Michael J. Cummings...©
1801 in the Yorkshire moors of Northern England, a Mr. Lockwood rents a
house on a manor, Thushcross Grange, from a dark and mysterious landlord,
a man about 40 named Heathcliff. He lives down the road four miles in a
300-year-old estate called Wuthering Heights. Intrigued by Heathcliff,
Lockwood asks the housekeeper, 43-year-old Ellen Dean—whom
everyone in the region calls Nelly—to tell
him Heathcliff’s story. She obliges, and he in turn writes down everything
she says. Here is the story that Nelly tells and Lockwood repeats in his
years before, in 1760, a gentleman in the district, Mr. Earnshaw, who owns
Wuthering Heights and farms its land—travels
to Liverpool on business and encounters a street waif, a dark-skinned boy
abandoned by his parents. He speaks a strange language. Was he perhaps
abandoned by a foreign visitor to England? Poor thing. Earnshaw cannot
leave him behind. He returns with him to Wuthering Heights and raises the
boy, calling him Heathcliff, along with his own children—a
girl, Catherine, and a boy, Hindley. Also in the household are two servants,
Joseph, a cranky old man, and Nelly Dean. Cathy resents Heathcliff at first,
but in time warms to him. She is a happy, spirited, likable child—but
full of the devil. Nelly says of her:
she had ways with her such as I never saw a child take up before; and she
put all of us past our patience fifty times and oftener in a day. From
the hour she came downstairs till the hour she went to bed we had not a
minute's security that she wouldn't be in mischief. Her spirits were always
at high-water mark, her tongue always going—singing,
laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same. A wild, wicked
slip she was; but she had the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile, and lightest
foot in the parish.In their
playtime adventures on the moors, Heathcliff and Cathy draw close, intimate.
However, Hindley, older and stronger than Heathcliff, treats him cruelly
because he sees the boy as a rival for the affections of his father and
sister. After his wife dies, old Earnshaw seems to prefer the company of
Heathcliff to Hindley, and Heathcliff delights in his favored status while
Hindley becomes all the more hostile. But Hindley’s abuse of Heathcliff
meets with severe censure if old Earnshaw witnesses it. As Nelly observes,
“Twice, or thrice, Hindley's manifestations of scorn, while his father
was near, roused the old man to a fury.” Eventually, Earnshaw sends Hindley
off to school while Heathcliff remains behind.
years pass, Mr. Earnshaw dies, and Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights.
He is now grown, about 20; Heathcliff and Cathy are just entering their
adolescent years. When Hindley returns to Wuthering Heights for the funeral,
he brings a wife, Frances. One of his first tasks as master of the estate
is to make Heathcliff a lowly stable hand and field laborer who must now
live with the servants. Cathy, however—who
has grown into a beautiful woman full of spirit—continues
her close relationship with Heathcliff and, over the years, falls in love
with him in spite of his reduced social status.
day, when they visit Thrushcross Grange—the
home of the snooty Linton family—a bulldog
bites Catherine, and she remains with the Lintons for several weeks while
recuperating from her injury. After becoming acquainted with the Linton
children, Edgar and Isabella, she is captivated by Edgar’s aristocratic
lifestyle and elegant trappings—and by his
obvious interest in her. If she were his wife, she would have all that
he has. When she returns to Wuthering Heights, she exhibits dignity, refinement,
and good manners, taught her by the Lintons. Everyone except Heathcliff
is pleased. He thinks her newfound social savoir-faire will put her out
of his reach. Though she assures him that nothing has changed between them,
she nevertheless cultivates her desire to be a woman of standing who lives
like the Lintons.
Hindley’s wife, Frances, has a child, Hareton, but dies shortly afterward.
To drown his grief, Hindley turns to alcohol. He also makes Heathcliff
a whipping boy, treating him even more cruelly than before.
now so passionately in love with Heathcliff that she says the two of them
are “the same person”—confides to Nelly that
she has decided to marry Edgar Linton, who has made it clear that he wants
her, because it would be degrading to marry Heathcliff. Unfortunately,
Heathcliff overhears the conversation and immediately abandons Wuthering
Heights. Hindley has wronged him—and now Cathy.
While running after him in the moors during a storm, Cathy falls ill with
fever and recuperates at the Lintons. The fever infects Mr. and Mrs. Linton,
and they die.
