Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

Hmmm, I know this is a classic book and it is undoubtedly an incredible read, very powerful and emotive and memorable and thought-provoking. But I have always struggled with it. I find it so very dark and cruel and disturbing. This is obviously a sign of what a wonderful writer Emily Bronte was, to be able to provoke such strong emotions, but I find I have to steel myself to read the book, and I can’t really regard it as a love story in my mind, I think I’d more describe it as a psychological horror story than a love story!

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Hmmm, I know this is a classic book and it is undoubtedly an incredible read, very powerful and emotive and memorable and thought-provoking. But I have always struggled with it. I find it so very dark and cruel and disturbing. This is obviously a sign of what a wonderful writer Emily Bronte was, to be able to provoke such strong emotions, but I find I have to steel myself to read the book, and I can’t really regard it as a love story in my mind, I think I’d more describe it as a psychological horror story than a love story! 

I find the story so very intense to read and it provokes so many thoughts in my mind, that I prefer to just keep going and read it to the end and then think about what I have read, rather than thinking too much about it as I go along. So the basic story…

The story is learnt by Mr Lockwood (new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, which is owned by Heathcliff), at the same time as the reader learns it. The story is told by Ellen, who was a maid at the Wuthering Heights house, high on Yorkshire moorland, and now works at Thrushcross Grange. Mr Earnshaw used to live at Wuthering Heights with his daughter, Cathy, and son, Hindley. Mrs Earnshaw died a short time after the story began. Mr Earnshaw had found an abandoned child in Liverpool, who he named Heathcliff, and raised him as one of the family, treating him as his favourite, which bred jealousy in Hindley. Hindley later married Frances, and then Mr Earnshaw died and Hindley was left in charge of Wuthering Heights and in charge of the care of Cathy and Heathcliff, both of whom he treated cruelly and violently and neglectfully, particularly Heathcliff who was treated like a servant and was regularly beaten and deliberately kept ignorant and uneducated. Cathy and Heathcliff depended on each other in their unhappiness and suffering, and became fiercely loyal to each other. Joseph was another servant at the Wuthering Heights house, along with Ellen, and he was a very religious man and keen to impose his religious beliefs on the children. Hindley and Frances’ son, Hareton, was born, but Frances died soon after this, and Hindley’s grief over the loss of his wife made him even angrier and more violent and he also began drinking heavily. Cathy then met the neighbours at Thrushcross Grange, and their children, Edgar and Isabella Linton, receiving a glimpse from them of a gentler household and lifestyle and gradually distancing herself from the roughness of the Wuthering Heights house and also distancing herself from Heathcliff, who then ran away after he overheard Cathy saying how low he was and that she could never contemplate marrying him. Cathy married Edgar and moved to Thrushcross Grange, with Ellen accompanying her. After a few years, Heathcliff returned to Wuthering Heights, now a wealthy man, and avenged himself on Cathy and Edgar by marrying Isabella (Edgar’s sister). Edgar had banned Heathcliff from Thrushcross Grange, and Cathy protested at this by locking herself in her room and starving herself, though she was pregnant with Edgar’s child. Heathcliff secretly got into Thrushcross Grange, while Edgar was away, in order to see Cathy and they declared their love for each other, and when Edgar returned Cathy begged Heathcliff not to leave, shrieking that she would die if he left her. She prematurely gave birth to Catherine, and then died, at which Heathcliff was distraught and begged her ghost to haunt him forever. Isabella ran away from Heathcliff and gave birth to their son, Linton Heathcliff. Hindley died, leaving Heathcliff as master of Wuthering Heights because Hindley had gambled away Hareton’s inheritance, and Heathcliff was also now in charge of the care of Hareton. Heathcliff kept Hareton ignorant and uneducated and treated him like a servant, as Hindley had treated him. Isabella died 12 years later and Linton was sent to live with his Uncle Edgar at Thrushcross Grange, but Heathcliff demanded that Linton lived with him at Wuthering Heights. Edgar’s daughter, Catherine, married Linton, Heathcliff having encouraged this as he wanted ownership of Thrushcross Grange, and Catherine and Linton lived with Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights when Edgar died. Linton then died, leaving Catherine and Hareton and Joseph with Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, which is the point at which Lockwood met them and learnt their story. Later, Lockwood returns to the area and hears from Ellen that Heathcliff became more and more obsessed with Cathy and refused to eat, saying that he saw Cathy’s eyes in Catherine’s eyes and insisting that Cathy was haunting him, and he was later found dead in Cathy’s old room at Wuthering Heights. Meanwhile Catherine had been teaching Hareton to read and the two fell in love and planned to move to Thrushcross Grange with Ellen, leaving Joseph at Wuthering Heights.

I just have soooo many thoughts about this book (though most of them are sad distressing thoughts, as opposed to happy thoughts!), and many of my thoughts conflict with each other and then lead to other thoughts and questions, both about the characters and about the author who created these characters. My mind feels like a jumble! And I find it interesting that I end up becoming quite obsessed by this book, a book which is about obsession! And this leads me to reflect again on what an amazing and unique and powerful book this is, as there aren’t many books that dominate my thoughts so much. I also find it such a remarkable book with how intensely it keeps my attention and makes me feel like I’m there in the scene (much as I don’t want to be!), and it always takes me a few minutes to kind of step back and mentally distance myself from Wuthering Heights when I put the book down. It is such a very dark book, uncomfortably so with the violence and cruelty and neglect, and so disturbing with how people can damage each other and often willingly choose to do so. 

