Wuthering Heights has been reviewed and critiqued approximately eighty billion times already. My secondhand copy (purchased for $10, once owned by but never borrowed from the library of Riverside Girls’ High, according to the stamp in the front) has a Preface, Chronology, Introduction, Further Reading List (pages!), a Note on the Text, a Genealogical Table, a Bibliographical Notice for the author, and an Editors Preface to the New  Edition… not to mention that the text itself is followed by 13 pages of notes. How can I possibly add to an analysis that’s already longer than the book? I’ll give it a shot, but I’m not optimistic…
(A hot tip for those of you yet to read Wuthering Heights: given how many characters Emily Brontë names for their parents, and how many of them marry their cousins, an edition with the aforementioned Genealogical Table in the front is really handy!)
So, it’s 1801, right. This moody guy, Heathcliff, lives with his daughter-in-law and her new husband (his own son having perished, at some point). The DIL is hot, but they’re all kind of rude and weird. Their kindly neighbour – who’s trying to narrate this mess – comes to have a sleepover, but they stick him in a really strange room and he has nutty dreams and sees a ghost. He bails quick smart.
Then, presto, we kind of switch narrators, because that kindly neighbour – safe, back at his place – gets bored at dinner and makes his housemaid give him all the dirt on those weirdos up the road. So, it’s the narrator narrating the narration of his housemaid. Got it?
It turns out: that Heathcliff guy was once a ruffian street-kid, with a Cinderella-esque upbringing (once the dude who took him in died, the rest of the family started being really mean). Catherine (we’ll call her Cathy Senior for clarity – you’ll see why in a minute) was a saucy little minx, who flirtatiously tortured Heathcliff for years, but she ultimately decided to marry the snooty guy next door instead. It was a hella dramatic household – years of drunken rages and fights and marriage proposals and death. It’s great tea, but damn, I wanted to tell them all to just calm down for a minute.
Heathcliff went on a sulky walkabout after his true-love-slash-adopted-sister married the snooty guy. Cathy Senior is overjoyed when he eventually returns, which makes Mr Snooty super jealous. Then, Mr Snooty’s sister takes a fancy to Heathcliff, and Cathy Senior is so not jealous of them that she goes properly bonkers and locks herself in her room.
Heathcliff does actually take Mr Snooty’s sister for a wife (seemingly because they both just fancied a shag and this was the only way to get one back then), but being back living with the adopted family that hates him isn’t great for his mental health. Guys, this is just Volume I. Strap in!
In Volume II, Heathcliff decides he doesn’t give a damn who’s married whom, and sneaks in to see Cathy Senior while Mr Snooty is at church. They pash for a bit, but she’s still bonkers, and Mr Snooty ends up catching them at it. It turns out Cathy Senior was knocked up (though none of them have mentioned it up until now) – the shock of the whole situation sends her into pre-term labour, and she dies not long after the shorty drops.
This, in turn, makes Heathcliff even more mental (losing his true-love-slash-adopted-sister and all), so Mr Snooty’s sister leaves him… but it turns out she was knocked up as well (gasp!). She runs away to the country to have the kid and eat a lot of peaches… then the story jumps ahead 13 years, and she dies too. I’m serious! I’m not making this up, I swear.
Cathy Junior (yes, Brontë named both characters Cathy, it’s crazy) is a mad little scamp; she thinks her cousins are living far, far away… but it turns out they’re living up the road with Heathcliff, and when she finds out she gets very pissed off. She becomes secret pen pals with Heathcliff’s son and they trade notes via the milkman for a few days, until they decide they’ve fallen in love.
(It kind of seems like deciding you want to marry the guy you’ve been messaging on Tinder for a few days… only that guy is your cousin and living with your mother’s ex-lover and it’s all really fucked up!)
Heathcliff isn’t at all bothered by the incest, and approves of the match. He’s so determined that Cathy Junior should marry his son that he takes her hostage, knocks her around a bit, and tells her that he won’t release her to see her dying dad until she’s got a ring on it. The whole thing is a study in Stockholm syndrome and domestic violence, and by all rights I should have been shocked and confronted… but I was so confused and bored by their melodramatics that it passed by me with barely an eyebrow raised.
