies, and Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights. He also takes control of Hindley's son, Hareton, determined to raise the boy with as much neglect as he had suffered at Hindley's hands years earlier. (Hareton, however, will remain loyal to Heathcliff to the end, looking at him as a surrogate father.) Twelve years later, Isabella is dying and sends for Edgar to come retrieve and raise her son. However, Heathcliff finds out about this and takes Linton from Thrushcross Grange back to Wuthering Heights. The boy is sickly and spoiled. Heathcliff forces young Catherine and Linton to marry. Soon after, Edgar Linton, father of young Catherine, dies, followed shortly by Heathcliff's son, Linton. This leaves young Catherine a widow and a virtual prisoner at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff gains complete control of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.

It is at this point in the story, the winter of 1801, that Lockwood arrives. Dean tells him the past thirty or so years of the story during his illness. Lockwood is horrified and departs for London.

Part Three

Young Catherine, at first repulsed by Hareton's roughness, eventually grows tender towards him— just as her mother grew tender towards Heathcliff. In her lonely state of existence at Wuthering Heights, Hareton becomes her only source of happiness.

Only through the union of young Hareton and young Catherine can the pattern of hatred and darkness be broken, and this can only come with Heathcliff's demise at the end of the novel. The difference between young Hareton and young Catherine, and Catherine and Heathcliff is that they are matched in experience and current social status and therefore have more in common than just their love for one another. Furthermore, the text implies that Heathcliff, on seeing their love for one another, no longer cares to pursue his life-long vendetta.

Tormented for years by what he perceives as the elder Catherine's ghost, Heathcliff finally dies, and Catherine and Hareton marry. Heathcliff is buried with Catherine (the elder), and the story concludes with Lockwood visiting the grave, unsure of exactly what to feel.

Supernatural elements

A number of apparently supernatural incidents occur during the novel, although their true nature is always ambiguous. The mystery of Heathcliff's parentage is never solved, and at one point in the novel Nelly Dean entertains the notion that Heathcliff may be some hideous changeling. At the beginning of the novel, Lockwood has a horrible vision of Catherine (the elder) as a child, appearing at the window of her old chamber at Wuthering Heights, begging to be allowed in; not only does Heathcliff, on hearing of this, lend it credence, but when he dies it is noted that the window of his room was left open, raising the possibility that Catherine returned at the moment of his death. After Heathcliff dies, Nelly Dean reports that various superstitious locals have claimed to see Catherine and Heathcliff's ghosts roaming the moors, although in the closing line of the novel Lockwood discounts the idea of "unquiet slumbers for those sleepers in that quiet earth."


Allusions/references to other works

Traditionally, this novel has been seen as a unique piece of work conceived in solitude by a genius confined to the lonesome heath, and as almost detached from the literary movements of the time. However, one may be surprised to learn from the Biographies that besides Charlotte, also Emily (even though she kept up a somewhat monkish behaviour and returned to England sooner than Charlotte did) received some thorough literary training at the Pensionnat Héger in Brussels by imitating and analyzing the styles of classic writers, and also learned German. In this way, she could also read the German Romantics in the original, apart from Lord Byron, who was admired by all three sisters.

The brother-sister relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy (who are brought up together) is reminiscent of the brother-sister-couples in Byron's epics (together with the idea of a shared identity, as expressed in the famous "I am Heathcliff!"), with the role of the Byronic hero quite well-cast. More evidence for a Romantic and Gothic influence can be seen in the supernatural elements mentioned above, but there may still be a multitude of other influences yet uninvestigated, as e.g. the scene of a woebegone Catherine plucking feathers from the sofa-cushion and naming the birds they once belonged to evokes Ophelia handing out her various flowers.

Allusions/references from other works

In Albert Camus' essay "The Rebel", Heathcliff is compared to a leader of the rebel forces. Both are driven by a sort of madness: one by misguided love, the other by oppression. Camus juxtaposes the concept of Heathcliff's reaction to Cathy with the reaction of a disenchanted rebel to the ideal he once held.

Maryse Condé's novel Windward Heights adapted Wuthering Heights to be set in Guadaloupe and Cuba.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes both have poems titled "Wuthering Heights".

James Stoddard's novel The False House contains numerous references to Wuthering Heights.

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels often mention Heathcliff as the most tragic romantic hero.

In the preface of his novel 'Le bleu du ciel' ('the blue of heaven'), the French writer Georges Bataille states that, in his view, Wuthering Heights belongs to the rare works in literature, written from an inner necessity.

