Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë Analysis
About The Author.
Emily had an unusual character, extremely unsocial and reserved, with few friends outside her family. She preferred the company of animals to people and rarely travelled, forever yearning for the freedom of Haworth and the moors. She had a will of iron – a well known story about her is that she was bitten by a (possibly) rabid dog which resulted in her walking calmly into the kitchen and cauterising the wound herself with a hot iron. Author’s Background.
Emily Bronte was born on July 30th, 1818, the 5th child of the Reverend Patrick Bronte, a stern Evangelical curate, and his wife Maria. When Emily was three years old, her mother died of cancer, and her Aunt Branwell, a strict Calvinist, moved in to help raise the six children (another daughter, Anne, was born soon after Emily). They lived in a parsonage in Haworth with the bleak moors of Yorkshire on one side and the parish graveyard on the other.
When Emily was 6 years old she went to a boarding school run by charity, the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, where her older sisters Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte were already enrolled.
The school was in no sense a material improvement over her home environment: it was run with the intention of punishing the pupils’ bodies that their souls might be saved. The students were kept hungry, cold, tired, and often ill: Maria in particular, who at her young age did her best to mother her sisters, was treated extremely harshly. In 1825 Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis, the disease that was later to claim Emily’s own life, and that of her younger sister Anne. Following these new bereavements, the surviving sisters Charlotte and Emily were taken home, but they would never forget the terrors and the hardship of their lives at school. Charlotte made it the model for the charity school Lowood, which figures so prominently in the life of her heroine Jane Eyre.
Life at home was much better for Emily and her siblings: in their isolated childhood on the moors, they developed an extremely close relationship partly based on their mutual participation in a vibrant game of make-believe. In 1826 their father brought Branwell a box of wooden soldiers, and each child chose a soldier and gave him a name and character: these were to be the foundation of the creation of a complicated fantasy world, which the Bront?s actively worked on for 16 years. They made tiny books containing stories, plays, histories, and poetry written by their imagined heros and heroines. Unfortunately, only ones written by Charlotte and Branwell survive: of Emily’s work we only have her poetry, and indeed her most passionate and lovely poetry is written from the perspectives of inhabitants of “Gondal.”
For Emily, it seems that the fantastic adventures in imaginary Gondal coexisted on almost an equal level of importance and reality with the lonely and mundane world of household chores and walks on the moor. One would be mistaken, however, to conclude that the poetic beauty of Gondal was essentially different from that which Emily saw in the world around her. This becomes clear in her novel Wuthering Heights, in which her familiar Yorkshire surroundings become the setting for a tragedy whose passion and beauty is equal to anything that could be imagined elsewhere. Passion is in no way inconsistent with empty moors, cold winters, and brown hills. While his sister were on their way to becoming famous authors, Branwell had failed as a painter and lapsed into alcoholism and drug abuse.
He died in September of 1848, and his death marked the beginning of Emily’s own illness. Tuberculosis killed her rapidly, perhaps because she stoically refused to make any concession to her ill health, continuing to get up early every day to feed her numerous animals even when she could barely walk. She died with heroic fortitude on December 19th, 1848, at the age of 30, and did not have time to appreciate the last flowering sprig of heather which Charlotte had found on the moors for her wild sister. Emily Bronte’s stern self-discipline and passionate creative vision have continued to entrance modern readers through her poetry and especially her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights.
Some other works by the Author.
Emily Bronte has written many poems before she wrote Wuthering Heights. Some of her Poems include, A Day Dream, A death Scene, A Little Wish A Little Wish, Anticipation, Death, Encouragement, Faith and Despondency, Honour’s Martyr, Hope, How Clear She Shines, Last Words, Love and Friendship, My Comforter, No Coward Soul is Mine, Plead me, Remembrance, Self-interrogation, The Prisoner, The Philosopher, To Imagination, Warning and Reply and finally Wuthering Heights.
Overview of the Author’s Themes and Writing Techniques.
Emily Bronte’s writing style conveys a lot of energy, emotions and violence even. She uses a lot of descriptive words. She uses long sentences. The story has been written using multi-narration writing technique. Bronte’s style is very poetic-prose which can be compared with her poems. Emily Bronte’s work include themes of nature, cruelty, social position, and indestructibility .