To skip ahead to the end (which I’m sure we’re all eager to do by this point): Heathcliff dies and the implication seems to be that he and Cathy Senior go on to have a rollicking good time in the afterlife, haunting the moors and so forth. Cathy Junior outlives her cousin-husband, and eventually falls in love with her other cousin (even though he’s really stupid). They… live happily ever after? I guess?
I can see why Wuthering Heights has been loved and labored over for so many years – there’s clearly layers of metaphor and hidden meaning, but (unlike Mrs Dalloway) that doesn’t mean that a surface reading isn’t perfectly enjoyable. Of course, you’ve got to keep track of all the love
triangles dodecahedrons and set aside any qualms you have about incest…
The thing is, while I was reading Wuthering Heights, I was having a pretty tough time personally – putting on pants in the morning was about all I could manage, let alone immersing myself in Brontë’s madness. I’ll definitely read this book again, not because the first time was so good, but because I could not possibly have got everything out of Wuthering Heights that it has to offer, when so much of my brain space was occupied with other things. Ergo, at this point, I can really only recommend it to someone who’s got the emotional and mental stability to enjoy it properly.
Tl;dr? Wuthering Heights is a bad boy’s decade-long butthurt over getting friendzoned. If that appeals to you, and you don’t have any emotional turmoil of your own going on, go for it.
My favourite Amazon reviews of Wuthering Heights:
- “This book wasn’t particularly good and it wasn’t particularly bad. I don’t really like this style but I’m reading the classics so that I can say that I did.” – the1cuttiepoo
- “Classic Victorian plot of everyone being too proud to be happy.” – Jamie K Devine
- “A serious and depressing masterpiece where Heathcliff is an evil jerk and everyone dies….” – David Allen Patterson
If all you knew about Wuthering Heights before you read this review was drawn from the Kate Bush song, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Check out more songs inspired by classic literature here.
April 18, 2018 at 5:59 PM
Creative and amusing commentary as usual. I read this for the first time myself recently. Some other reviews of this book puzzle me as they see Heargcliff in a more sympathetic light. He really was a destructive force and in today’s terms he would be called toxic. I love your final description of him.
April 20, 2018 at 10:26 AM
Oh, GOD yes! I can’t understand the fangirling over Heathcliff, he seemed really awful. I had no time for his bullshit 😉
April 18, 2018 at 6:32 PM
Sounds like you just saved me from reading a pretty dire book. The dramatization on TV several years ago now made it seem much more interesting…
April 20, 2018 at 10:29 AM
Hahaha perhaps it’s not that bad, I was just not in the right head space to read this book at all… plus, I’m noticing I tend to have little patience for characters that are really dramatic and overwrought. All the swooning bores the pants off me. I tried watching a BBC adaptation a little while ago, but never really got into it. Still, a lot of people far smarter than me love Wuthering Heights, so maybe I’m the problem? 😉
April 19, 2018 at 6:29 PM
I was laughing out loud at the “dodecahedron” bit! 😀 This is a very refreshing and honest review. I have read it only once and at that age it felt more like a ghost story to me (i think i read one of those abridged illustrated ones) – haunted me for a bit.
April 20, 2018 at 10:30 AM
Hahahaha glad I could give you a chuckle!! 😉
April 19, 2018 at 8:46 PM
Love the way you’ve broken down Wuthering Heights! We had a hilarious discussion in our home the other day (my son was reading a simplified kids’ version of Wuthering Heights!!) – about how confusing it gets with everyone being named after their parents! And also the whole marrying your cousin thing! But seriously, although I love this book, I realised when I re-read it a few years ago how unromantic and very disturbing it really is!
April 20, 2018 at 10:31 AM
Oooohhh yeah, I’m glad it’s not just me! Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one that didn’t drink the Wuthering Heights Kool-Aid hahaha.
April 22, 2018 at 12:10 AM
I read this one ages ago but it was just a bit too intense and confusing for me to take in the whole story. Your review has me sorted now if Wuthering Heights ever comes up in conversation! Ta.
April 22, 2018 at 11:33 AM
Hahaha that’s exactly what I was going for! Glad I could help 😉
April 26, 2018 at 6:54 PM
I arrived here on a rather convoluted (tweetering) way. As a young old lady temporarily playing with web, I will dare to add my bit. I read the book as a late teen. In that time I was an avid reader and in the house there were lots of book and lots of XIX century lit (the latter would explain why I regard romanticism in a not-modern way and why I was prepared to the 1st cousins marriages issue). But yes, WH is somehow disturbing and yet I remember that I loved it. Here the reasons that I remember to these days, when I can look back even at my 55th birthday.