Heathcliff gone from the Heights—who knows
where?—Cathy marries Edgar, and time passes
peacefully and happily as marriage treats them kindly. But one day, Heathcliff
returns to the moors and moves into Wuthering Heights with Hindley, now
an alcoholic, and Hareton. Heathcliff is cultured, educated, and wealthy,
apparently having made his mark in business. He is also full of wrath and
means to unleash it against all who mistreated him. First, he lends drinking
and gambling money to Hindley, knowing full well it will hasten his descent
into the abyss of alcohol, debt, and desperation. Then he acquires liens
on Wuthering Heights and turns Hareton against Hindley.
Heathcliff visits Cathy and Edgar at Thrushcross Grange, his attentions
to Cathy and to Edgar’s naive sister, Isabella, infuriate Edgar. Consequently,
he and Heathcliff quarrel and become fierce enemies. Vengeful Heathcliff
then persuades guileless Isabella, who is taken by his dark good looks,
to elope with him. He does not love Isabella; he wants only to spite Edgar
and Cathy and to gain a potential legal interest in Thrushcross Grange.
These events dispirit Cathy, who believes she is the root cause of all
the conflict, and her health declines. To complicate matters, she is pregnant.
Shortly after giving birth to a daughter—named
Catherine after her mother—Cathy dies. Heathcliff,
overcome with grief, cannot let go and prays that Cathy’s spirit will haunt
him. In the meantime, Heathcliff abuses Isabella—he
has loathed her from the day he met her—and
she escapes and takes refuge near London. Hindley—beaten
down by alcoholism, debt, and Heathcliff—dies
a few months later.
then sets himself to the task of raising Hindley’s son, Hareton. But he
makes the boy a common laborer, treating the boy cruelly, as Hindley had
once treated him. Hareton receives no schooling, no training for a respectable
career. Consequently, he grows up ignorant, unloved. In London, Isabella
bears Heathcliff’s child, Linton, and raises him to adolescence without
ever telling him the identity of his father. After she dies, Edgar brings
the boy to Thrushcross Grange, but Heathcliff—having
the law on his side—claims Linton and takes
him to Wuthering Heights. He is a sickly and ill-tempered boy, and Heathcliff
despises him. But he is thinking ahead. He will have use for the boy.
years pass. Catherine becomes an engaging child loved by all around her.
During this time, Nelly Dean becomes her nanny. Although unaware of Wuthering
Heights and its dark history, young Cathy happens upon it while exploring
the moors and becomes Linton’s friend. After Nelly forbids her to visit
Wuthering Heights, she returns anyway and continues her friendship with
Linton, although she looks down upon Hareton. Nelly then tells Edgar, who
is in poor health, about the visits, and he puts an end to them.
Heathcliff carries out a deceptive scheme in which he forces Linton to
pretend that he loves Cathy. Secret letters are exchanged, and one day
Cathy returns to Wuthering Heights to see Linton. Heathcliff locks
her in. When Nelly comes to fetch Cathy to Thrushcross Grange, he imprisons
her as well, then forces Catherine to marry Linton. If Edgar dies before
Linton—who remains sickly and is in fact dying,
Heathcliff will gain control of Thrushcross Grange. All goes according
to Heathcliff’s plan: Edgar dies first, then Linton.
now controls Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. He also controls
Hareton and young Cathy, who have no choice but to remain with him and
the housekeeper, Zillah, at Wuthering Heights in order to survive. Heathcliff
rents Thrushcross Grange to Lockwood (the visitor at the beginning of the
story). Here, Nelly’s narrative ends, and Lockwood ends his visit at Thrushcross
Grange and goes to London. However, six months later he returns and hears
the rest of the story, as follows:
time, young Cathy learns to tolerate Hareton and even teaches him lessons.
Seeing the children together revives Heathcliff’s memory of his happy days
with the elder Cathy. It is a memory that preoccupies him, robbing him
of appetite and sleep. He even sees and speaks to ghostly images of Cathy.
Eventually, he himself falls ill—perhaps desiring
to die so he can reunite with Cathy—and softens
his attitude toward Hareton and young Cathy. Then he informs Nelly that
he plans to make a will. One day, she discovers him dead. A physician cannot
determine the precise cause. He is buried near Cathy, according to the
provisions of the will.
are told later about how people of the area see Heathcliff alone, or Heathcliff
and Catherine together, walking on the moors. When Lockwood asks Nelly
about young Catherine and Hareton, she reports that they now control Heathcliff’s
properties and will marry on Jan. 1, then live at Thrushcross Grange. At
last, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are united and at peace—presumably.
The story begins in 1801,
then flashes back to the 1770's and eventually returns to the early 1800's.
The locale is the Yorkshire moors in northern England. A moor is tract
of mostly treeless wasteland where heather thrives and water saturates
the earth. The action takes place at two estates, Wuthering Heights and
Thrushcross Grange, about four miles apart. When the story begins, Mr.