Criticism for the Author
Initially, critics failed to appreciate Brontë’s literary significance. While commentators acknowledged the emotional power of Wuthering Heights, they also rejected the malignant and coarse side of life that it depicted. Charlotte Brontë responded to this latter objection in 1850, defending the rough language and manners in her sister’s novel as realistic. At the same time, however, she acknowledged the dark vision of life in the book, which she attributed to Emily’s reclusive habits.
This focus on Brontë’s aloofness, combined with the mystical aspects of her poetry and the supernatural overtones of Wuthering Heights, fostered an image of the writer as a reclusive mystic that dominated Brontë criticism into the twentieth century. During that century, however, a number of modern studies brought Brontë’s craftsmanship to light. Recognition of her artistry increased dramatically as scholars discovered the sophistication and complexity of her images, characterizations, themes, and techniques in Wuthering Heights. Interest in her poetry has also grown, primarily due to investigations into its Gondal background, so that today Brontë is the focus of considerable scholarly attention as both a novelist and poet.
Many critics have noted the Gothic elements in Brontë’s novel, particularly the distinct architecture of Wuthering Heights, the characterization of Heathcliff as a dark, brooding hero, and ghostly wanderings on the moors. Syndy McMillen Conger wrote that Wuthering Heights arouses emotions “central to the Gothic experience: melancholy, desire, and terror.” Commentators observe that Brontë heightened her story as well with fierce animal imagery and scenes of raw violence.
Dream motifs figure prominently in Wuthering Heights, and critics also stress the importance of windows as symbolic vehicles for spiritual entrance and escape in the novel. While the Gothic tradition influenced Brontë, she also deviated from that tradition in significant ways, notably in her characterization of Catherine Earnshaw. The typical Gothic heroine is petite, naïve, and morally virtuous, but Catherine, as Conger wrote, is “complicated, analytical, and uninhibited.” The subject of wide-ranging critical debate for generations, Wuthering Heights continues to defy categorization and endures as a literary classic.
In the winter of 1801 our narrator, Lockwood, shows up at Wuthering Heights to make arrangements with Heathcliff to rent the nearby manor, Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff, the landlord, makes no effort to be pleasant and immediately becomes a source of deep curiosity to Lockwood. A snowstorm forces Lockwood to spend the night at Wuthering Heights, and he has crazy nightmares complete with a wailing ghost named Catherine Linton trying to come through the window.
Settled into his new house, Lockwood invites the housekeeper, Ellen “Nelly” Dean to tell the story of the curious inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. Nelly is all too happy to recount the dark tale of the Earnshaws, the Lintons, and, mostly, Heathcliff.
We jump into the past as Nelly recounts the story. Nelly starts to work for the Earnshaws as a young girl. Everything is fine until Mr. Earnshaw takes a trip to Liverpool and returns with a swarthy little orphan child named Heathcliff. Though Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine, takes to the boy after only some initial aversion, the son, Hindley, resents his father’s favoritism of the strange, mannerless boy.
Soon Catherine and Heathcliff are inseparable, but Hindley’s bitterness has only grown, so he goes off to college. Catherine and Heathcliff briefly enjoy a sort of idyllic, adventurous childhood out on the stormy moors and snuggling in the oak-paneled bed.
When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley returns from college, with his new wife Frances, to claim his place as master of Wuthering Heights. College hasn’t altered Hindley’s feelings toward Heathcliff, so he decides to make life miserable for his adopted brother by treating him like a servant.
With Hindley acting the tyrant, Catherine provides Heathcliff’s only solace. They remain allies and friends. One night Heathcliff and Catherine ramble down to Thrushcross Grange to spy on the Linton children, Edgar and Isabella, who live a pampered and protected existence. When a dog bites Catherine, she is forced to stay at the Grange for five weeks to recuperate. While there, she captures the affections of young Edgar. Back at Wuthering Heights, life without Catherine has been miserable for Heathcliff, but with Edgar in the picture things will never be the same.