My overriding feeling about this book is that it is a study of cruelty, how cruelty is created and bred and sustained and reinforced and how it seems (in this book) to be an unalterable course of action, continuing on from person to person and damaging generation after generation, a cycle of cruelty going on and on, and I have such a feeling of despair at that thought of cruelty being a never-ending cycle, that the first person treats the second person cruelly, so the second person becomes insensitive to the pain of others and wishes to dominant others so treats the third person cruelly, who then also becomes insensitive to the pain of others and wishes to dominant others, so treats the fourth person cruelly, and on and on it goes. And even if some kindness is shown to one of the people in the cycle, then it isn’t enough to halt their course of cruelty within the cycle. And this just seems such a negative depressing view, that once a person has been treated cruelly there is nothing they can do to prevent becoming a cruel person themselves. I think this is probably the main reason why I find this book so difficult to read, as I always hope that if a person has been treated cruelly that it doesn’t make them then act cruelly to others. And the cruelty just seems relentless and with no hope of the characters learning to act differently and regretting their actions and resolving to be a better person. I get quite fascinated with thinking about where the cruelty at Wuthering Heights began, as it seems to be passed on from person to person like an infection so it’s interesting to think about the first cause of it, but I found it surprising that Emily Bronte doesn’t seem to look for causes and reasons for the cruelty and darkness of the characters, for why Hindley and Heathcliff and Cathy are as they are and what made them that way. I wondered if she thought then that people were born either good or bad and there was no external cause for this or any chance of reversing any badness. There seems to be no attention drawn to the relationship between a person’s upbringing or events that happen to them and how this affects them and changes them, or any sympathy for how they have suffered. Perhaps Emily Bronte didn’t feel a need to state this and just trusted that the reader would understand this relationship, but part of me wonders how the story would have been told by a modern author as I imagine there would be so much more about the effect of upbringing on the characters’ behaviours, and sympathy provoked from the writer and reader because of this.

And regarding the cruelty in the book, I wonder if it began with unintentioned and well-meaning mistakes. Particularly in my mind regarding this, is Mr Earnshaw. Everything seemed to start, ironically, from his kindness in taking in Heathcliff, because then his preference for Heathcliff caused jealousy in his own son, Hindley. But Mr Earnshaw seemed a kind man, so I am filled with such feelings of sadness thinking about how his mistakes then gave cruelty the chance to fester and grow and was perhaps the catalyst of all the cruelty of the future, and I am also filled with such feelings of regret about how differently all their lives could have turned out and what different people they could have been if these mistakes hadn’t been made. But then this is a perfect example of the cleverness of conflict in Emily Bronte’s writing, because having felt that Mr Earnshaw was a kind man, I then ponder him more and find examples to question my feeling this (as I do with so many of my thoughts about this book, and this is where my obsession grows as I find it hard to stop thinking and analysing and over-analysing the book!). Looking back to Heathcliff’s arrival, it is detailed that Mr Earnshaw had actually stated that ‘Hindley was naught’, and had said to Cathy, ‘I cannot love thee, thou’rt worse than thy brother’. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, was he just unable to comprehend the pain this would cause them, was he very stupid in one area though being kind in another area, or did he know full well the effect his words and actions would have on Hindley and Cathy and just didn’t care? It’s hard to understand how he couldn’t have been more balanced in his affections, which would then have removed some of the jealousy that particularly Hindley felt. But I remember that Mr Earnshaw had named him Heathcliff after a child of theirs who had died, so clearly Mr Earnshaw’s feelings for (the second) Heathcliff were involved and complicated as they were tied up with his grief for the son who had died, this child being his first-born son and therefore carrying the hopes of the father for the future, and I can see how losing his first son could have affected how Mr Earnshaw acted and how he could have treated (the second) Heathcliff as a replacement and as his favourite, if he represented his lost child. And I wonder if Mr Earnshaw also contributed to the unhealthy way that Heathcliff expressed love, did he make Heathcliff believe that someone can only love one person at a time, rather than being able to love several people in different ways, as the example that Heathcliff saw from Mr Earnshaw (the first example Heathcliff had surely seen of love) was that Mr Earnshaw loved him but excluded Cathy and Hindley from his love, so was this one reason for Heathcliff’s all-encompassing and obsessive love for Cathy?  

To me, the main perpetrator of the cruelty at the house was Hindley, he seemed to be the one that lifted the household into actual cruelty, being deliberately and knowingly cruel, and causing the Wuthering Heights house to become a cruel and violent and dark and dismal place, with no attempt at education or learning or improvement. And of course, the main first tragic step of the cycle seems to begin at that point, as Hindley’s cruel treatment of Heathcliff then causes damage to Heathcliff which in turn led to his cruelty and to the list of people who suffered by his actions. I feel Hindley’s cruelty was also a factor in the development of Cathy’s secretive and vengeful nature and her need to dominate in relationships, which then led to her being unkind and careless of people’s feelings and causing a list of people who suffered by her actions. And of course Hareton suffers from Hindley’s neglect as well. But (again) having labelled Hindley as the main perpetrator of the cruelty, I then question what I am saying as things are never just black and white in this extraordinary book, as there are some examples of Hindley’s good nature as he loved Frances and mourned her loss. And of course I feel sorry for him being pushed aside by Mr Earnshaw, which could be said to have caused his other actions as he saw ‘Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent’s affections and his privileges, and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries’. And I guess another point in Hindley’s favour could be that he didn’t ever throw Heathcliff out to fend for himself (but then again, as so often happens, I’m torn with this thought too as I’m tempted to think it gave Hindley a twisted pleasure to see Heathcliff suffering, rather than throwing him out and then not being able to witness his suffering, and of course, Hindley surely caused more damage to Heathcliff by keeping him at the house and torturing him and fostering hatred and bad feeling in him). And although I can blame Mr Earnshaw for his neglect of Hindley and the jealousy this created in him, I think Hindley’s grief for Frances also added to his cruel actions, as tragically he allowed his grief to overwhelm him and he descended into anger and drinking too much and inflicted pain on others to try and reduce the pain he felt.  

