Author: Emily Bronte
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Classics
Pub Date: 1847 (read on Audible Sep. 2018)
Audiobook Narrator: Joanne Froggatt
This was AMAZING! I know most people read Wuthering Heights in high school, but it was never on my curriculum for some reason. I read Jane Eyre a few years ago and didn’t really like it that much, but when I saw Wuthering Heights for sale on Audible, I decided to try it out. I listened to Emma earlier this year, so audible has been helping me knock back some classics.
I did not expect to like this. I haven’t had that much luck with classics, they tend to be slower paced and the writing is often difficult to get through, but every now and then you find an old classic that totally surprises you! I can see what this book is so polarizing. People seem to either love it or hate it. I can totally understand why people would hate this. None of the characters are likable and Heathcliff is just downright evil. But if you’re able to enjoy books with unlikable characters, then Wuthering Heights may be the book for you!
I loved it. Granted I found it a little bit confusing at the beginning because I couldn’t tell who was narrating the story and I was overwhelmed by all the characters and what their relations were to one another. But once I figured out all the characters, I was totally enthralled with this from start to finish! I was not expecting the level of drama that I got from this book and the 18th century scandal was just delicious to read about.
Wuthering Heights tells the story of the passionate love affair between Catherine and Heathcliff (the goodreads synopsis describes their love as “intense and almost demonic” and that is pretty much the most accurate description ever). Catherine grew up at Wuthering Heights, wandering the lonely moors as a girl. And boy is this setting lonely. There is a neighbouring village, but the only other neighbours are the Lintons, who live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff is a poor orphan boy adopted by Catherine’s father, but loathed by her older brother Hindley. When Catherine’s father passes away, Hindley becomes extremely abusive to Heathcliff, forcing him to be a servant to the family. Nonetheless, Catherine and Heathcliff grow close wandering the moors together and fall in love.
The story follows a series of 18th century dramatic events in which Catherine ends up marrying her neighbour, Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff disappears in a rage. He returns years later, now wealthy and determined to enact his revenge upon the entire Ernshaw and Linton families.
It’s an interesting story in that it is told (mostly) from the point of view of Nelly Dean, a housekeeper who has played maid to both the Ernshaw and Linton families over many years, as she recounts the story to the visiting Mr. Lockwood. So it does call into question the reliability of the narrator. She has some obvious biases. but overall I liked her. The story is really split into two parts, the first focusing on the original Catherine and Heathcliff, and the second half focusing on the second generation. Nellie has been involved in the lives of both generations, so she brings an interesting perspective to the story.
So why did I like this? Besides being super entertaining, I loved all these characters, despite how horrible they are. I couldn’t help but root for Catherine and Heathcliff early in the novel. Heathcliff is abused at the hands of Hindley Ernshaw and brought extremely low, so you can initially forgive him for his hatred of Hindley’s family and the wealthy neighbours, the Lintons. Catherine is fickle and ignorant of her privilege. She regularly belittles Heathcliff and despite loving him, accepts Linton’s marriage proposal because she feels he is more of her station and social standing.
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
This is probably one of the most popular Wuthering Heights quotes, but I love it just the same. I was more a fan of Heathcliff in the beginning because he was at least a victim of his circumstances, whereas Catherine was just haughty and mean, throwing tantrums and letting her temper get the better of her. So I didn’t really see what the attraction was between them, but really it is because they are both the same and have that same darkness and haughtiness in them. They are so enraptured in both themselves and each other and they don’t care who they hurt, so long as they will be happy. Catherine even considers her marriage to Edgar as a way to elevate Heathcliff’s position, which Nelly rightfully scoffs at, as if Catherine, a married woman, could just continue her relationship with Heathcliff after marrying Linton.
These characters are lonely and I feel like they are all victims of circumstance in a way. They have known only their wealth and they are not sympathetic to the plights of others. Lockwood draws our attention to how very out of touch they are with the world and after just a week at the manor, feels compelled to return to London to get away from the drama of it all. The entire novel is chaotic and feels very all consuming. Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights is a world unto itself, focusing solely on it’s inhabitants and their isolated drama.
I preferred the first half of this book to the second. The novel reaches a climax at around the midpoint, which is when the focus switches from the first Catherine, to the second generation: Hareton (Hindley’s son), Catherine (Catherine’s daughter), and Linton (Heathcliff’s son). While I preferred the first half of the book, the second half is what makes this a classic. The second generation of characters parallels the first generation and serves to highlight how the cycle of violence is destined to repeat itself. The use of the same set of names serves to further highlight the cycle. Heathcliff becomes Hindley, Hareton becomes Heathcliff, and Linton and Catherine become Edgar and the first Catherine.
In the second half of the novel, Heathcliff returns to enact revenge on the Ernshaws and Lintons and descends further into himself as the novel progresses. Heathcliff is really a monster of a character, even having been abused himself, he perpetuates the cycle of violence worse than anyone who came before him. He is devastated by Catherine’s death and we are led to believe that he is haunted by her ghost for the rest of his life. Catherine’s daughter is just as haughty as she was, Linton is a sniveling mess, and Hareton is an uneducated servant boy. It is hard to like any of these characters, and yet Bronte has written them in a way that has made me hugely invested in them. I wanted to hate Heathcliff, he is truly awful, and yet I always hoped for him to be redeemed. I kept waiting for him to honour Catherine by loving her daughter, but he becomes so mired in his revenge scheme and haunted by Catherine’s ghost that he looses any sense of humanity and becomes obsessed with having total and complete power over everyone involved. Yet the characters still persevere and despite losing absolutely everything and being indentured to Heathcliff, Catherine is still able to find joy in life – to feel pity for Heathcliff and find it in herself to love another.
Like I said, I can absolutely see how people hate this. There’s pretty much no likable characters, save maybe for our narrators, Nellie and Lockwood. But even they have their flaws. Nellie disliked the first Catherine and tried to help Heathcliff as a boy, so it is maybe her hope for Heathcliff to repent that sustains this feeling of hope throughout the novel. We just keep waiting for Heathcliff to finally decide that his revenge is now complete. But he is never able to fully break the characters and I love when he realizes this at the end. Despite every atrocious act he commits, the young people are still able to find love and happiness through their trials. It is only at this point that Heathcliff is able to recognize how revenge has consumed his life and sanity. He finally realizes the futility of his hatred and thinks only of his longing to be reunited with Catherine.
It’s essential to give credit to the audible narrator, Joanne Froggatt. She is absolutely wonderful in this rendition of Wuthering Heights and probably a big part of what contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Her accents are excellent and I loved the different tone of voice that she used with each character. I was dismayed to learn that she also narrated a version of Jane Austen’s Emma, because I listened to Emma a few months ago and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more had I listened to Froggatt’s version. Anyways, I would highly recommend this audiobook. It’s probably also worth mentioning that while reading this, I followed up the chapters with a quick read of the Sparknotes chapter summaries. It helped a lot at the beginning with figuring out who each of the characters were. I wish I’d done this for Emma too because I found the cast of characters super confusing in that book too.
So in conclusion to this long winded review – I am definitely a fan of Wuthering Heights! I get why people don’t like it, but it’s also clear why this has become a beloved classic.