Wuthering Heights


I noticed a discussion on AW regarding whether Wuthering Heights was a love story or not.   This prompted me to repost this book review I wrote last summer:

It’s been called the most passionately written novel in the English language.  The love between the foundling Heathcliffe and his foster father’s daughter, Catherine, turns to hate when she forsakes him (and herself) to marry for money.

Many people open this novel with false expectations.  This usually comes from having viewed the classic film version starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.  As gorgeous as that film is- it is not the book.  Not only  is the second half of the story missing-  the characters and themes are  also greatly watered down.

In the film, Heathcliffe is the tragic hero- heartbroken and brooding over the woman who left him.  It never goes into the horrific emotional and physical abuse he unleashes onto the second generation.   Catherine is  portrayed as a spoiled, narcisstic child.   The film doesn’t dare go deeper into her troubled psyche which causes her to will her own death.

Emily Bronte dared.

Charlotte Bronte said, ”liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.”

Indeed, much of Emily’s poetry deals with personal freedom.

One of her famous lines from a poem is:

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

it vexes me to choose another guide.”

Catherine commits suicide the moment she allows societal opinions to dictate how she should live.  It takes her body some years more to follow.

The last lines of Emily’s poem, Light up thy Halls- seems a forebearer to Heathcliffe’s grief and rage:

And yet for all her hate, each parting glance would tell

A stronger passion breathed, burned, in this last farewell.

Unconquered in my soul the Tyrant rules me still;

Life bows to my control, but Love I cannot kill!”

Many critics claim the second part of the novel- concerning the relationship between the second Catherine and Heathcliffe’s adopted son, Hareton, is weak.  Is it less passionate than the first part?  Yes.  Weak- no.

The first part of the novel is a thunderous storm.  The second part details the breaking of the clouds- and at last- the calm.

What Heathcliffe and Catherine did wrong- Hareton and Catherine the 2nd, set right again.

Nature restores itself.

Wuthering Heights is not for everyone.  While it is a love story, its dark themes of vengeance, abuse, madness, and necrophelia- is not of the Harlequin sort.

People hate this novel with the same passion others love it.

Emily probably doesn’t care.

It is doubtful anyone ever forgets it.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm  Comments (26)  
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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Absolutely outstanding – again! 🙂
    You’re a superb writer!

  2. Steve,

    Awww…. Thanks a million. Honestly, compliments like that really motivate me when I sit down to work on my novel. 🙂

  3. Indeed, it’s clear you are passionate about the subject! Beautifully written.

    Part of the problem with the film and the way it turned out was simply the time it was made. Everything seemed to have to have a happy ending of one sort or another in those days. Biographies were fictionalized (thinking of the 1946 Cole Porter biopic with Cary Grant, “Night and Day”). It was almost as if everything got a dose of “Disney” mixed in.

  4. Hey D D,

    Thanks! 🙂

    I know what you’re saying about Disneyfied bios. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” comes to mind.

    But as for WH film adaptions, even the more recent ones I’ve seen don’t go into the extent of Heathcliffe’s abuse towards his adopted son and Catherine 2nd. Not to mention hanging his wife’s dog!

  5. I had to study WH for English Literature when I was 16. Your post made me very nostalgic. 🙂

    One thing I enjoy in a story is when the author ahows why two people are good for each other. Not just because she’s the gorgeous innocent and he’s the rake who swore never to fall in love, but when their attitudes and personalities and strengths and flaws mesh together and fit.

    Wuthering Heights is a great example of that. Heathcliff knows the dark side of Catherine’s personality, and she understand him as well (e.g. she tells him that Isabella Linton scratched her; Heathcliff replies that he’ll wrench Isabella’s nails off if she tries that on him). They are truly the irresistable force and the immovable object. Of course that’s a love story.

  6. Oh rats. I meant “shows”, not “ahows”. That’ll teach me to post at work.

  7. Hey Marian,

    I totally agree. Catherine and Heathcliffe accepted each other for the persons they were. What better quote than, “I am Heathcliffe- he’s always, always in my mind- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself- but, as my own being- so don’t talk of our separation again.”