And of course Heathcliff then seems to overtake Hindley in the cruelty stakes, and I struggle to comprehend every time I read the book just how cruel and vengeful and vindictive he becomes, like an evil out-of-control monster really. And whenever I begin to read the book, I try to be sympathetic to Heathcliff, remembering all the cruelty and abuse he suffered in his life and how this shaped his character, and that it wasn’t his fault, that he was a victim. But then he reaches such levels of relentless cruelty, that I always lose any sympathy I had for him. And I find that it’s Heathcliff’s cruelty that has dominated the book for me when I reach the end, even though every time I begin reading I make a concerted effort to try and remember that the cycle began with Hindley, not Heathcliff. Again, yet more examples of the sheer powerfulness of the writing, to be able to shift the reader’s views and sympathies to such an extent. 

And I feel Joseph was also responsible for the cruelty and darkness at Wuthering Heights too, with his perverted view of religion and his pleasure in punishment and strictness. He was at the house a long time so had an impact on Cathy and Hindley and Heathcliff as children, as well as having an impact on the later generations. He told tales to Hindley about Cathy and Heathcliff, he took it upon himself to punish them and was extremely strict with them, and had an influence too over Hareton. He held a strong position in the house through the generations, and I can’t help thinking he also infected the house and its occupants with his poison. I wonder why Mr Earnshaw tolerated him there, why didn’t he get rid of him? Is this again another misguided and foolish mistake of Mr Earnshaw’s which had a big effect and caused damage to others, though he didn’t intend it to (is this another point to make me question Mr Earnshaw’s kindness/stupidity?!)? Or (again questioning my own views, as the book leads me to do!) perhaps Joseph wasn’t so bad during Mr Earnshaw’s time as master of the house, maybe he also became more corrupted and cruel during Hindley’s time as master of the house and then during Heathcliff’s time as master of the house? 

And I have to be honest and admit I really really dislike Cathy and I see her as one of cruel characters who damaged others (and so I don’t get confused between Cathy Earnshaw later Linton (ie, mother to Edgar’s child Catherine), and Catherine Linton later Heathcliff (ie, child of Cathy and Edgar), I will call the first Cathy and the second Catherine). Of course she suffered under Mr Earnshaw’s neglect and Hindley’s cruelty, and I admired how this didn’t crush her but made her independent and a fiercely loyal friend to Heathcliff, but this then made Heathcliff depend on her and be vulnerable to being hurt by her later in life, and when I look at the damage done to Heathcliff and the way his character was shaped by it, I can’t help thinking that perhaps the worst damage was done by Cathy as she emotionally tormented him while Hindley physically tormented him. She showed Heathcliff friendship and love and loyalty and made him feel cared for and wanted, and then gradually pushed him away and made him feel that he was below her in social standing and not good enough for her, and then abandoned him for her desire to achieve social status with Edgar. I almost have to put my hands over my eyes when I reach the part in the book where Cathy told Ellen that she couldn’t marry Heathcliff as he was below her (though she blames Hindley for causing this as he ‘brought Heathcliff so low’), when she said ‘it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now”, and arrrgh, tragically Heathcliff heard these words but didn’t hear her words of love for him and how she spoke so passionately about the stirring language of their souls. And (again, due to the conflict and contrasts that the book creates in me) I try to feel sorry for Heathcliff for how desperately desperately hurt he must have been hearing this and the damage it did to him, he had such a strong bond with Cathy, I think it must almost have been like a grief when she pulled away from him (even before he heard her words about how it would degrade her to marry him), and he was then rudderless with no-one at all to support him, it makes me hurt for him every time I read it. Cathy was cruel to Edgar too, being selfish and moody and demanding and holding grudges, and she was vengeful and punished people. It makes me quite relieved to think that Catherine grew up without her mother’s harmful influence! And I find it fitting really that Cathy isn’t buried in either the Linton plot or the Earnshaw plot but is buried separately against the wall at the end of the churchyard, obviously I’m sure this was to avoid tensions as Heathcliff would not have allowed her to be buried in the Linton plot and Edgar would not have allowed her to be buried in the Earnshaw plot (she even causes tensions and divisions after she is dead!), and it could demonstrate the fact that she wasn’t 100% either Linton or Earnshaw but a mix of the two (and again, questioning my own views (!), I do try to feel sympathy for Cathy with her attempt to straddle those two different lives and the toll this perhaps took on her), but I like to think she has almost been ostracised by being buried in neither the Linton plot or the Earnshaw plot, punished by being separated from those she damaged. Maybe I am too hard on Cathy, but I could spend a lot of time considering if the person who showed the most cruelty (though it’s not a physical cruelty) and who caused the most damage to others, was actually Cathy, rather than the more obvious Heathcliff or Hindley!

And leaving the theme of cruelty aside (if that is possible!), I also wonder if another of the main themes of the book is grief and how this can dominate and damage a person if not dealt with in a healthy manner. Grief damaged Hindley when Frances died, making him angry and violent and a drunk. And then there’s Heathcliff’s grief…! Grief for Cathy definitely dominated and damaged him, shaping his later life. But I also think of the grief he must have suffered when Mr Earnshaw died, this really being the first person in his life to show him love, and I wonder if this early grief also contributed to how he clung so obsessively to Cathy, perhaps fearing that someone else he loved and relied on would leave him (which she did, of course!). And I wonder how much Heathcliff witnessing Hindley’s reaction to grief influenced how he later reacted to his grief when Cathy died, perhaps if he had seen a more balanced reaction from Hindley and the sign of an ability to cope, he might have reacted in a different way himself, less obsessive and destructive (and, because of course one thought then leads to another thought with this book, I find it interesting in how many ways Hindley may have made Heathcliff similar to himself, even though they hated each other so much, they were similar obviously in their ability to be cruel and vindictive and revengeful, but similar also in their inability to move on after their loss and to let themselves be overwhelmed by it). And Ellen’s view on how Hindley dealt with the grief of losing his wife compared to how Edgar dealt with the grief of losing his wife was interesting, as she saw that although Hindley was the stronger man physically, Edgar was the stronger man emotionally, Hindley let himself be overwhelmed and weakened by his grief and gave way to despair, but Ellen felt that as Edgar trusted in God he still retained hope for the future so was the stronger of the two and more able to cope. 