Lockwood—a visitor to the moors—establishes the remoteness and isolation
of the setting: "This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England,
I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed
from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff
and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us."
.Mr. Earnshaw Owner of
Wuthering Heights and father of two children, Hindley and Cathy. He adopts
a street waif, Heathcliff, and dotes on the child, arousing jealousy in
Hindley. After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights and
makes Heathcliff a common stable boy and field laborer.
Heathcliff A waif
rescued from the streets of Liverpool and brought to Wuthering Heights
by Mr. Earnshaw. Heathcliff grows up there, becoming an enemy of Earnshaw’s
son, Hindley, but falling in love with Earnshaw’s daughter, Cathy. While
Heathcliff is a small child, Hindley mistreats him. When Heathcliff is
a young man, Cathy betrays him by marrying Edgar Linton. Heathcliff abandons
Wuthering Heights but returns three years later a wealthy, educated gentleman.
He vows revenge against all who had wronged him.
beautiful and spirited daughter, who falls in love with Heathcliff but
marries Edgar Linton instead.
son, who torments Heathcliff when the latter is a small child many years
younger than Hindley. After Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights, he continues
to mistreat Heathcliff.
Hindley’s wife. Like Hindley, she maltreats Heathcliff. She dies after
the birth of Hareton.
Edgar Linton Elegant
aristocrat at Thrushcross Grange whom Cathy marries to gain social position
and the finer things of life.
Isabella Linton Edgar’s
naive sister. Heathcliff marries her to spite Edgar and Cathy, then treats
Ellen (Nelly) Dean
Level-headed housekeeper at Wuthering Heights and later a nursemaid at
Thrushcross Grange. Because she is at the center or on the periphery of
all the action in the novel, she is the narrator of the story, telling
it to Mr. Lockwood, who writes it down for retelling later.
Mr. Lockwood A visitor
to Thrushcross Grange. When he becomes interested in the mysterious Heathcliff,
he asks Nelly Dean to tell him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.
Young Catherine The
daughter of Edgar Linton and Cathy
Hareton The son of
Hindley Earnshaw and his wife, Frances
Linton Sickly child
of Heathcliff and Isabella
Joseph A crabby old
Zillah A housekeeper
Mr. Kenneth: Doctor
who treats Cathy
Mr. Green: Attorney
handling affairs for Edgar Linton and young Catherine.
Herd-boy: Child who
delivers a message to young Catherine and Ellen Dean
is a novel of romance, revenge, and tragedy. It exhibits many characteristics
of the so-called Gothic novel, which focuses on dark, mysterious events.
The typical Gothic novel unfolds at one or more creepy
sites, such as a dimly lit castle, an old mansion on a hilltop, a misty
cemetery, a forlorn countryside, or the laboratory of a scientist conducting
frightful experiments. In some Gothic novels, characters imagine that they
see ghosts and monsters. In others, the ghosts and monsters are real. The
weather in a Gothic novel is often dreary or foul: There may be high winds
that rattle windowpanes, electrical storms with lightning strikes, and
gray skies that brood over landscapes. (The word wuthering refers
to violent wind.) The Gothic novel derives its name from the Gothic architectural
style popular in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. Gothic structures—such
as cathedrals—featured cavernous interiors
with deep shadows, stone walls that echoed the footsteps of worshippers,
gargoyles looming on exterior ledges, and soaring spires suggestive of
a supernatural presence.
was published in December 1847 by Thomas Newby under the pseudonym Ellis
Bell. The novel—assumed to be the work of a man—did not receive immediate
critical claim because it offended Victorian moral sensibilities. About
a year after Emily Brontë's death in December
1848, her sister, Charlotte (author of
Jane Eyre), revealed Emily
as the author of Wuthering Heights in a second edition of the novel,
and the novel eventually received the praise it deserved.
Theme 1: Love gone
wrong. Relationships in Wuthering Heights are like the moors:
dark, stormy, twisted. Cathy loves Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton.
Heathcliff loves Cathy but marries Isabella Linton. Mr. Earnshaw loves
his adopted son, Heathcliff, better than his biological son, Hindley, causing
Hindley to despise Heathcliff. Linton and young Cathy are forced to marry.
Theme 2: Cruelty
begets cruelty. Hindley’s maltreatment of Heathcliff helps turn the
latter into a vengeful monster. In developing this theme, Emily Brontë
is ahead of her time, demonstrating that suffering abuse as a child can
lead to inflicting abuse as an adult.
Theme 3: Revenge.
Heathcliff’s desire to get even against all who wronged him is at times
so strong that it subverts his other emotions, including love.
