Wuthering Heights is a melodramatic novel, written in the Victorian era by Emily Bronte. It’s a love story that’s never fulfilled, as the two characters are separated for life. It’s quite different to most other novels in this respect, as the romance between the two characters doesn’t end up in them marrying, and it almost describes an alternative ending to many other novels – what would happen if the heroes didn’t get married, and how they’d both be miserable as a result.
The main characters are Catherine and Heathcliff. Heathcliff is adopted as Catherine’s foster brother, but because he is probably a gypsy he’s treated badly by Catherine’s actual brother. Despite this, they fall in love as they grow up together, but their world is shattered when Catherine declares she cannot marry him. Heathcliff runs away, and returns to their lives years later. Because he fails to win her back, Heathcliff becomes cruel to all those around him, and is hell-bent on making people suffer as he had as a child.
So, whilst Heathcliff is cruel and full of revenge, Catherine is equally complicated. She’s volatile, and has very dramatic mood swings. Then, there’s her husband Edgar, who is almost the polar opposite to Heathcliff – he’s timid and quiet, and Heathcliff really hates him. To spite him, he seduces, marries and abuses Edgar’s sister Isabella. The main narrator of the tale is servant Nelly, who is a lot more sensible and grounded than most of the characters. She advises the characters, but often they do not listen, even if she’s right – so there’s a really big range of different personalities displayed in the story.
The first few pages of the book set the scene really well, and it uses a literary technique called pathetic fallacy, which often uses the weather to describe the mood of the scene – so in this case, it’s in the middle of a storm, which represents the stormy nature of things to come. It’s set in the North of England, on the moors, so it’s very desolate and isolated from city and modern life.
There’s so much packed into this book, with so many different themes. There’s a lot of cruelty and injustice in the novel, so it’s not for the faint of heart! It’s mostly committed by Heathcliff, of course – there’s animal cruelty, there’s domestic abuse, and Heathcliff is driven mad by the end of the story. The law also features quite heavily, as Heathcliff manipulates it in order to inherit the house of Edgar Linton.
As with most classical novels, there are numerous TV and film versions, and each director interprets the story differently. One of these stars French actress Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes, a.k.a Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, and it’s definitely a bit heavy - so perhaps not best for watching in this festive season! It’s also been the subject of a song by Kate Bush, interestingly, which is really unusual – the song came out in the 1970’s, and it’s very unique in both its tune and its lyrics.
It’s ranked by most as a classic book, so if you don’t study it at secondary school, it’s something you’ll definitely come across later in life. Why not get ahead and start your journey in the wonderful world of Victorian gothic literature today?
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