And of course another theme of the book must be obsessive love, and, omg, Heathcliff and Cathy’s love for each other almost makes me shudder with its intensity and obsessiveness. Cathy’s passionate words when she described her feelings for Heathcliff, ‘he shall never know how I love him…he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same…my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be, and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger, I should not seem a part of it…my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath…I am Heathcliff. He’s always always in my mind…as my own being’. I know these words could be considered as romantic but there seems such a dangerous intensity to her feelings, the strength of her feeling is quite foreboding and scary and really quite unhealthy, I think. And Heathcliff used similarly intense language when he described his feelings for Cathy, saying of Edgar’s love for her ‘he couldn’t love as much in 80 years as I could in a day’. And then when they finally spoke to each other of their feelings for each other, it seemed almost competitive, almost like their love was all about how much they could suffer, the suffering and the love was intertwined, a sign of how much they suffered demonstrated how much they loved. It seems such a cruel obsessive all-consuming love, demanding sacrifices and misery, and stunting them rather than giving happiness and nurture and kindness and growth. Cathy told Heathcliff that he wouldn’t miss her when she died and that he would have other loves which he missed more, and that seemed like she was just deliberately probing a wound, knowing how he must hurt to hear those words. And he declared that when she is dead, ‘I shall writhe in the torments of hell’ and that ‘misery and degradation and death and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us’, it all just seems so obsessive and possessive, and I find it exhausting to read as it’s so intense and disturbing, and dark and psychological. And then I want to scream ‘arrrgh’ again with the despair and tragedy of the book, and the fact that there really seems no happy ending for these people.

I wonder if another of Emily Bronte’s intentions with the book was to demonstrate the importance of mothers in a child’s life, as there are quite a few mothers that die in this book! Mrs Earnshaw, Frances, Cathy (leaving her daughter Catherine Linton motherless), Isabella (although Linton wasn’t so young as the others when his mother died), as well as Heathcliff obviously not having his mother. It’s interesting to consider how things might have been different if Mrs Earnshaw had lived, would she have quickly seen the hurt being caused to Hindley from Mr Earnshaw’s affection for Heathcliff and therefore been able to correct and guide Mr Earnshaw in this, or at least have been able to counteract it by ensuring that Hindley and Cathy received affection from her? Would the balance of love and attention to all the children have been fairer, and would the household have known more kindness and the growing children seen more examples of this kindness which could have then guided them on their future actions? Would they have also been shown a better example of how to considerately treat your partner and how it is preferable to have a loving and caring relationship with them rather than needing to dominate and crush them? So could the descent into cruelty and darkness have even been avoided?! I wonder this particularly with Cathy and the pain she caused Heathcliff and Edgar in her relationships with them, and how much of this could have been due to not seeing examples of good healthy balanced adult relationships, with her growing up without both her mother and Frances to provide an example (I’m not sure that Frances would have been a wonderful example, but perhaps she would have improved as she got older). I think the Bronte children’s mother died, so I wonder if this influenced Emily Bronte’s view of the importance of a maternal female influence when growing up, and how children might struggle without this?  

I wonder too what Emily Bronte thought marriage would be like (as she was unmarried), and if she viewed it as mostly always being an unequal balance of power and one person dominating and subduing the other. Heathcliff’s treatment of Isabella is surely extreme in its horrible cruelty, but several of the other marriages in the book have one person dominating over the other, physically or emotionally, with men as the dominating person (Heathcliff over Isabella, and Linton over Catherine) and women as the dominating person (Cathy over Edgar and Heathcliff, and even Catherine seems mentally stronger than Hareton). 

I find it quite eye-opening to consider how restricting a person’s education is used as a punishment in the book, Hindley keeping Heathcliff uneducated, and Heathcliff retaliating by keeping Hareton uneducated. There are many other punishments which both men deal out to their victim, but to use education as a punishment is interesting as it is longer-term, so seems more severe than blows. The damage lasts longer as the effects of it hinder the person’s future, stunting their prospects and possible career, as well as putting a distance and division between them and their peers, putting them behind their friends and leaving them prone to being teased and bullied, affecting the choice of friends a person can have and affecting their choice of potential partner. Denying someone the chance to be educated partly takes away their power, I guess, as they don’t then have the words to express their emotions and feelings, which condemns them to a lower status in life. And as both Heathcliff and Hareton were intelligent, it seems even more of a punishment as they could understand the effects of it and the damage being done to them. It really is a powerful weapon, and I hadn’t really thought about how powerful it was until reading this book. 

