One of the most passionate and heartfelt novels ever written, Wuthering Heights tells of the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan boy her father adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children. While Catherine forms a deep attachment to Heathcliff, her brother Hindley despises him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between love for Catherine and the rage and humiliation he suffers. Finally he can stand it no longer and, in the violence of a summer storm, leaves the Heights for three years. During his absence Catherine has married, but her tormented heart belongs eternally to Heathcliff who is now prepared to exact his tyrannical revenge.
I first read this in school for my state exams and my abiding memory was an overwhelming desire to throttle Cathy and Heathcliff. I wanted to wade into the book, give them all a good kick up the arse and try shake some sense into them. Why then did I choose to re-read it? Well a friend and I were discussing it, mainly our mutual dislike of all the characters, and began wondering if we read it now would our feelings have changed at all?
The short answer is no. I still want to give them all a good kick up the arse…among other things. Cathy is selfish, Heathcliff and Hindley brutes, Edgar and Isabella are downright insipid, Linton cruel, selfish and self-centered, and young Cathy spoilt. However I will say my feelings towards the older characters has mellowed somewhat. I will never like Cathy or Heathcliff but on my re-read I hated them less, and could appreciate better how they came to be who they are. Linton on the other hand I found I hated far more. He combines the worst traits of both his parents, and unlike Heathcliff there is no justification for his cruelty. He is an awful child when he arrives on the scene, and descends further under the his fathers neglect, yet this neglect is far less cruel than the treatment inflicted on either Heathcliff or Hareton. Linton and Hareton are actually an interesting study in nature vs nurture. Which has a greater impact? A person’s basic nature or the treatment they receive as they develop. Within the world of Wuthering Heights I suspect it is nature.
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” – Cathy
I can see why this book appeals to so many. Heathcliff and Cathy are the epitome of the anti-hero and anti-heroine, which can be an appealing position for some. The writing is undoubtedly skilled. It is no mean feat to create characters which elicit such strong feelings, whether positive or negative, in a reader, something which Wuthering Heights achieves with little effort. And it is a wonderful love story, overflowing with passionate love declarations. It is impossible to not be moved by such a passionate love affair.
“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you–haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” – Heathcliff
So who should read this book? Well everyone. Maybe you will fall in love with dark, brooding Heathcliff, maybe you will want to fling it against the wall out of frustration with the characters (I was sorely tempted many times) but surely any book which can elicit such strong responses in the reader is worth trying.
This year I will be participating in The Classic’s Club Reading Classic Women Literature Challenge.