Theme 4: Lure
of Success and Social Standing. Cathy marries Edgar after becoming
infatuated with his image as a cultured gentleman with wealth enough to
meet her every need. Isabella marries Heathcliff after becoming infatuated
with an idealized, romantic image of him.
Theme 5: Class
distinctions. Heathcliff’s fury erupts after Cathy decides to marry
“up” into the world of the Lintons, and not down into the world of Heathcliff.
Theme 6: Fate.
The entire novel depends on the forces unleashed when Mr. Earnshaw happens
upon an orphan child, Heathcliff, on a street in Liverpool and returns
with him to Wuthering Heights.
Theme 7: Prejudice.
The upper crust, the Lintons, look down upon the lower crust, Heathcliff
and his kind.
Theme 8: The moors
as a reflection of life around them (or vice versa) and life beyond.
The dark, stormy moors—where only low-growing plants
such as heather thrive—symbolize the passionate
and sometimes perverted emotional lives of the residents of Wuthering Heights
and Thrushcross Grange. In the gloomy wasteland, the Yorkshire folk, including
Heathcliff himself, sometimes report seeing ghosts of people buried in
Most analysts of Wuthering
Heights maintain that the climax of the novel occurs when Cathy dies,
unarguably a decisive turning point. However, one may fairly conclude that
the climax comes earlier—in particular when Heathcliff overhears Cathy
say she intends to marry Edgar Linton. This event deeply wounds Heathcliff,
causes him to abandon Wuthering Heights, and triggers the dreadful events
tell her story, Brontë
uses two first-person
narrators, Mr. Lockwood and Ellen Dean, called Nelly. Lockwood, who rents
Thrushcross Grange, begins the narrative, part of which includes quotations
of notes written by Catherine many years before her death. Nelly takes
over the narration after he asks her to tell him the story of Heathcliff.
In flashback, she proceeds to tell the tale. From time to time, however,
Lockwood or Nelly interrupts the tale to discuss or deal with present circumstances,
as in the following passage in Chapter 7:
Mr. Lockwood, I forget these tales cannot divert you. I'm annoyed how I
should dream of chattering on at such a rate; and your gruel cold, and
you nodding for bed! I could have told Heathcliff's history, all
that you need hear, in half a dozen words."
times, the length of the story and the lateness of the hour make it necessary
for Mrs. Dean, weary of talking, to halt the story. Lockwood then again
briefly takes over the narration of Wuthering Heights, bringing
the reader up to date on present events. Such a break occurs at the end
of Chapter 9, when Lockwood says,
interrupting herself, the housekeeper rose, and proceeded to lay aside
her sewing; but I felt incapable of moving from the hearth, and I was very
far from nodding. 'Sit still, Mrs. Dean,' I cried; 'do sit still another
half-hour. You've done just right to tell the story leisurely. That is
the method I like; and you must finish it in the same style. I am interested
in every character you have mentioned, more or less.'
this point of the housekeeper's story she chanced to glance towards the
time-piece over the chimney; and was in amazement on seeing the minute-hand
measure half-past one. She would not hear of staying a second longer: in
truth, I felt rather disposed to defer the sequel of her narrative myself.
And now that she is vanished to her rest, and I have meditated for another
hour or two, I shall summon courage to go also, in spite of aching laziness
of head and limbs........At
the beginning of Chapter 10, Lockwood reports that he is sick. While bedridden,
he says to himself,
I am too weak to
read; yet I feel as if I could enjoy something interesting. Why not have
up Mrs. Dean to finish her tale? I can recollect its chief incidents, as
far as she had gone. Yes: I remember her hero had run off, and never been
heard of for three years; and the heroine was married. I'll ring:
she'll be delighted to find me capable of talking cheerfully. Mrs. Dean
came.The housekeeper then resumes
the story. She completes her account at the end of Chapter 30. Lockwood
then becomes the narrator for the rest of the novel, but Nelly remains
active as a character.
imagery undergirds the atmosphere of the novel and the moods of the characters.
Here are examples.
isolated locale of Wuthering Heights reflects the alienation and isolation
of Cathy, Heathcliff, Hindley, and Isabella. Mr. Lockwood calls attention
to the isolated setting in the first paragraph of the story: “This is certainly
a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could
have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.
A perfect misanthropist's heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable
pair to divide the desolation between us."
wind-swept location is also suggestive of the tempestuous relationships
in the novel, as the following passage—also in Chapter 1—indicates:
Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling. "Wuthering" being a significant
provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its
station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must
have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north
wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs
at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching
their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.Nature
weather, the landscape and other aspects of nature generally reflect the
dark, somber mood of the story and the chill that sickens the hearts of
the central characters. Consider, for example, the following passage at
the beginning of Chapter 2:
set in misty and cold. I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire,
instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights. . . [However]
I took my hat, and, after a four-miles' walk, arrived at Heathcliff's garden-gate
just in time to escape the first feathery flakes of a snow-shower.