I also found it interesting to consider the voice that Emily Bronte chooses to tell her tale, which is mostly Ellen’s, as I am imagining that Ellen relays a lot of Emily Bronte’s views and opinions, so I wonder if the Bronte family were more like Ellen’s status in society, educated but needing to seek employment, so not the higher class like the Lintons who didn’t seem to need to earn a wage, and not the working class uneducated farmers. Ellen seems to be someone inbetween the two, with the ability to be able to observe and judge events rather than instinctively reacting to events. And I was intrigued with the thought (from one review which I read of this book) that Ellen may be a biased storyteller, and the reader only has her telling of things. I hadn’t really thought about this when reading the book, but it is true, the views of the characters mostly come from Ellen really and how she saw them or how she interpreted their actions (and could I therefore take some little comfort from this (please, God!) that perhaps Hindley and Heathcliff weren’t as bad as Ellen depicted them…?!). And the one redeeming character in the Wuthering Heights house seemed to be Ellen, as she looked out for the young Heathcliff and tried to protect him from Hindley’s blows and Cathy’s indifference, and she also cared for Hareton and tried to protect him from Hindley drunkenness, and she courageously stood up to Hindley in his violent drunken rages, and she foresaw the danger of Heathcliff’s return to Wuthering Heights and tried to warn Hindley of this. I’m tempted to think that if the main characters had some small good in them (whether they utilised this or not) then this was due to Ellen, she seemed to be a force for good just as Hindley and Heathcliff were a force for bad, but sadly she wasn’t as strong an influence as they were. However, I kind of feel like she had the final word over Heathcliff and Cathy as she entwined both Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s locks of hair together in Cathy’s locket after she had died (after Heathcliff had replaced Edgar’s with his own).  

I wonder too how much the setting of the house contributed to what happened inside it, with it being so isolated in its moorland setting and without any other houses nearby to soften and counteract the blows of the strong winds and storms, the house needing to be tough and hard and unbending to the brutal weather with no possibility of, or use for, any ornamental features which would have been destroyed by the harsh weather, it just existing in a very basic and rough state. And how similar this is to the inhabitants, not softened or influenced by any close neighbours, having to be tough and hard to survive, no room for softness or gentleness, just existing in a very basic and rough state. It’s strange, as the Yorkshire moorland is beautiful and I see it in my mind with soft contours and lovely views and the expanse of wilderness to think in and to appreciate nature, yet Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland is very different and brutal and hard, her Yorkshire moorland fills my mind with jagged towering tors of rocks, peat bogs to be sucked into, head kept down from the battering of the harsh weather rather than head up looking out at the view, brutal exposure rather than beautiful expanse. The house adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the book too, I think, with all the damaged characters cut off from civilisation and trapped within the dark walls of the house on the moor, further damaging and destroying each other, the house really seems to be some kind of version of hell! I’ve read that some people feel this book demonstrates Emily Bronte’s love of the moorland, but I don’t really see it like that myself, I think she uses the moors as another factor in the claustrophobic feel of the book, the moorland making Wuthering Heights house stand alone in its isolated spot surrounded by dangerous natural features and harsh weather, denying the inhabitants escape, as when Lockwood visits and he is prevented from leaving due to the bad weather and the difficult terrain. The only escape was Thrushcross Grange, and Cathy took this escape, but I can’t help thinking she just took her damaged nature there with her, almost like an infection, and she infected them with her cruelty at Thrushcross Grange rather than them influencing her for the better with their kindness. It makes me wonder (coming back to the consideration of cruelty again, which I am never far from when thinking about this book) if another message of the book is that cruelty is more insidious and stronger than kindness, which again is such a disturbing and distressing thought and one which I try to hope is untrue. 

I found it interesting how Cathy altered when she met Edgar and Isabella, as I think she then developed almost a split personality and life, being cultured and educated and polite with Edgar, and wild and rude with Heathcliff. I also wonder what damage trying to live two lives did to her character, with the secrecy and concealment it bred in her, as well as the feeling of isolation due to not fully fitting into either life, and the pressure she must have put on herself to make her personality conform to the household she was with at the time and then switching to the other personality when she was with the other household. And I wonder which was the more natural fit for her. Or perhaps she was always a complex mix of several personalities (and perhaps we all are). But I’m tempted to think that the Linton household was less instinctively natural to her and required more effort for her to adhere to, even though I imagine this was the more accepted path in society. Perhaps this is why people are tempted to view the book as a love story, as Cathy’s instinctive nature was to be with Heathcliff but she obeyed societal rules and chose Edgar, so it is a thwarted love story with Cathy and Heathcliff still loving each other even though they can’t be together. And part of me wants to think that if Cathy had chosen Heathcliff over Edgar then they could have been happy together, but I can’t help feeling they were already too damaged by that point and would have just continued to hurt each other rather than being happy (although perhaps some of the pain they caused to others could have been avoided). 

I view Edgar as almost like another Mr Earnshaw, well-meaning but things could have been so different if he had acted differently. Cathy always seemed far more powerful than Edgar and I feel like he never really stood a chance to achieve equality and respect from her, but then I wonder if he pandered to her too much and increased her need to be spoilt and pampered with his desperation to keep her calm and reduce her hysterical fits. I like how Edgar grew attached to little Catherine, but then she seemed to become spoilt and demanding, like her mother, so did Edgar follow the same pattern with Catherine as he did with her mother and therefore contributed to the same issues of over-confidence and selfishness, which resulted in Catherine escaping Thrushcross Grange when Edgar was away and then finding Wuthering Heights and her path to all that awfulness there? If Edgar had brought Catherine up differently, could her path with Linton and Heathcliff have been avoided? And some of his actions seem very ill-advised (just as with Mr Earnshaw), particularly him banning Isabella from the house, banning Cathy from seeing Heathcliff (although I was with him on this one!), banning Catherine from having contact with Linton, all of which resulted in the opposite of what he wanted which was to keep the people he loved safe, as they just rebelled against his bans, so again I wonder if the results would have been different and so many people saved from pain if he had handled these situations in different ways. And, bless her, Ellen was keen for Edgar to take care of Hareton, as Cathy’s nephew (although Heathcliff blocked this by stating that if Edgar took Hareton then he would take Linton, so Edgar didn’t pursue this further), and it’s heartbreaking to consider how different Hareton’s life could have been with Edgar rather than with Heathcliff. And again, how different Linton’s life could have been if he had been able to live with Edgar. I do feel so sorry for Edgar and how his life was thwarted and damaged by Cathy and Heathcliff, this book just fills me with so many ‘what ifs’ and fruitless thoughts of how differently these people’s tragic lives could have been. But I am heartened that Catherine did love her father and was determined to be with him when his health began to fail.

