Wuthering Heights was the successfully ambitious first and only novel by Emily Bronte. It’s a shame that a bout of consumption ended her life prematurely at the age of 30, because this novel was quite a refreshing change of pace – especially for a Victorian period used to its sickly sweet love stories. “Wuthering Heights” strayed far from the formulaic concept of love, and was shunned by society of the time. Only after Bronte’s death was the novel finally embraced by society.
The story is about Heathcliff, a homeless boy who was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw on a long road trip, and adopted as his son. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, he is verbally and physically abused by Earnshaw’s brother and Heathcliff’s new master, Hindley. During this time (Heathcliff’s teenage years) he finds comfort and happiness with Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine, who he falls in love with. The feeling is mutual, but when Heathcliff overhears the wrong part of a conversation between Ellen (the family servant) and Catherine, he believes Catherine has never loved him. Catherine eventually makes the decision to marry a wealthy man who she cares for but doesn’t love, named Edgar Linton. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights and only comes back years later with nothing but unbridled revenge on his mind. Heathcliff destroys everyone around him – if he cannot be happy, then no one should have that privilege.
The revenge and hatred spans decades, and we are made familiar with the events mostly through the eyes of Ellen (Nelly) Dean, the family servant who explains the story to Mr. Lockwood, a tenant who is astounded by the coldness exhibited in Wuthering Heights years after Catherine’s death. This third party perspective has a refreshing impact on the story, but Bronte makes the mistake of switching perspectives to other characters at times, without proper transitions. This often leaves the reader leafing backwards through the novel to try to figure out where the narrator changed.
What has caused this novel to be so acclaimed over time, is the genuineness of its characters. Each one can be loved and hated at times, and it leaves the reader to make their own interpretation of the goodness of each character and if the character is ultimately responsible for his or her own attitudes. I think the feelings towards these characters vary depending on who reads the novel. Some portray Heathcliff to be the ultimate man, with a love unequalled over time. Proponents of this point of view often sight Bronte’s work as “the Greatest Love Story of All-Time.” Others view Heathcliff as a selfish fool, unable to see the hypocrisy of treating others in the same ill manner in which he was treated as an adolescent. In a way, Heathcliff never really grows up.
I’ve had to take quite some time to digest this novel, to come to a conclusion of the message. I think what makes “Wuthering Heights” a great novel is based on the effect it has on readers. Depending on which message you gain from the novel, it says something about your personal character and your belief towards the concept of love. I believe that each reader has the tendency to project their own feelings on Heathcliff and his intentions to ultimately determine if he was an evil man or just a product of love’s potential destructive nature. The fact that people still contemplate this very concept over 150 years later is astounding.
Here are my personal thoughts on the novel, which should reveal a little about myself in the process. I believe that love, like many emotions such as anger and rage, have the ability to blind an individual depending on their make-up and prior experiences. Each individual has a choice on which path they want to follow: the path of destruction or the path of acceptance. Heathcliff chooses the path of destruction. He may be predisposed to this path due to his upbringing, but there are still many people who are able to overcome their upbringings to become ‘productive’ members of society.
I don’t believe or disbelieve that Heathcliff’s actions are his fault, but simply acknowledge that he created these actions and has to live with the consequences. It is unfortunate that these actions have consequences on others, but this is life. As a member of society, you have the ability to affect others by your actions for either better or worse. You ultimately have to choose, and Heathcliff chooses to be destructive. ‘Love’ affected him negatively, but love has the ability to work either way. I think this book cautions us to see the duality of love and shows us the consequence of the choice to be destructive.
A good message from a compelling novel.
"I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind." 49
"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 Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliiff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being." 51
"I'd be glad of a retaliation that wouldn't recoil on myself; but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends: they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies." 111