– As a reader you don’t really like any of the characters, and yet at certain moments you cannot avoid being sympathetic to (probably) all of them.
– The narrator is a busybody.
– There is an absolutely shocking description of a baby ghoast. I was still green, but I think that even afterwords (and I had a ghost stories phase) I never came across a written description that could give you real goose bumps.
But, most of all,
– In this book NO ONE loves or hates with a clear reasons. Especially NO ONE loves because of – or even in the framework of – blood connection. I don’t know if it’s because in Italy we are strong with family, but that was certainly shocking to me. I am not sure why I liked that. Maybe a teenager rebellion to family and conventions? Probably.
All in all, I agree not always books are good for any period of our lives.
And sorry for the intrusion.
April 26, 2018 at 7:02 PM
Oh Marina, I welcome your “intrusion” any time at all! What a wonderful and well-thought-out comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on WH with me, you’ve made many good points. I hope you come back and share more of your thoughts on other books I review here! It sounds like you’ve had quite the reading life 😉
May 1, 2018 at 7:27 AM
Thinking back at WH and trying to remember why I actually remember my thoughts and feeling about the book. Apparently it is one of the books that I discussed with someone at the time, or I wouldn’t remember. Out of your list, I read 35 books (maybe a couple more) but I couldn’t share many thoughts on the majority of them. That’s the problem with age: very often you get a swiss cheese brain and the more you live the bigger the holes.
May 1, 2018 at 11:04 AM
Ahahaha, if it’s any comfort, I’m not sure that’s age, Marina – I think we all struggle with that at times!! It’s quite common not to remember much about the book itself, but recall better how you felt about it at the time, what else was going on in your life, or what you told others about it. Hoping you enjoy my reviews of the others you’ve read (and maybe I’ll inspire you to pick up a couple of the others, eh?) 😉
April 26, 2018 at 7:32 PM
Ahhh! Always seeing misspelling when it is too late!
April 27, 2018 at 3:18 PM
Hahahaha that’s the modern condition 😉 if it’s any consolation, I didn’t even notice!
May 12, 2018 at 8:06 PM
Sorry. Today I appear to be bothering you a lot. I’ll try to restrain in future. Just wanted to let you know that somehow, following one of my addled mental processes, I came across a list of books that I compiled 4 or 5 years ago, answering a friend’s FB post about the 15 book that changed her life. I could not name books that changed my life. But settled for books that induced, as I wrote her, “surprise and delight of finding, ink on paper, something similar to what is bubbling inside you”. Guess what? Among them, Wuthering Heights.
May 13, 2018 at 2:19 PM
You are never a bother, Marina, and you don’t need to restrain yourself at all – I love your comments!! 🙂 Wuthering Heights seems to crop up on a lot of lists, doesn’t it?? 😉 How funny! It definitely sounds like this one had a big impact on you, all the best ones do.
August 10, 2018 at 10:04 PM
I feel the same as you about this book. Very difficult to get through it. I felt like Heathcliff also set out to make all those kids miserable as a payback for how all their parents treated him growing up. Very disfunctional but glad I read it.
August 11, 2018 at 12:51 PM
You’re spot on Julie – dysfunctional in the extreme!!
February 16, 2019 at 8:29 PM
I really enjoyed Wuthering Heights but agree it’s not a good read when you’re in a bad place! I don’t know if it’s because I was a young teenager when I read it but I found it really disturbing, especially the bit where he hangs a dog and when he forced Cathy Junior to marry his son, reading your reaction to that scene made me laugh as I was well into the drama of it all as a 15 year old. As the whole book seems to be a “How to know you’re in an abusive relationship 101” it’s really creepy how often this gets referred to as one of the great romances and how many women would like a bit of Heathcliffe. One last random thought, I always wondered where the hell the law was, you’d think when someone assaults and holds a woman prisoner someone would go into town and let the Constable know?!
February 19, 2019 at 7:07 AM
Oh my goodness, YES! Sometimes I feel like I’m out of step with the rest of the world: almost everyone else seems to consider this one of the great romances of all time, and here I am thinking it’s one of the most toxic, dysfunctional situations I’ve ever come across (in literature or life). Very excellent point re: the cops – where were they? 😂 Thank you for reassuring me I’m not alone!