And I am intrigued by Catherine and Linton’s relationship, and how she was tempted by life on the other side with Linton at Wuthering Heights just like her mother was tempted by life on the other side with Edgar at Thrushcross Grange. And I think a big part of Catherine’s feelings for Linton were due to him being weak and needing her care which was flattering to her, and also the attractiveness of the secrecy in their relationship with her sneaking away from Thrushcross Grange to see him when her father was away and when Ellen was ill. But it seems yet another relationship with an unequal balance of power and one person dominating the other, as Linton seems to dominate Catherine with his selfishness and his demands on her time and care, being deliberately feeble and pathetic and tearful (he almost seems more like his aunt, Cathy, rather than his mother, Isabella, using dramatic emotions in order to demand others’ attention), and this is again another interesting contrast in the book as this time the dominating person isn’t using their physical strength to dominate (like Heathcliff and Hindley) as Linton is a weaker physical person but he uses emotions to manipulate (so again, much like Cathy’s relationships really). But Catherine does seem to love Linton and to be a good influence on him, as much as it was in her power to be so, even though any chance of happiness for them was clearly doomed due to Heathcliff’s dominating influence over their relationship, and what a monster Heathcliff was to effectively cause Linton to die by refusing to get medical help for him, and even saying he didn’t care if Linton died. And, as with so many of these characters, I am left wondering what kind of person Linton could have been without Heathcliff’s determination to crush him. Admittedly, Linton was feeble-minded and self-indulgent before he lived with Heathcliff, but Heathcliff trying to force him to be strong and independent just had the opposite effect due to how Heathcliff tried to enforce this. And regarding Catherine, I struggled to like her with her teasing of Hareton and her secretive sneaking away from Edgar and Ellen, but in the end I think she was perhaps one of the strongest characters as she bent under Heathcliff’s treatment but didn’t break, and she was able to withstand (with difficulty, admittedly) the awful life at Wuthering Heights and didn’t let this destroy her, even though she was left destitute of money and possessions and friends after Linton’s death. And with her repentance of mocking Hareton (and is she the only character in the book who does repent?) and the patience she showed in teaching him to read, she and Hareton seemed to be the people in the book most likely to come close to achieving a happy life together. And I wonder if Hareton and Catherine in their married life together, demonstrate what Heathcliff and Cathy could have been if they hadn’t descended into cruelty and obsession. 

And I do feel for Hareton so much, firstly losing his mother and being frightened and isolated from his father with his drinking and violence, and then Heathcliff’s treatment of him, who stated that he took pride in how he had made Hareton into an ignorant boor, particularly as he was an intelligent boy but now is unable to free himself from his coarseness, and Heathcliff enjoying the irony of this being what Hindley did to him. So again the cycle of cruelty going on from Hindley to Heathcliff and from Heathcliff to Hareton, and again with Catherine and Linton goading Hareton and his ignorance just as Edgar and Isabella and Cathy goaded Heathcliff and his ignorance, hurting Hareton as Heathcliff was hurt.

I find myself shying away from contemplating Heathcliff too much, as he is such a disturbing and repulsive character, but I can go no further without looking at him. I often wonder where he came from, and if his genetic heritage played a part at all in his character formation, as well as the obvious trauma of being abandoned and having to fend for himself at such a young age. And he had no complete name (Heathcliff being his first name and surname), so did he always feel an incomplete person, one without a history as well as without parents and family and a name? One review I read suggested that Heathcliff was actually Mr Earnshaw’s illegitimate son! Eeeek, I had never thought of that and I find it disturbing to consider alongside my view of Mr Earnshaw, and also to view Heathcliff and Cathy as half-siblings needs a lot of readjustment in my mind. But the more I think about it, the more possible it seems, with Mr Earnshaw’s favouritism for Heathcliff and his determination to rescue him and provide a home for him, and with how Heathcliff and Cathy were drawn to each other and seemed similar in many ways. Arrrgh, I’m back again to my ramblings about Mr Earnshaw and his influence (intended or otherwise) with all that subsequently happened in the book and the characters’ damaged relationships with each other, as his influence then gets larger and larger within the story if he not only brought Heathcliff into the house but also brought him into the world! I feel I could go into limitless depths considering Mr Earnshaw and his influence!