Frances dies after giving birth to a son, Hareton. Without his wife to help tone down his rage, Hindley becomes even more vengeful toward Heathcliff. Hindley resents his new son, and he becomes an abusive alcoholic. His primary activity is making life miserable for Heathcliff and, as a result, for everyone else in the house.
Though Catherine confesses to Nelly an all-consuming love for Heathcliff, she still marries Edgar. (Even out on the isolated moors, social class dictates whom you marry.) Heathcliff takes off for three years to who knows where. When he returns, Heathcliff finds Catherine and Edgar married and living at Thrushcross Grange.
Heathcliff is now on a mission of revenge against Hindley, who is in even worse shape than before. Loaded with a bunch of money gained during his mysterious absence, Heathcliff sets into motion his master plan to acquire Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff exploits the fact that Hindley is a drunken mess and engages him in extended bouts of gambling that eventually lead Hindley to mortgage Wuthering Heights to pay his debts. The house now belongs to Heathcliff. Heathcliff continues to visit Catherine at Thrushcross Grange, though her husband Edgar treats him like a low-born outsider. In order to acquire Edgar’s property, Heathcliff marries Isabella Linton, who brings out all of his abusive instincts. A violent argument between Edgar and Heathcliff sends Catherine to the sickbed, from which she never really recovers. She does, however, give birth to a daughter, also named Catherine. When Catherine dies, Heathcliff’s sorrow and rage increase and he pleads for Catherine’s ghost to haunt him. Unable to take his abusiveness any longer, Isabella flees for London, where she gives birth to a son, Linton Heathcliff.
For the next thirteen years, Nelly Dean stays at Thrushcross Grange to raise Catherine, a feisty daddy’s girl. Edgar and Nelly make sure that Catherine knows nothing of Wuthering Heights or its master. But, like her mother, Catherine is drawn to adventure and wants to explore the moors and all of its craggy, windswept spots. When Nelly forbids her to leave the property of Thrushcross Grange, Catherine goes off on her own. She ends up at Wuthering Heights, where she meets Hindley’s son Hareton. Heathcliff’s despicable treatment of the young man has turned Hareton into a grunting, uneducated oaf. Still, Catherine is happy to have some companionship.
When Isabella dies, Edgar retrieves his fragile, dismal nephew Linton and brings him back to live with them at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff has other plans, and demands that his son live with him, though Linton did not even know his father existed. The contrast between Linton and Hareton is stark, but Heathcliff can’t stand either of them. Eventually young Catherine encounters Heathcliff on the moors and ventures to Wuthering Heights, where she meets Linton, whom she only vaguely remembers. She and Linton begin a secret correspondence of love letters sent via the milk-fetcher. When Edgar and Nelly become sick and bedbound, Catherine begins to sneak up to Wuthering Heights to visit Linton. The miserable and suffering Linton becomes a tool of his father’s plot for revenge – marrying Catherine would mean that Linton inheriting Thrushcross Grange.
At a prearranged meeting between Catherine and Linton, Heathcliff lures Nelly and Catherine back to Wuthering Heights, where he imprisons them and forces Catherine to marry Linton. Soon after, Edgar dies and so does the sickly, young Linton. Heathcliff is now master of both Wuthering Height and Thrushcross Grange. He keeps his widowed daughter-in-law with him at Wuthering Heights so that she can work for him as a common servant. He rents out Thrushcross Grange to Lockwood. Nelly’s story is now complete. Lockwood’s fascination with Heathcliff has turned to disgust and he gives notice to Heathcliff that he will be leaving Thrushcross Grange to return to London.
Six months later, however, he is back in the neighborhood and visits Nelly, who gives him an update on the dramatic tale. Despite her initial rejection of Hareton as an illiterate boor, Catherine warms to him and begins teaching him how to read. Heathcliff finds himself too obsessed with the dead Catherine to even care about the younger generation or even to bother eating or sleeping. Instead of continuing his cycle of abuse and revenge, he wanders the moors, stares into the middle distance, and makes broken-hearted appeals to Catherine’s ghost. Heathcliff dies in the oak-paneled bed, a water-logged, grimacing stiff.