    Since Emily Bronte was so resolute in being her own person and following her own nature, I really think their tragedy was her way of saying: “Don’t make the same mistake Cathy does!”

    Edgar? Good guy. But certainly not the guy for Cathy. And we all know how it ends up…

  8. I agree, you did such a wonderful job with your review! Kudos!

    Now I want to read the book.

    Yes…I have never read the book. My saving grace is that I’ve never seen the movie, either. Is there still hope for me yet?

  9. Hey Dawn,

    Thank you so much! 🙂

    I’m really glad the post inspired you to try the book. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts afterwards.

    The entire Laurence Olivier film version is on youtube.

  10. Great review! I’ve never read this book (tragic romance isn’t really my cuppa), but I like your insights nevertheless.

  11. Hey Jen,


    Totally understand if WH isn’t your thing. But glad you found the review interesting nonetheless. 🙂

  12. I am ashamed to say this outloud, but I’ve never read Wuthering Heights. I know…it’s shameful. I can’t believe I’ve shown my face.

  13. Colby,

    And to think I associate with such a lowly person! 🙂

  14. Bravo. Your review is exquisite.

    I think it’s best unclassified, but of course that’s impossible in literature. : )


  15. Thanks so much, Em! 🙂

    I agree. WH is so much more than *just* a love story that it’s difficult to classify.

  16. When I think of Wuthering Heights, I think of that scene when Catherine and Heathcliff embrace before she dies. I think that captured for me the essence of the novel. And the later Catherine’s “weaker” romance I thought was like lightness to her mother’s darkness.

    It’s not a love story, it’s a story about obsession. 🙂

  17. Good observations. I love Wuthering Heights and it’s true, it’s so much more than a love story. It really delves into a lot of darkness and the human condition.

  18. Hey Pink,

    Yup. Their embrace is so urgent. 🙂

  19. Hey K.S.,

    Thanks. I do think above all else, Emily was using their love story to depict the human condition. And mostly, the fallout of not following one’s own nature.

    Emily hated society, so it’s not surprising that she’d turn a love story into a horror story when someone chooses society’s expectations over love.

  20. It’s been so long since I’ve read the book but I need to read it again after reading this insightful review.

    A few weeks ago, PBS had the BBC miniseries version of Wurthering Heights. It was probably one of the darker versions I’ve seen, though it still wasn’t completely accurate.

  21. Hey Dara,

    Thank you! I’m glad my review made you consider rereading it. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to view the latest BBC production. I’ve heard such varied reactions to it. I’m curious what mine would be.

  22. Definitely one of my all time favorites…recently saw the new version on PBS which was far truer to the book…its worth seeing for comparison. It helped that I had reread it a few months ago. I have always thought that speech of Catherine’s [“I am Heathcliff…”] was one of the most passionate and powerful ever written. I memorized it at 16 🙂

  23. Hi Janflora!

    Thanks for stopping by here.

    I’m definitely going to buy the latest WH film version when I find it in a store.

    Oh, and “the speech”. I’d sell A LOT to be able to claim authorship of that. 🙂

  24. On February 17, 2010 at 10:00 am Chazz Byron Said: |Edit This
    About half way through this book and I’m presently surprised with the book, Heathcliffe love for Catherine has turned into a bitter hatred.

    One thing that I was surprised about this book was the use of the word ’slut’. Heathcliffe called Catherine a ‘mere slut’ to Nelly in one of the converstations.


    Hey Chazz!

    I moved your comment over here, because I’m going to be deleting my older WH book review post and I want everyone’s feedback in one place.

    Yes, the book surprises a lot of people. Not many realize just how dark it is.

    What I find very interesting is Emily chose to tell their story in such a unique manner. Since we hear their tale via Nellie’s recollections, there is so much that we really don’t know. What did Heathcliffe and Cathy say and do together all those times growing up when they were alone? What were their inner thoughts? A lot of what we know, or think we know about them, is filled in with our own imagination.

  25. I’m pleasantly surprised about how dark it is 😀

  26. Finished reading the book, but I won’t tell you what I thought, you can read it yourself 😛

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