And I wonder where Heathcliff went in the three years he was away from Wuthering Heights after overhearing Cathy’s rejection of him, how he educated himself, what vocation he followed, and how he made his money. But I can’t help thinking he must have experienced more suffering too, for him to come back the man he was on his return, and I guess it is highly likely that he suffered and struggled, being all on his own and with the way that Hindley had handicapped him in his abilities to function with people. The violent side of his character seems even more emphasised on his return, he planned to ‘settle my score with Hindley, and then prevent the law by doing execution on myself’, and he stated he would kill Edgar too but resisted from this as he knew it would hurt Cathy. Phew, it’s so dramatic and foreboding and dark! And the incident when Hindley tried to kill Heathcliff, holding a gun and knife towards him but Heathcliff reached in through the window (in my mind almost like Jaws coming out of the water!) and grabbed the weapons and stabbed Hindley in the arm who then collapsed from loss of blood and Heathcliff then beating Hindley while he was unconscious, almost to the point of death but just stopping himself from killing him, it’s just such a violent and disturbing scene, it is yet another of those times when reading this book that I want to put my hands over my eyes! And (as with many times in this book) I am so conflicted in my feelings about the characters, as in this scene I felt sorry for Hindley as he was being hurt and wounded, but then he caused such pain to Heathcliff in his younger years and contributed to him being so cruel and violent that it’s hard not to think that Hindley deserved all he got, but (yet again, Emily Bronte makes me question myself) he seemed weak and vulnerable in this scene with how drunk he was so it doesn’t seem fair for him to be beaten almost to the point of death as the combatants aren’t of similar strength, but then again Hindley began the violence in this scene by trying to attack Heathcliff in the first place, arrrgh, round and round I go! I can’t really think of another book that causes me such indecision and makes me veer so strongly with how I feel about the characters. And again, even though I’m disturbed by Emily Bronte’s writing, I also admire her power of writing. And I’m unsure if Heathcliff actually killed Hindley in the end, after he sent Joseph for the doctor when Hindley was found near to death due to drink which meant that Heathcliff was left alone with Hindley, who was then dead on Joseph’s return. I think he probably did kill him, or at least finished him off as he was so near death anyway. 

Heathcliff seemed almost monstrous when he returned to Wuthering Heights, almost out of control with his cruelty and domination and determination to crush everyone. I guess after he had been pushed down for so long and been the victim of others’ power, it would take a very strong man to resist exerting the power he had gained on his return to Wuthering Heights. He had gained power over Hindley (who was weakened by his reliance on drink and the need for money, gambling and losing his money and property to Heathcliff), and power over Cathy (Heathcliff stating that ‘for every thought she spends on Linton, she spends a thousand on me’), and power over Isabella (who married him thinking he was the ‘hero of romance’, and again I want to put my hands over my eyes when she fell in love with him, poor poor misguided girl!), and power over Edgar (which he gained by marrying Isabella), and power over Ellen (by manipulating her historical feelings for him and for Cathy as children, as well as by threatening her with violence), and then later power over Linton and Catherine and Hareton. Part of me (the part that still tries to feel sympathy for Heathcliff) thinks that it’s fitting that he gained some power, after he was the victim for so long during his early life, but he is just so dangerous and cruel with this power, fixated on just what benefits him with no regard for anyone else’s wellbeing, shiver, shiver! And then his monstrousness goes to a further level with him beating Catherine and imprisoning her and Ellen in order to force Catherine to marry Linton, and the cruelty he inflicted on Linton makes me feel almost nauseous to read with him psychologically destroying Linton by sitting alone in a room with him for several hours until Linton was a mental wreck and screamed in the night and saw Heathcliff everywhere, omg, it’s just awful awful awful to read and to consider the vindictiveness and sheer evil! My sympathy for Heathcliff is just a faraway thought at that point, and I wonder how I could ever have felt any sympathy for him. I do wonder what Emily Bronte felt about Heathcliff, I feel she must have hated him, she hasn’t given him any redeeming features at all, she has just made him a monster. Catherine’s words to Heathcliff seem so accurate when she said ‘you have nobody to love you…your cruelty arises from your greater misery. You are miserable, are you not? Lonely like the devil, and envious like him? Nobody loved you, nobody will cry for you when you die’. Such powerful and horrible words, but they seem fitting for the monster that he has become. But then I also feel so sad that he has become like this, so lonely and miserable and hurting everyone, it is all just so tragic. And then I am filled with wonder at how much he dominates my thoughts, he really is one of fiction’s most memorable and powerful characters, and I am amazed at how Emily Bronte created and formed him.

He is also so very clever and devious and manipulative too, on his return to Wuthering Heights, begging Ellen to help him see Cathy and stating that he would see Cathy with or without Ellen’s help but that with her help he could avoid hurting Edgar and the servants, thereby convincing her to take a letter from him to Cathy and for her to tell him when Edgar and the servants were out of the way so he could see Cathy. And even though Ellen told him that if he had any regard for Cathy he should avoid seeing her and he should leave the area, warning him that another encounter between him and Edgar would kill Cathy, he was blind to these warnings, he was just so focused on seeing Cathy. And another example of his deviousness and manipulativeness was in his determination to own Thrushcross Grange, to extend his power over everyone and everything. I was a bit surprised at how determined he was to own Thrushcross Grange, but I see it as his revenge on Edgar for ‘owning’ Cathy, so he would then own Edgar’s Thrushcross Grange. He told Ellen that he would preserve Linton’s health only until Linton inherited Thrushcross Grange, and then he planned that Linton and Catherine would marry in order to remove any claim that Catherine had to Thrushcross Grange, and he even wrote part of Linton’s letters to Catherine in order to ensure that they married, and told Catherine that Linton was pining for her and was likely to die and that no-one cared for Linton at Wuthering Heights, knowing that she would then be touched by this and worried enough about Linton to do as Heathcliff wanted, and he forced Linton to write a will leaving all his and Catherine’s possessions to him. Heathcliff is surely one of fiction’s baddest baddies, he seems to have reached levels that others don’t reach!

One of the parts of the book I struggle the most to read is Heathcliff’s treatment of Isabella, as it is just so extremely cruel and disturbing and vindictive. I think he didn’t hate Isabella for anything she was or did but purely for the fact that she wasn’t Cathy. But he is so very very cruel, saying he ‘sometimes relented, from pure lack of invention, in my experiments of what she could endure’ and ‘I have no pity…I grind with greater energy, in proportion to the increase of pain’. And Isabella says ‘a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he awakens’ and ‘he is ingenious and unresting in seeking to gain my abhorrence…I am wretched…the single pleasure I can imagine is to die or see him dead’. Arrrgh, such horrible images that then go with those words in my mind of the things he did to her and how he made her suffer. The pitiless and cruel man he has become finally extinguishes the sympathy I always try to feel for him as I begin to read the book, and I struggle from then on to imagine the tiniest bit of goodness in him. 