Hareton and Catherine inherit the two houses. They plan to marry on New Year’s day and have created a new atmosphere of renewal and hope. Lockwood leaves the happy lovers and passes by the gravestones of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar. Heathcliff’s grave plot is fresh and not yet covered with grass.
The Destructiveness of a Love That Never Changes
Catherine and Heathcliff’s passion for one another seems to be the center of Wuthering Heights, given that it is stronger and more lasting than any other emotion displayed in the novel, and that it is the source of most of the major conflicts that structure the novel’s plot. As she tells Catherine and Heathcliff’s story, Nelly criticizes both of them harshly, condemning their passion as immoral, but this passion is obviously one of the most compelling and memorable aspects of the book. It is not easy to decide whether Brontë intends the reader to condemn these lovers as blameworthy or to idealize them as romantic heroes whose love transcends social norms and conventional morality.
The book is actually structured around two parallel love stories, the first half of the novel centering on the love between Catherine and Heathcliff, while the less dramatic second half features the developing love between young Catherine and Hareton. In contrast to the first, the latter tale ends happily, restoring peace and order to Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The differences between the two love stories contribute to the reader’s understanding of why each ends the way it does.
Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based on their shared perception that they are identical. Catherine declares, famously, “I am Heathcliff,” while Heathcliff, upon Catherine’s death, wails that he cannot live without his “soul,” meaning Catherine. Their love denies difference, and is strangely asexual. The two do not kiss in dark corners or arrange secret trysts, as adulterers do. Given that Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based upon their refusal to change over time or embrace difference in others, it is fitting that the disastrous problems of their generation are overcome not by some climactic reversal, but simply by the inexorable passage of time, and the rise of a new and distinct generation. Ultimately, Wuthering Heights presents a vision of life as a process of change, and celebrates this process over and against the romantic intensity of its principal characters.
The Precariousness of Social Class
As members of the gentry, the Earnshaws and the Lintons occupy a somewhat precarious place within the hierarchy of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British society. At the top of British society was the royalty, followed by the aristocracy, then by the gentry, and then by the lower classes, who made up the vast majority of the population. Although the gentry, or upper middle class, possessed servants and often large estates, they held a nonetheless fragile social position.
The social status of aristocrats was a formal and settled matter, because aristocrats had official titles. Members of the gentry, however, held no titles, and their status was thus subject to change. A man might see himself as a gentleman but find, to his embarrassment, that his neighbors did not share this view. A discussion of whether or not a man was really a gentleman would consider such questions as how much land he owned, how many tenants and servants he had, how he spoke, whether he kept horses and a carriage, and whether his money came from land or “trade”—gentlemen scorned banking and commercial activities.
Before she wrote Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë composed quite a bit of poetry, and the urge to write in a lyrical manner really shows in her prose style. Her poems are full of flowers, mountain breezes, frozen snow, thorny briars, and the like. Like Heathcliff and Catherine, she finds inspiration in nature. Some of the only affectionate and cheerful descriptions in the novel concern the heath and the hills, flowers, bees, and moonlight.
The revenge plot is just as powerful, if not more so, than the love that pulls Catherine and Heathcliff together. Without revenge as such a predominant theme, Wuthering Heights would just be a thwarted love story.
It’s tough to really call Wuthering Heights a romance, since the two lovers spend so much time making each other miserable. Still, we know Catherine and Heathcliff experience some sort of transcendent romantic and erotic connection. Catherine’s love for Edgar Linton, however, is so tied to her desire to be “the greatest woman of the neighborhood” that their love hardly seems to include any romance at all. Meanwhile, Catherine is so derisive of Heathcliff’s social standing that early on in the story she questions his capacity to love at all.
Themes of family run throughout. Almost every character is either an Earnshaw or a Linton, or in some cases both. And because Heathcliff is never accepted into either family, he gets revenge by taking everything that they own. Brontë suggests that the family recovers in the end: the house once again becomes the property of Hareton Earnshaw, whose distant relative built it in 1500.
