When I first read Wuthering Heights, I didn’t know what to make of it. And then I read it again, and started to analyse and appreciate the way Emily defied all expectations of the 19th century. It went from 3 stars to 5. Wuthering Heights from the outside is a haunting read, with no likeable characters and a messy narration, but from the inside it’s a deeply moving story, full to the brim of wonderment. I’d definitely recommend giving this a second read if you found it difficult the first time – you’ll notice things differently, and things will start to make sense. If you loved it from the get go, then you’re very lucky indeed.
When I first read this novel, I hated everyone (and even that’s an understatement). There was not a single character I liked. Catherine was an annoying and jealous wretch who let her own pride and arrogance stop her from feeling true happiness. Heathcliff was a vindictive, abusive, and bitter man who took his rejection out on everyone else. Nelly was an untrustworthy, slightly biased narrator. Hindley was just the worst – a completely disagreeable human being. Edgar was a possessive, proud and jealous man. Basically, there was no one I could relate to, which is essential for me when reading a novel. But when I read Wuthering Heights for a second time, I started to realise that this hatred meant I felt something. The story was effective in making me feel emotions – arguably the strongest emotion possible. Emily took a risk when writing this kind of story, and it really worked in her favour. The fact she could make me hate near enough every characters proves that her writing ability is unconventional, yet somehow brilliant.
A defining quality of Wuthering Heights was Emily’s portrayal of relationships. It was not her intention to depict the conventional relationship; the one that occurs in all literature. Emily took her own, albeit slightly depressing, spin on it. She didn’t sugar-coat romance, or love, and instead added realism in the highest form – she hit home on the issues that accompany such immense feelings. Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship was toxic, and poisonous, and corrupted everything they touched and loved. When first reading it, it was tiring to read such a putrid relationship, but after a while it became interesting. These kind of relationships hardly appear in 19th century novels but are very apparent in 19th century life, so for Emily to bring them to the surfce was – I guess you could say – iconic.
I’m not one of those people who romanticise Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship – in all honesty it’s the most soul-destroying connection I’ve ever read. But their love transcended everything, even death – Catherine literally came back as a ghost, and they were buried next to each other. In a way, they did deserve one another. They were both so miserable and destructive. Instead of making their partners unhappy, they could have just been miserable and destructive together. Yet the same barriers got in the way – class, their upbringing, potentially their race, and so on. Emily illuminates the issues of the 19th century, and the dynamics of relationships in this time, in such an unconventional way. But through this, you begin to notice how destructive these barriers really are – if only society at the time realised that sooner, events that happened in this novel could have been avoided.
When I first read this Wuthering Heights, volume one was the hardest to get my head round. This was the section where I hated everyone. It took me a while to become accustomed to our narrator, Nelly, who was very unreliable. The framed narration made trusting her no easier – was she biased towards Catherine? Was she hateful towards Heathcliff, hence the harsh portrayal of him? In the end, I got used to the narration, but it did take a while. My advice for any first time readers is don’t get caught up on trying to make sense of everything straight away, even if you’re confused from the get-go. Distance yourself from the story, the characters and the settings. Don’t question people’s motives. Go with it, and in the end everything will become clear- the narration being one of them.
Volume two I liked more. The characters, although just as annoying, were slightly more enjoyable to have as our protagonists. Cathy, Linton and Hareton were the new generation of Catherine, Heathcliff and Hindley. However, they were all the antithesis of each other. Cathy was compassionate, caring and lovable whereas her mother wasn’t. Linton wasn’t like his father in the slightest; he was weak, vulnerable and kind whereas Heathcliff wasn’t. It was jarring to see Heathcliff treat his son so harshly, punishing him because of who his mother was. Linton was forced to marry Cathy as a way of punishing Catherine and avenging Hindley – Heathcliff was unable to marry the love of his life, so he makes his son marry his beau’s daughter. Essentially, it was the marriage he wanted but never got. Never getting to see Linton receive an ounce of happiness or affection was the hardest part to read for me, but I was happy to see him free of Heathcliff’s chains in the end.
Similar to his treatment towards Linton, Heathcliff was also equally as disgusting towards Hareton. Heathcliff adopted Hareton after his father, Hindley, died – the sole reason for doing this was to avenge him. Hareton wasn’t allowed an education, was forced to work in the fields all day, denied any ounce of affection, and so on – he essentially mirrored Heathcliff’s childhood. But despite this, Hareton’s good humour was refreshing to see as a reader. Heathcliff didn’t have full control over him, and that was most satisfying part of Wuthering Heights. In the end, Heathcliff was a disappointment.
Another defining quality of Wuthering Heights was the settings. As with any Brontë, Emily has a knack for capturing the true essence of nature. In this book, and with most of her poetry, you understand Emily’s love for the wild and untamed moors. Although a piece of fiction, the moors were written to vividly and life-like you often forgot you wasn’t there physically. The way she would describe the scenery, and the weather, was so breath-taking that something I had to pause reading – it started to become overwhelming. I wanted to be out on those moors, being completely free and untouchable from all of society. Emily made me feel this way through a few simple word, which is remarkable when you think about it. Emily’s writing abilities will never go unpraised by me.
Wuthering Heights is one of those books you should read before you die. What it stands for is unconventional, yet so refreshing to read. If you’ve learnt anything from this review, it’s that you shouldn’t always go off your first impressions, especially with something like this. Read it once, and then read it again. Make the second time more meaningful – find reason behind every word, and question what Emily is doing and why. After that, you’ll begin to understand why this is a beloved novel in the English canon. It is definitely one of my favourites.
Thanks for reading, Lauren Xx