By Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
A Study Guide
Revised and Enlarged in 2009
.......In 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 diary.
.......Certainly 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.
.......Three 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.
.......One 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.
.......Meanwhile, 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.
.......Cathy—though 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.
.......With 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.
.......When 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.
.......Heathcliff 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.
.......Many 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.
.......However, 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.
.......Heathcliff 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:
.......In 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.
.......Stories 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."
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.
Cathy Earnshaw’s beautiful and spirited daughter, who falls in love with Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton instead.
Hindley Earnshaw’s 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.
Frances Earnshaw 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 Isabella cruelly.
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 servant
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
Wuthering Heights 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.
Wuthering Heights 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.
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 that follow.
......."But, 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.".......At 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,
.......At 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.
.......Brontë's imagery undergirds the atmosphere of the novel and the moods of the characters. Here are examples.
.......The 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."
.......Wuthering 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
.......The 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:
Yesterday afternoon 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:
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
.......Brontë cultivates the Gothic atmosphere of the novel with imagery suggesting that preternatural forces are at work, as in the following passage:
.......The 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. . . .
Figures of Speech
Following are examples of figures of speech in the novel:
Chapter 2:......the first feathery flakes of a snow-shower.Hyperbole
Exaggeration not intended to be taken literally
Chapter 27:....every 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
Chapter 7:......Joseph and I joined at an unsociable meal, seasoned with reproofs. . . . (Comparison of reproofs to condiments)Onomatopoeia
Word that imitates a sound
Chapter 9:......huge 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.Paradox
Contradictory statement that may actually be true
Chapter 5:......she was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once. . . .Personification
Comparison of thing to a person
"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)
Chapter 3:......a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres. (Comparison of the glare to ghosts)Study Questions and Essay Topics