Class and Society
themes of family run throughout. Almost every character is either an Earnshaw or a Linton, or in some cases both. And because Heathcliff is never accepted into either family, he gets revenge by taking everything that they own. Brontë suggests that the family recovers in the end: the house once again becomes the property of Hareton Earnshaw, whose distant relative built it in 1500.
The Oak-Paneled Bed
This piece of furniture is the symbolic center of Wuthering Heights – both the novel and the house – and provides the setting for two of the novel’s most dramatic events. Residing in Catherine’s childhood bedroom, the bed is described by Lockwood in the following terms:
a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top, resembling coach windows. . . . In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of the window, which it enclosed, served as a table. (3.5)
The “ghost story” is set into action the tormented night Lockwood spends in the oak-paneled bed. Before his nightmares, Lockwood sees it as a place where he can feel “secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff and everyone else” (3.6). In this sense, it symbolizes a place of protection, security, and retreat. As Lockwood soon finds out, though, the oak-paneled bed was also a retreat for young Catherine, whose books became impromptu journals as she hid from Hindley some twenty-five years before. Lockwood experiences a haunting series of nightmares in the bed, suggesting that he has violated a hallowed place. Because the space was Catherine’s, it is sacred to Heathcliff, who is furious when he finds Lockwood sleeping in his “sanctum.”
Windows, Doors, Thresholds, and Other Boundaries
From the very first pages of Wuthering Heights, Lockwood is anxious to cross the threshold and enter the house, while Heathcliff seems intent on keeping him out. “Even the gate over which [Heathcliff] leant manifested no sympathizing movement […]” (1.6). Lockwood personifies the gate, implying that, like Heathcliff, it does not want to let him in. Even Lockwood’s name reflects his failure to gain access. (But since he is not one to pick up on hints, he charges in anyway.)
Ghosts appear throughout Wuthering Heights, as they do in most other works of Gothic fiction, yet Brontë always presents them in such a way that whether they really exist remains ambiguous. Thus the world of the novel can always be interpreted as a realistic one. Certain ghosts—such as Catherine’s spirit when it appears to Lockwood in Chapter III—may be explained as nightmares. The villagers’ alleged sightings of Heathcliff’s ghost in Chapter XXXIV could be dismissed as unverified superstition. Whether or not the ghosts are “real,” they symbolize the manifestation of the past within the present, and the way memory stays with people, permeating their day-to-day lives.
Wuthering Heights centers around the story of Heathcliff. The first paragraph of the novel provides a vivid physical picture of him, as Lockwood describes how his “black eyes” withdraw suspiciously under his brows at Lockwood’s approach. Nelly’s story begins with his introduction into the Earnshaw family, his vengeful machinations drive the entire plot, and his death ends the book. The desire to understand him and his motivations has kept countless readers engaged in the novel.
Heathcliff, however, defies being understood, and it is difficult for readers to resist seeing what they want or expect to see in him. The novel teases the reader with the possibility that Heathcliff is something other than what he seems—that his cruelty is merely an expression of his frustrated love for Catherine, or that his sinister behaviors serve to conceal the heart of a romantic hero. We expect Heathcliff’s character to contain such a hidden virtue because he resembles a hero in a romance novel. Traditionally, romance novel heroes appear dangerous, brooding, and cold at first, only later to emerge as fiercely devoted and loving. One hundred years before Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, the notion that “a reformed rake makes the best husband” was already a cliché of romantic literature, and romance novels center around the same cliché to this day.
It is significant that Heathcliff begins his life as a homeless orphan on the streets of Liverpool. When Brontë composed her book, in the 1840s, the English economy was severely depressed, and the conditions of the factory workers in industrial areas like Liverpool were so appalling that the upper and middle classes feared violent revolt. Thus, many of the more affluent members of society beheld these workers with a mixture of sympathy and fear. In literature, the smoky, threatening, miserable factory-towns were often represented in religious terms, and compared to hell.
Considering this historical context, Heathcliff seems to embody the anxieties that the book’s upper- and middle-class audience had about the working classes. The reader may easily sympathize with him when he is powerless, as a child tyrannized by Hindley Earnshaw, but he becomes a villain when he acquires power and returns to Wuthering Heights with money and the trappings of a gentleman. This corresponds with the ambivalence the upper classes felt toward the lower classes—the upper classes had charitable impulses toward lower-class citizens when they were miserable, but feared the prospect of the lower classes trying to escape their miserable circumstances by acquiring political, social, cultural, or economic power.
