Bookish Discussions

Ill Will | Heathcliff’s Supposed Origins:


Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights and is travelling to Liverpool in search of his past. Along the way, he saves Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a Highwayman, and the pair journey on together. Roaming from graveyard to graveyard, making a living from Emily’s apparent ability to commune with the dead, the pair lie, cheat and scheme their way across the North of England. And towards the terrible misdeeds – and untold riches – that will one day send Heathcliff home to Wuthering Heights.


The great thing about Wuthering Heights is the many silences. Emily deliberately left *a lot* of things unsaid. Writers can fill these gaps with pretty much any story, because, at the end of the day, it’s most likely going to fit. These silences, however, don’t necessarily need to be filled. Some things are better left unsaid

Heathcliff’s origins forever remain a mystery to fans of the original. Was he an Irishman, seeking to escape the famine that plagued his hometown? Was he a slave, brought to Liverpool to sell on to the next middle-class white man? Was he simply an orphan, left on the streets by his mother because she had no means of taking care of him? We simply do not know. Emily did not inform us. This is where Michael Stewart enters the narrative, trying to fill those gaps.

Simply put: I didn’t like this. At all. Stewart didn’t capture Heathcliff right. I know he is a brute, a vindictive and manipulative boy, who only seeks for validation and revenge. All which Stewart portrayed, but it didn’t feel right. Every time Heathcliff said something, or did something, or thought something, I couldn’t help but feel pure hatred to his character. There was no sympathy for Heathcliff, and what he’s been through. We were expected to dislike him, be disgusted by him, but this misses the whole point of Heathcliff.

He is a troubled boy. Everything that has happened to him – orphaned by his family and, eventually, Mr Earnshaw, rejected by the love of his life, and forced to leave his only home due to an abusive guardian –  was redundant in the end because it didn’t matter. We didn’t view his actions in relation to his trauma or past experiences. All Heathcliff was vulgar and violent. We don’t have his backstory. Of course, those familiar with the original will be aware, but what about those completely new to Heathcliff?

I wasn’t a fan of the vocabulary in this book either; it made the reading experience so shocking and jarring. This was, undoubtedly, the point of the novel, but I couldn’t get past it. Stewart used ‘c*nt’ far too much; used misogynistic slang all the time; and was at times a little insensitive when it came to racial slurs. I get what he was trying to do by this, but I don’t think it was done appropriately at times, and it wasn’t fun to read. Honestly, I was v.e.r.y. d.i.s.a.p.p.o.i.n.t.e.d. by this, as I am with most retellings.

I don’t just don’t think was the book for me! It’s interesting to see what backstory Stewart gave to Heathcliff, but it didn’t feel right to me. I must pay Stewart his dues, though, as he thought out a long and complex story for him – but it just didn’t click with me. I would have preferred Stewart to leave it well enough alone.

Are you a fan of Wuthering Heights? Does Ill Will seem like a story for you? Have you already read it? Let’s discuss it!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


5 thoughts on “Ill Will | Heathcliff’s Supposed Origins:

  1. I’ve got this one sat on my shelf waiting to be read. I’m hoping to like it so I’m keeping an open mind. I read a really good retelling of WH last year though called The Heights by Juliet Bell. It’s predominantly set in 1980s Yorkshire on a council estate. I wasn’t expecting much but I enjoyed it.


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