Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 by Emily Bronte during a time in which a passionate love story of wild and carefree desire was frowned upon. Though the book is revered as a classic of English literature, the Victorian’s did not receive it with nearly as much enthusiasm. It remains one of the most revered love stories of all time. It takes its place among the likes of Romeo and Juliet.
A Brief Biography
Emily was born in 1818, making her the middle child. She was two years younger than her sister Charlotte and a little over a year older than her sister Anne. All three sisters would grow up to become writers, producing some of the most remarkable works of classic literature the world has ever witnessed. Their father worked for the church, and they were primarily raised by their profoundly religious aunt (After the death of their mother). Emily, though being raised in a deeply Christian home did not choose to pursue such endeavors. However, some of her characters can be found to reflect these evangelical personas. The three sisters grew up as exceptionally imaginative children. They were always producing plays, poems, and stories. It is this background that lead to their literary successes.
It is easy to find the setting of Wuthering Heights where the Bronte sisters lived. In the Yorkshire Village of Haworth, Emily spent her days in the expansive and rolling moors until her death in 1848. Though she died a young woman, she had carved a place of immortality out for herself through her beautiful imagery. Through her unbridled story of love, readers can find themselves standing in the unyielding breadth of the English moors. Readers may find themselves looking through the eyes of Cathy, feeling the cool damp air on her face through the relentless winds. Her descriptions leaves her readers longing for the foggy nights and the moments before sun would break the dawn to burn the misty screen away. It is the perfect setting for a story and a passion as vast as the moors are wide.
The 19th century hosted the Victorian era of British history. This period spanned through Queen Victoria’s rule from 1837 to 1901. The era was a time of refinement, harmony, and affluence. Though a definite product of the Georgian era, it would lead to the much more stringent outcome of the Edwardian era, known for their love of modesty. This cultural norm is why Wuthering Heights was generally disregarded for a great deal of time. The story displays what would have been considered taboo and inappropriate. It is important to note that there is no sex or bloodshed throughout the entirety of the story, but it was viewed as distasteful none-the-less.
Emily wrote Wuthering Heights with a great deal of traditional Gothic undertones. The Gothics of the later 18th century were most known for their obsessions with the paranormal, the bizarre, grotesque verbiage, endless nights, and an element of mystery. Though Wuthering Heights is a much more refined counterpart, it still captures the essence of eerie nights on the moor, and shutters banging in the wind. The symbolism in the book is so masterfully placed, it has astounded scholars for generations. The allure of a doomed love between Catherine and Heathcliff has captivated audiences even today.
The story begins as a man by the name of Lockwood rents the manor, Thrushcross Grange in the heart of winter in the early 1800’s. The house is isolated in the English moors, and is managed by a rough and sour landlord, Heathcliff. In visiting Heathcliff, Lockwood meets the housekeeper, Nelly Dean. Nelly takes Lockwood through the Odyssey of Wuthering Heights. It is this story which creates the main portion of the plot. Nelly began working at Wuthering Heights as a child for Mr. Earnshaw who would adopt a dark-skinned orphan he would name Heathcliff. In the beginning Mr. Earnshaw’s children loathe the orphan boy, but Catherine would find a fondness for him as they would spend their days roaming about the moors. Hindley Earnshaw would further hate Heathcliff after his father would favor the boy after his wife’s demise. Through their adolescent years, Hindley would continue to torture Heathcliff until his father would send him away to college.
After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights, and proceeds to exact his revenge on Heathcliff. Heathcliff would now find himself as a servant to the Earnshaw son, laboring in the fields. This, however, does not stop him from seeing Catherine. On one fateful night the pair roam the moor and find themselves at Thrushcross Grange with the purpose of teasing the Linton children, Isabella and Edgar, for their fainthearted and condescending ways. As luck would have it, Catherine is bitten by one of the Linton’s dogs and is forced to stay with the Linton’s until she makes a full recovery.
Over the span of five weeks, Mrs. Linton sets to transform Cathy from a young girl into a proper lady. When Catherine returns, she is scarcely the free spirited girl Heathcliff knows and loves. Catherine even finds herself infatuated with Edgar and the lifestyle he leads. This creates a complication between Cathy and Heathcliff.
Through the course of the story, Hindley’s wife dies in child birth and further tortures Heathcliff, and Catherine gives into the pressure to climb the social ladder. In turn Heathcliff runs away for three long years and would only return upon hearing news of Catherine’s marriage to Edgar Linton. Heathcliff, in a bitter rage becomes set upon taking his vengeance out on those who have done him wrong. Heathcliff has gathered an expansive wealth through unknown means. It is this wealth that allows him to trick Hindley into borrowing large amounts of money, causing Hindley to spiral into debt and dejection. When Hindley finally dies, Heathcliff becomes the new master of Wuthering Heights, and further sets himself up to inherit Thrushcross Grange through a well matched marriage.
Though the story of Heathcliff seems like one of gloom despair, the story is riddled with passion. Catherine is headstrong, and though she is selfish, she loves Heathcliff in the depths of her soul. She even tells Nelly that their souls are made one and the same. She is beautiful and wild, much like the English moors. It is this wild love that Heathcliff finds himself enchanted and consumed. It could even be said the moors reflect Catherine’s unbridled spirit and relentlessness stubbornness. In the end, Heathcliff is haunted by Catherine until his death. It drives him mad, and yet he loves her presence in every corner of Wuthering Heights. It is Emily’s life on the moors which inspired such a passionate love triangle, one torn by the desire to fit , and the desire to live free and love without boundaries. The story is haunting and yet it beautiful in its own way.
This classic story of unbridled love on the English moors is available in many versions in the audiobook format. My favorite is the Wuthering Heights audiobook narrated by Emma Messenger, which can be found at Audible. Emma Messenger’s narration bring the language alive, leaving the reader to inhale the cool clean air off the moors, and hear the chilling winds roll through the hills. Such a story is a romance for the ages. Love, betrayal, and passion are all unexpected themes to come from the Victorian era, and yet they so beautifully reflect the spirit of the moors.