When I was 16, and just starting my English A-Level at Sixth Form, my mother told me I should read the books she had read for her A-Level about fourteen years before. Though the reading list had changed drastically since she had done the exam, I was still willing to read. I read Wuthering Heights first, and then read it again when I was 19 and at University, in my first year. And now, I sat down again and reread it, fully embracing it for a third time.
I love the 19th century – the Gothic is probably one of the best things to come out of it. I’ve always harboured a fascination for these authors with their bombastic language, intricate plots, love of description of their surroundings. The 19th century was the age of the Romantics, the people who loved Nature more than anything; the age of Byron hating his wife for being so interested in Mathematics and his dear friend Mary Shelley writing about a man who wanted to be God. It was the age of ghost stories and seances and talismans to keep you safe from harm. It was the age of Cathy and Heathcliff, romping around on the moors, and living a love story too tragic for their own good.
For those of you who have been living under a rock their entire life, Wuthering Heights is a form of ‘three generation novel’ about a family who lives in a house with their servants on the Yorkshire moors (the moors being where Bronte spent most of her lives with her own family). The family’s perfect life and its peace is disturbed when the father brings home an orphan he pitied on a business trip – a Romani orphan, by the looks of it – who is immediately adopted into the family, against the mother and eldest son’s wishes. Misfortune after misfortune follows the family as Heathcliff grows older, and by the end of it, the novel has become as much a story of revenge as it has a story of Gothic romance.
I won’t go about ruining the story for you, but I will talk a little bit more about my own personal thoughts about the narrative, so SPOILER ALERT.
The story is very much as if someone were telling a ghost story, the kind that ends with that cliched ‘And sometimes, when the night is quiet, you can hear somebody crying in the empty hospital on the hill’. In fact, it pretty much does end that way, only replace ‘hospital’ with ‘moors’. For all intents and purposes, it’s a ghost story about two lovers who were never allowed to be together in life.
But, for all the other intents and purposes, it’s also not a very reliable tale.
Nelly, the main narrator of the story, tells us every single thing that has happened, and tells us all of it through her eyes. Because of this, how can we ever be sure that she’s telling us the truth? Nelly is far from a perfect human herself, so how do we know this all isn’t really just a story she’s fabricating because her life on the moors is so boring? She remembers things with the most vivid of detail, that it’s almost difficult to believe that she’s reproducing a story as it’s happening, and not just telling a story she’s rehearsed so many times it’s been burned into her memory.
Something that I do love about this story, though, is the very slight references to gender roles in the beginning of the novel. Heathcliff and Cathy grow up as literally the same person, until Cathy’s injury and subsequent imprisonment at The Grange. Up until that moment, the lines between ‘male’ and ‘female’ for them were incredibly blurred. But the minute that Cathy is locked up at The Grange and forced to start to conform to the image of the ideal lady, she is suddenly much more ladylike, and stays that way for the rest of her life. Heathcliff, on the other hand, suddenly sobers up and ‘mans up’ when he is forced to perform manual labor at The Heights, and becomes the epitome of a successful manhood when he comes back from his mysterious absences. It is only when the two of these characters start to realize what their place in society is (thanks to their genders) that Heathcliff becomes the violent pursuer of Catherine’s affection, literally ruining the lives of all those he forcibly enters. You could say that, if it weren’t for Heathcliff, everything would have turned out much better than it did.
Something I loved a little (read: a lot) less in this story was how cousins were forced to marry each other, but whatever. That’s nothing compared to the theory a lot of people have that Heathcliff is actually the illegitimate son of the man who brought him to Wuthering Heights, which is why he and Cathy are so strongly attracted to each other. They’re actually siblings who feel a filial connection to each other that they confuse for romantic love and oh god that is so fucking creepy I’m just gonna stop there.
Final Rating: 4.5/5 – This book is very much a product of it’s time: a nineteenth century novel that describes things too much and can drag for quite a bit if it wants to. But the story is timeless, and I love it.
Quotes I Liked: