Monday, March 08, 2010

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

The next stop on my reverse alphabetical by title journey through Harold Bloom's Western Canon is Emily Brontë's first and only published novel, Wuthering Heights (1847). If I had to pick a favorite novel of all time, this one might be it. This is the third time I've read it (in fact I even wrote vaugely about it here the last time I read it, for the late, great Smarter Than You book club), and I like it better every time I work my way through it.

Wuthering Heights tells the story of two families living on the isolated moors in northern England. The Earnshaw's live at Wuthering Heights -- they have a son named Hindley, a daughter named Catherine, and an adopted son that the father found starving on the streets in London named Heathcliff. After the father and mother die, Hindley and his wife become the head of the family and he unleashes his pent up hate and jealousy of Heathcliff on the young boy. Heathcliff and Catherine, who have been inseparable, constantly feel the wrath of her brother, and the only stabilizing influence in their life is Nelly, their servant who grew up with them at the Heights and who is almost part of the family.

The nearest house to the Heights is Thrushcross Grange, the family home of the wealthy Linton's. They also have a son and a daughter, Edgar and Isabella, and their sheltered and well-mannered existence couldn't be more different from the outdoor wildness of Heathcliff and Catherine.

And yet, Catherine can't help but be intrigued by the bookish and fragile Edgar. And Edgar can't resist the beautiful and tempestuous Catherine. So much so that he asks her to marry him, and when she agrees Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering Heights and no one hears anything from him for three years.

What follows is a complicated, romantic, harrowing, and very human story of revenge, love and redemption. It crosses two generations, a whole host of Catherines and Earnshaws and Lintons, and it doesn't end until almost all the characters are finally at peace and in their graves. Instead of playing the story out in real time, Brontë bounces back and forth between the present day existence of her narrator, Mr. Lockwood, a tenant at the now empty Thrushcross Grange, and the past history of the Grange and the Heights as told to Lockwood by Nelly.

This book is so wonderfully dark and brooding and filled with comeuppance and revenge and hurt feelings and oppressive nature and horrible and wonderful humanity that I think everyone in the entire world should grab a copy and read it right away. Have you read your copy yet?


milk and cake said...

this has always been one of those books that i thought "i should read" but never knew quite why. now i can't wait to hunt down a copy.

jlowe said...

I suppose I need to read that someday. I guess I lump in in with Jane Austen for no good reason.
Also, had to link:

Spacebeer said...

I would say that Wuthering Heights is pretty much the exact opposite of Jane Austen... Or maybe Jane Austen without the society and manners and 100000% darker.

Corie said...

I was always more of a Charlotte Bronte girl, but Wuthering Heights is the perfect book for a chilly, rainy day.