Wuthering Heights is the only novel by Emily Brontë. It was published in 1847, Emily Brontë died the following year. Now considered a classic, it was originally met with mixed reviews because of its stark look at cruelty. The novel did not blend well with the Victorian style of the time. The story is now a popular novel of Gothic passions and misery.
Wuthering Heights opens with Mr. Lockwood coming to Thrushcross Grange to rest in a more rural setting. He encounters his leaser and other inhabitants at Wuthering Heights. His visit leads him to believe he has seen the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw. When he returns to the Grange he asks the housekeeper Nelly Dean what she knows of his neighbors. She tells their story from her perspective.
She begins with the arrival of Catherine’s father, back from Liverpool, with a homeless child he names Heathcliff. His son, Hindley, and Catherine are unsure of the sullen newcomer. While Hindley soon expresses great hatred for Heathcliff, Catherine befriends him. Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff induces Mr. Earnshaw to send him away for schooling. The pair enjoy a few years of peace before Earnshaw’s death causes Hindley to return home with his new wife. He immediately reduces Heathcliff to a servant for the Heights. Catherine and Heathcliff continue to remain close until Catherine befriends their neighbors, the Lintons. Her friendship with Edgar Linton puts a strain on her relationship with Heathcliff. When Catherine accepts Edgar’s proposal she is torn by her decision. During a discussion with Nelly about her love for both Edgar and Heathcliff she upsets Heathcliff, who has been listening without her knowledge, and he runs away.
A few years pass in peace after Catherine marries Edgar, but when Heathcliff suddenly returns things change. Heathcliff and Catherine visit with each other with Isabella accompanying them. Soon Heathcliff outlives his welcome and catches the eye of Isabella. He convinces her to run off with him and they become married. These events put a strain on Catherine, who is pregnant. She falls ill and dies shortly after giving birth to Cathy. Heathcliff is overcome with grief. Isabella runs away to London where she gives birth to Linton.
Years later Nelly continues her story when Cathy has grown into a young woman. Her cousin Linton is brought back to the Grange after his mother’s death, but must be returned to his father, Heathcliff. They try to remain in contact, but they are hindered by Edgar and Nelly. Heathcliff’s revenge is yet to be satisfied. He tricks Cathy into coming to his home where he compels her to marry Linton. Her father dies shortly after followed by Linton.
Here Nelly catches up to present day. Lockwood soon decides to leave the Grange, but several months later he happens to visit and find that Heathcliff has died, finally reunited with Catherine. He is happy to also find that Haerton and Cathy have found solace in each other and plan to marry soon.
The story of Heathcliff and Catherine hinges on a love that is extreme, destructive, and all-consuming. While there love is powerful it is not the only love depicted in the novel. The love Edgar shares with Catherine is held up as a soft, quiet love that is not as exciting, but is also not as harmful. In the novel love can be the very thing that destroys. Heathcliff and Catherine cause everyone around them pain because of their love.
Heathcliff is abused by several people during his childhood. While Catherine shows him the only kindness he knows, even she causes him pain. His action become rooted in his intent to exact revenge on those who have hurt him, and when he cannot be with his love he torments everyone as he is tormented. Catherine also exhibits signs of revenge as she realizes the trouble she is experiencing. Her solution in not to right the wrong, but to punish everyone around her because she is in pain.
Throughout the novel the importance of class is made evident. At the time class was the main structure of society. In the novel we see this effect Heathcliff most acutely in childhood. He has virtually no status creating conflict as Earnshaw treats him like a son while Hindley grows more and more hatred for him. Hindley is able to cast him out with the servants because his status in society is uncertain. When he returns years later as a wealthy gentlemen the characters are unsure how to interact with him.
Similarly Haerton is given the reversal of that fate. As heir to the Earnshaw estate he should have status, but Heathcliff has gained power and he uses that to keep Haerton below his status. These labels usually govern society and create a frame work for how to treat others. In the novel these lines are severely blurred. Nelly for example has a educated manner of speech unusual for someone of her station. It is because of her access to books and desire to learn that she conveys her story in this way.