The opening line of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'is a reference to Nellie Dean and to the inset narrator used to recount the stories from both novels.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • 1939: Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon as Catherine Linton, Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, David Niven as Edgar Linton, Flora Robson as Ellen Dean, Donald Crisp as Dr. Kenneth, Geraldine Fitzgerald as Isabella Linton and Leo G. Carroll as Joseph Earnshaw. The film was adapted by Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and John Huston. It was directed by William Wyler. The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It did not depict the entire novel, portraying only half.
  • In 1948 BBC Television staged a live 90 minute version of the novel. This was not recorded.
  • 1953 adaptation on BBC Television was scripted by Nigel Kneale, directed by Rudolph Cartier and starred Yvonne Mitchell as Catherine. This version does not survive in the BBC archives.
  • A 1954 (loose) Spanish adaptation by Luis Buńuel, titled Abismos de Pasión.
  • In 1962, BBC Television screened a new production of their 1953 version. This was again produced by Rudolph Cartier and has been preserved in the archives. Kneale's adaptation concentrates on the first half of the novel, removing the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons entirely. Claire Bloom played Catherine and Keith Mitchell was Heathcliff.
  • 1970: Wuthering Heights starring Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff and Anna Calder-Marshall as Catherine (the elder). It does not cover the whole story.
  • 1992: Wuthering Heights starring Juliette Binoche in two roles, Catherine Earnshaw and her daughter and Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff.
  • 1998: adaptation by Neil McKay for London Weekend Television directed by David Skynner and starring Sarah Smart as Catherine and Robert Cavanah as Heathcliff. Also broadcast by PBS television as part of Masterpiece Theater.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 2 episode # 15 featured a sketch "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights".
  • 2003: Wuthering Heights for MTV. It starred Erika Christensen, Mike Vogel, and Christopher Masterson.

New versions

As of 2006, a new film adaptation is in development, with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp presently attached to star. M. Night Shyamalan was once offered the project to direct, but he turned it down to work on The Village, which he later revealed to be inspired partly by the novel.[1]

ITV has commissioned a new remake, to be adapted by Blackpool writer Peter Bowker. The three-hour Bronte is expected to be broadcast in early 2008.[2]

See also

  • Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, is supposedly the model for the Earnshaw home.
  • A feud centred around Walterclough Hall is said to have been the inspiration for the story.
  • Bernard Herrmann wrote an opera based on the novel in 1951.
    • The libretto was by Lucille Fletcher, and it was first performed in London in 1966, with the composer conducting the Pro Arte Orchestra. It featured the soprano Morag Beaton in the role of Cathy, and the baritone Donald Bell as Heathcliff. It was subsequently recorded on Unicorn-Kanchana records.
  • Carlisle Floyd also wrote an opera based on the novel in 1958.
  • The second 1976 album of Genesis, Wind & Wuthering was also largely inspired by the novel.
  • The novel Glennkill by German writer Leonie Swann, published in 2005, is in some way centered around Emily Bronte's novel, and is perhaps the main reason why said novel is set in Ireland. The book, as we discover in the last pages, is being read to the sheep by the shepherd's daughter, and in a strange and dreamy way helps the main character of the novel, a sheep-detective called Miss Maple, to guess the identity of the murderer.
  • "Wuthering Heights" is a song by Kate Bush, which appears on her 1978 debut album, The Kick Inside, and was also released as her debut single. It has been repeatedly covered by other artists, including Pat Benatar, on her 1980 album Crimes of Passion, the Brazilian power metal band Angra, on their 1993 album "Angels Cry", and Hayley Westenra, on her 2003 album Pure (Hayley Westenra album). The Puppini Sisters have released a swing version of the Kate Bush song, as have the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain.
  • The title and cover art of the 1976 album "Wind & Wuthering" by the British progressive rock group Genesis were inspired by the novel. It also includes two instrumental pieces titled "Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers..." and "...In That Quiet Earth", respectively, which are the last words in the novel.
  • "Wuthering Heights" is a Danish heavy metal band.
  • Wuthering Heights has been made into a musical by Bernard J. Taylor. The 1992 concept recording stars Lesley Garrett and Dave Willetts.
  • Song writer Michael Penn makes reference to Heathcliff in his song "No Myth".
  • The Wuthering Heights roleplay game is a role-playing game based on the French "René le Jeu de Rōle Romantique" by Philippe Tromeur. It is a parody of the original story, free for download here
  • Song Cycle version of the novel using Emily Brontė poems as libretto.
  • In 2003, Japanese singer-songwriter Chihiro Onitsuka penned and released a b-side track on her maxi-single "Beautiful Fighter," which was entitled "嵐ヶ丘," a name taken from the Japanese translation of the title Wuthering Heights.
  • In a scene of Cold Mountain, Ada Monroe is reading to Ruby Thewes an excerpt of Wuthering Heights.
  • In 2005, Japanese violinist Kawai Ikuko composed an instrumental piece of the same namesake. Its slightly more elaborate variation includes the subtitle, "Dear Heathcliff."
  • Egyptian television did a serialized version in the early 70's.

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Wuthering Heights
  • Wuthering Heights: A Study Guide
  • Wuthering Heights, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  • Wuthering Heights – complete book in HTML one page for each chapter.
  • Bronte Sisters Links: the biggest online link-database regarding the Bronte Sisters, their lives and works
  • News from the Brontė Parsonage Museum, Haworth, Yorkshire
  • News and information about the Brontės using a blog format.
  • Brontėana: Brontė Studies Weblog


  1. ^ Bellamy, Alison (20 January 2006). Depp and Jolie to play Heathcliff and Cathy in Yorkshire. Leedstoday. Retrieved on January 27, 2006.
  2. ^ Oatts, Joanne (November 13 2006). Mammoth brings Cathy home to ITV. DigitalSpy. Retrieved on November 24, 2006.
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