But then he was also damaging and cruel towards himself when Cathy died, torturing himself mentally and physically, he couldn’t even pronounce her name, he dashed his head against a tree drawing blood, and he demanded that Cathy haunted him, saying ‘be with me always, take any form, drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss where I cannot find you’ and ‘I cannot live without my life. I cannot live without my soul’. It’s all so unhealthy and obsessive. It’s so difficult to read, seeing him so tortured and in so much pain. Is this really love when it is so extreme? I kind of feel this book should come with a warning that this is not the kind of love to aspire to! And he ended up driving himself insane with his obsession for Cathy, he was already damaged by this obsession when she was alive but it does even more damage after she has died. His grief was just so powerful and overwhelming and he allowed it to distort him and dominate him, and I wonder at the irony of him dominating everyone else and then being so completely dominated himself not by a person but by his own desperate and all-encompassing thoughts and feelings about a person. He almost seems to want the loss of Cathy to destroy him, he seems to seek out as much pain as he can feel, to torture himself with it, to show others how it has damaged him, almost like the strength of his love is only demonstrated by the strength of his grief and if he doesn’t let it overwhelm and effective destroy him then he hasn’t loved properly. Eeeek, these seem such very dangerous ideas and make me shiver again to consider them. He told Ellen that he had opened Cathy’s grave, after she had been dead for 18 years, in order to look at her (!!), and he said he felt better for doing so as she had disturbed him night and day for 18 years and he had felt her presence near him many times and been so desperate to see her spirit that he had rushed home certain she’d be there and had woken in the night convinced she would be in the room. He blamed his love, his Cathy, for this torture, saying ‘it was a strange way of killing, not by inches but by fractions and hairbreadths, to beguile me with a spectre of hope through 18 years’. And then the end of Heathcliff approaches, the final decline of an extremely dominating man into almost a ghost himself, tortured into madness, as he begins to act oddly, disappearing onto the moors overnight, forgetting to eat meals, staring at empty spaces in the room, still strong in body but losing his mind. And then Ellen finds him dead, laid in bed with the window open and rain having lashed on him all night, with a sneering smile on his dead face and his eyes which can’t be closed. So even in death he is disturbing and alarming! And I wonder if he died believing that Cathy had finally appeared to him, as he longed for. Oh god, I just end up putting my head in my hands and wishing he could have just let her go and got on with his life, instead of letting his grief pull him down and wreck his life, it is all such a waste. And again, I would feel sorry for him but Emily Bronte doesn’t let us, as even when she allowed him to show his sufferings it is while he is being cruel to others so I can’t then feel sorry for him. I do feel a little like Emily Bronte cheated us with Heathcliff (bizarre as that sounds) as she gave us no opportunity after his childhood to feel sorry for him and wish him well, she must have hated him (or whoever he perhaps represented to her) as any unhappiness dealt out to him was repaid by him causing even more unhappiness to others, and even at his end we were denied the chance to feel kindly towards him, as he just seemed repulsive and frightening laid there with a sneering smile and his eyes refusing to be closed, she didn’t even allow him to be at peace in death as he seemed tortured and in torment even when dead. With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte allowed Mr Rochester to redeem himself, but Emily Bronte seemed to firmly repel any chance of redemption for Heathcliff. It is unusual to write a story with no redemption for the bad character, I feel, particularly in that time of writing, and I wonder if this contributed to the reception of the book when it was published. 

The book brings up so many questions about Emily Bronte, as well as about the characters, as it is such a very strange and unusual and disturbing story, so different from most other books of the time, particularly those written by a woman, and it’s difficult to imagine where she got her ideas and characters from. And I wonder what else she’d have written if she’d have had the chance. I also wondered how the book was received when it was published, as I can imagine it very much shocked readers then with its intensity and violence, and it’s remarkable how it can still shock me such a very long time after it was written, which is a sign of the powerful writing. I’ve also seen the book described not as a love story but an exploration of evil and abuse, which is definitely more my view of it! As I have said, I have been surprised to see it described as a love story, because Heathcliff’s and Cathy’s obsession and destruction of each other doesn’t seem like love at all, and I actually read one review which described Cathy and Heathcliff as vampires which I found a fascinating viewpoint and I can see the accuracy of that as they suck the happiness and tranquility out of each other and they can’t rest until they’ve unsettled and tortured the other, even relishing themselves in the torture they’re suffering. It is definitely a remarkable and powerful book, and it’s hard to think of another book which stays in my mind so long after I’ve put it down and keeps me questioning the themes and characters featured in it. But I do find it uncomfortable and disturbing and exhausting to read! I feel tempted to re-read the books from the other Bronte sisters, mostly because sadly there are no more Emily Bronte books to read, but also because it’s interesting to compare the sisters as authors and to look for any similarities in the characters and themes of their books. I think my favourite book of the sisters is Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as I love the style of the book being told in the form of letters and I love the fierce determination of the main female character, I’ve read this book many times and am looking forward to reading it again. I have read Anne’s other book Agnes Grey only once so would be keen to re-read that. I find Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre quite tough to read, with the early scenes at Lowood School, but I love the gothic mystery within it and I always see something fresh in the book every time I read it as it is such an involved book. I’d also like to re-read Charlotte’s Villette, as I have only read this book once, and her book Shirley sounds intriguing. I also have Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal on my bookshelf waiting to be read, which are the early writings of the Bronte sisters’ fantasy worlds (perhaps more relaxing bedtime-reading than Wuthering Heights!).

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