Heathcliff is of course like
the black frost: hard and cold. In the following passage, an overcast sky
suggests the mood of Heathcliff:
that bleak hill-top the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air
made me shiver through every limb.
He was leaning against
the ledge of an open lattice, but not looking out: his face was turned
to the interior gloom. The fire had smouldered to ashes; the room was filled
with the damp, mild air of the cloudy evening; and so still, that not only
the murmur of the beck [stream] down Gimmerton was distinguishable, but
its ripples and its gurgling over the pebbles, or through the large stones
which it could not cover. (Chapter 34)Gothic Atmosphere
cultivates the Gothic atmosphere of the novel with imagery suggesting that
preternatural forces are at work, as in the following passage:
light flashed on his features as I spoke. Oh, Mr. Lockwood, I cannot express
what a terrible start I got by the momentary view! Those deep black eyes!
That smile, and ghastly paleness! It appeared to me, not Mr. Heathcliff,
but a goblin; and, in my terror, I let the candle bend towards the wall,
and it left me in darkness. . . .
he a ghoul or a vampire?" I mused. I had read of such hideous incarnate
demons. And then I set myself to reflect how I had tended him in infancy,
and watched him grow to youth, and followed him almost through his whole
course; and what absurd nonsense it was to yield to that sense of horror.
"But where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good
man to his bane?" muttered Superstition, as I dozed into unconsciousness.
And I began, half dreaming, to weary myself with imagining some fit parentage
for him; and, repeating my waking meditations, I tracked his existence
over again, with grim variations; at last, picturing his death and funeral:
of which, all I can remember is, being exceedingly vexed at having the
task of dictating an inscription for his monument, and consulting the sexton
about it; and, as he had no surname, and we could not tell his age, we
were obliged to content ourselves with the single word, "Heathcliff." That
came true: we were. If you enter the kirkyard [churchyard], you'll read,
on his headstone, only that, and the date of his death.
Figures of Speech
Following are examples of
figures of speech in the novel:
Repetition of a consonant
of a snow-shower.
of his authority nearly threw
the heaviest blame on the latter.
doing nothing and staying indoors.
you may fancy
was not much allayed. . . .
not intended to be taken literally
breath from the hills so full of life, that it seemed whoever respired
it, though dying, might revive.Metaphor
Comparison of unlike things
without using like, as, or than
and I joined at an unsociable meal, seasoned with reproofs. . . .
(Comparison of reproofs to condiments)
stab of a knife could not inflict a worse pang than he suffered at seeing
his lady vexed. (Comparison of the effect of vexation to a knife)
ignoble as it seems to insult a fallen enemy, I couldn't miss this chance
of sticking in a dart (Comparison of an insult to a dart)
thin, blue wreath, curling from the kitchen chimney (Comparison of a wreath
to a curl of smoke)
imitates a sound
bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack,
sending a clatter of stones and soot
into the kitchen-fire.
heard the slight rustle of the covering
being removed. . . .
statement that may actually be true
was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once. . . .
a melancholy sweeter than common joy.
Comparison of thing to a
"But where did he come from,
the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?" muttered Superstition,
as I dozed into unconsciousness. (Comparison of superstition to a person)
Comparison of unlike things
using like, as, or than
glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres. (Comparison
of the glare to ghosts)
Questions and Essay Topics
all kept as mute as mice a full half-hour. . . . (Comparison of people
gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog. . . . (Comparison of a man to
the first six months, she grew like a larch. . . . (Comparison of a baby
to a pine tree)
Who is the most admirable character
in the novel? Who is the least admirable?
In addition to love, what other
emotions have a powerful influence on the central characters?
Write an informative essay that
analyzes the personality of Heathcliff.
To what extent does social status
affect the course of action?
In what ways does the setting
reflect the action and the personalities of the characters?
Does author Brontë
inject her own views into the novel or remain aloof and objective?
argumentative essay, defend the thesis that Cathy remains a pivotal character
even after her death.
ways are the choices Cathy faces like those of the typical American woman
of the 21st Century?
is a dark-skinned waif whom Mr. Earnshaw found on the streets of Liverpool.
Speculate on where Heathcliff came from and what his parents were like.
Do you believe his adult character was shaped more by the genes he inherited
or by the environment in which Earnshaw reared him at Wuthering Heights?