Catherine Earnshaw is Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter and Hindley’s sister. She is also Heathcliff’s foster sister and beloved. She marries Edgar Linton and has a daughter, also named Catherine. Catherine is beautiful and charming, but she is never as civilized as she pretends to be. In her heart she is always a wild girl playing on the moors with Heathcliff. She regards it as her right to be loved by all, and has an unruly temper. Heathcliff usually calls her Cathy; Edgar usually calls her Catherine.
Catherine (or Cathy) Linton (who marries Linton Heathcliff to become Catherine Heathcliff, and then marries Hareton to be Catherine Earnshaw) is the daughter of the older Catherine and Edgar Linton. She has all her mother’s charm without her wildness, although she is by no means submissive and spiritless. Edgar calls her Cathy.
Mr. Earnshaw is the father of Catherine and Hindley, a plain, fairly well-off farmer with few pretensions but a kind heart. He is a stern sort of father. He takes in Heathcliff despite his family’s protests.
Edgar Linton is Isabella’s older brother, who marries Catherine Earnshaw and fathers Catherine Linton. In contrast to Heathcliff, he is a gently bred, refined man, a patient husband and a loving father. His faults are a certain effeminacy, and a tendency to be cold and unforgiving when his dignity is hurt.
Ellen (or Nelly) Dean is one of the main narrators. She has been a servant with the Earnshaws and the Lintons for all her life, and knows them better than anyone else. She is independently minded and high spirited, and retains an objective viewpoint on those she serves. She is called Nelly by those who are on the most egalitarian terms with her: Mr. Earnshaw, the older Catherine, Heathcliff.
Frances Earnshaw is Hindley’s wife, a young woman of unknown background. She seems rather flighty and giddy to Ellen, and displays an irrational fear of death, which is explained when she dies of tuberculosis.
Hareton Earnshaw is the son of Hindley and Frances; he marries the younger Catherine. For most of the novel, he is rough and rustic and uncultured, having been carefully kept from all civilizing influences by Heathcliff. He grows up to be superficially like Heathcliff, but is really much more sweet-tempered and forgiving. He never blames Heathcliff for having disinherited him, for example, and remains his oppressor’s staunchest ally.
Hindley Earnshaw is the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, and Catherine’s older brother. He is a bullying, discontented boy who grows up to be a violent alcoholic when his beloved wife, Frances, dies. He hates Heathcliff because he felt supplanted in his father’s affections by the other boy, and Heathcliff hates him even more in return.
Justify the title
Wuthering Heights is a house, and with this novel, Emily Brontë takes the whole Gothic haunted house thing several steps further than her predecessors. While the book has all of the Gothic elements made popular the century, Wuthering Heights has a lot more psychological complexity than your average pulp Gothic job. Throughout the story Brontë plays on a whole set of genre conventions – Gothic, romantic, pseudo-psychological – and by naming the novel after the house, she sort of announces those influences to her readers. While the house is the main setting for most of the action, its role is so important that it almost seems like a living, breathing, ticked-off character, reflecting the bad attitude of its inhabitants.
Heathcliff achieves his goal of becoming master of the two houses. Then he dies.
Having spent every last ounce of energy driving Hindley into the grave and gaining control of the house (and losing his wife and son along the way), Heathcliff is left with two housemates – his nephew Hareton Earnshaw, and his daughter-in-law Cathy Heathcliff. He admits to Nelly that all the vengeance has exhausted him and, after some seriously strange behavior, he dies in Catherine’s bed.
Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy Heathcliff inherit the houses.
The whole nasty property and inheritance tangle is sorted out when Heathcliff dies and the houses revert to their proper owners – Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy Heathcliff. Brontë offers some nice, neat closure with the impending marriage of these two youngsters. She also offers some unsettling conclusions by reuniting Heathcliff and Catherine Linton in death, and suggesting that they will haunt the moors together. If this were a movie, I’d almost expect a sequel.
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