Book Of The Month
This month’s book is a classic tale from Emily Brontë. Wuthering Heights was published only a year before Brontë’s sad early demise, which makes the novel all the more tragic to have a read through because you can almost sense a resurgence of the Brontë sisters difficult childhood nostalgia through the setting of the tale.
In the dark, cold and grey Yorkshire Moors, you meet Heathcliff – a mysterious, gruff, burly individual, and follow his journey through life from the age of seven, up until the late thirties, when he dies. As an orphan, he grows up under the shelter of his adoptive family, “the Earnshaws”, but here he is deposed to the rank of a servant boy. He despises the class rank, as a “hand-me-down” from some members of his new family, and matters turn worse when the woman he is madly in love with, Catherine Earnshaw, gets married to someone else.
Wuthering Heights is the name of an old cottage, where the Earnshaw family reside. There is a fourteen year old boy, Hindley at the cottage, the brother of six-year old Catherine, the mother and the father, making it a family of four. Earnshaw finds a lonely vagabond boy on his travels to Liverpool, one day. Homeless and unsheltered, he decides to adopt the boy as his son, naming him Heathcliff. Catherine develops a friendship with Heathcliff, but Hindley wakes up to find him excluded from his father’s affections because of Heathcliff’s arrival.
It doesn’t take Hindley long to hate Heathcliff for it, but on the other page of the story you see that Heathcliff and Catherine have become inseparable friends. Hindley is sent off to college because of his constant disagreements with Heathcliff, and returns three years later with a wife, just as Mr. Earnshaw passes away. Becoming the head of the house, Hindley forces Heathcliff to become a servant boy in his own home, rather than treat him like a family member.
Meanwhile, the bond between Heathcliff and Catherine continues to grow stronger, but then fast forward a few weeks later, when she returns from a trip to Wuthering Heights, she has changed. She constantly laughs at Heathcliff’s shabby life, as a matured lady, but Heathcliff still tries to impress her and changes his appearance just to win her approval. After some public disagreements and laughter over his changed appearance, by one of the visitors from the Linton family, Edgar Linton, Catherine runs up to the attic to comfort him. There she meets Heathcliff vowing to usurp revenge on Hindley, presumably for even letting the Lintons in.
Meanwhile, Hindley has his own hardships – he descents into a life of drunkenness, as his newborn child dies. He becomes a waste in life, and this is happening as Edgar and Catherine have become close friends turned lovers; Catherine is going further and further from Heathcliff, with her decisions, but it is revealed that she actually is in love with Heathcliff but can’t marry him because of his lack of status and education. Heathcliff overhears this part about why she cannot marry him and runs away in tears.
This leaves Catherine no choice but to go ahead with the marriage, because you soon find that she is doing all of this just so that Heathcliff’s status in life is alleviated. After Heathcliff returns to the moors, he shockingly discovers the woman he loves to be married to none other than to the man he hates: Edgar Linton. He begins an affair with his sister Isabella, who develops an infatuation with him, seeing his return to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff despises Isabella to the very core but he encourages the romance just to seek revenge on Edgar.
Heathcliff never learns why Catherine decided to be married to Edgar, so runs away with his sister, causing the family to be shamed. He is already amassing a lot of wealth from the disappointed Hindley, who has gambled so much in life, he is forced to rent out Wuthering Heights to Heathcliff to repay his debts, as you discover during one of the two’s gambling games.
When Heathcliff returns to the moors, he discovers that Catherine has fallen ill. He meets with her privately and she dies in his arms – this scene causes Isabella to flee to town after Catherine’s death, deserting Heathcliff. Heathcliff eventually takes care of Catherine’s child, and continues to live in Wuthering Heights, with her. There is a whole mini-arc of the child’s love affairs, but that is like pressing salt on your wounds, when you reach the ending of the novel: Heathcliff begins to hallucinate every now and then, and claims to see Catherine’s ghost all around the household. Going for days without food, he dies in Wuthering Heights and is buried next to Catherine.
I found this “love story” captivating. The way it examines the intricacy of human relationships, how people repent for their mistakes in life, how they treat others out of spite, out of jealousy, out of affection so strong they are unable to express it, is the underlying theme of misunderstandings in the book.
This is a love story that is destructive, proud and deceptive – egos are simply too big to indulge in forgiveness or the need to grow from such miserable experiences, unscathed. Etches of the romantic movement are clearly visible in the novel, as is gothic-mystery, but I like this edition of literary “star crossed lovers” much more than the others because it does not leave an absence of knowledge, an infuriating gap of a lack of information.
If you must over-react, then do so because the couple could not put their differences aside to be one. That it was not for an unfortunate sense of understanding of human emotions, of personalities. Like, how Isabella’s cowardice demonstrates near the end and by-the-by still hoping against hope, there might be a glimmer of hope that the story doesn’t turn out how you think it will, subconsciously, because nobody can be that unreceptive to human tragedy. Can they?
I would hope not, but such is the thunderous power of cowardice – it demands dignity in quarters, it does not deserve, because it’s passions could not help but interfere. The passions were so strong, the hatred so deep, the morality so ignited, it decided to weave a story that would be more acceptable to the person demonstrating such qualities, for who can now argue with the dead?
Did Heathcliff ever learn of the true reason for Catherine’s betrayal? It is unclear but what is clear is that he loved her, with all his heart, despite it. But would you say that such a powerful love was wasted or worth it? Was it deserving of a woman, who was friendly and kind but still hopelessly shallow, and also because Catherine was too timid to reveal herself accurately to Heathcliff, her longtime closest confidant, in Wuthering Heights?