At a Glance

In Wuthering Heights, Catherine falls in love with Heathcliff, a boy her father adopts. Their love is doomed, and both eventually marry other people. Catherine dies in childbirth, and Heathcliff joins her in death after enacting his revenge upon the next generation.

Wuthering Heights summary key points:

  • In Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood narrates his visit to Wuthering Heights and recalls dreaming of a ghostly child trying to come in through the windowpane.

  • Nelly, Lockwood’s housekeeper, recalls working at Wuthering Heights and tells Lockwood how Mr. Earnshaw adopted a boy called Heathcliff. Mr. Earnshaw's daughter, Catherine, develops a close friendship with Heathcliff while his son, Hindley, envies Heathcliff’s close relationship with Mr. Earnshaw.

  • After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley becomes the master of Wuthering Heights and relegates Heathcliff to servant status.

  • Catherine marries the wealthy Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister to inherit her money.

  • Catherine dies after giving birth to a daughter named Cathy. Edgar’s sister flees Heathcliff's abuse and gives birth to a son named Linton.

  • Heathcliff gains ownership of Wuthering Heights. Edgar and Linton die, and Heathcliff dies after realizing that he wishes to rejoin his beloved Catherine.


Wuthering Heights is narrated through the diary of Mr. Lockwood as he writes down both his own experiences and the recollections of others. Desiring solitude, Lockwood has recently begun renting Thrushcross Grange, a remote house in the Yorkshire Moors of Northern England. One day, he decides to visit Wuthering Heights, the nearby home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. At Wuthering Heights, Lockwood encounters several strange and unpleasant characters: Cathy, Heathcliff’s beautiful but rude daughter-in-law; Hareton Earnshaw, an uncivilized yet prideful young man; Joseph, a surly old servant; and Heathcliff, the misanthropic owner of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Mystified by the obvious animosity between the occupants of Wuthering Heights, Lockwood returns for a second visit but is forced to spend the night when a snowstorm hits. In the middle of the night, Lockwood is awakened by a ghostly child who calls herself Catherine Linton and begs to be let in through the window. Utterly terrified, Lockwood wakes Heathcliff, who then proceeds to throw open the window and call out to the ghost, begging it to return. Desperate to leave this haunted house and its eerie residents, Lockwood sets off for Thrushcross Grange as soon as possible.

After returning home, Lockwood asks the housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean, whether she knows anything about the strange occupants of Wuthering Heights. Nelly explains that she grew up as a servant at the Heights and is well acquainted with the history of the house. Taking over the narration, Nelly begins her story nearly thirty years earlier, when Wuthering Heights was owned by the Earnshaw family: Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw and their two young children, Catherine and Hindley. One day, Mr. Earnshaw returns from a trip with a swarthy young orphan boy, who the family later names Heathcliff. Catherine warms to Heathcliff and the two become fast friends, while Hindley, jealous of Mr. Earnshaw’s obvious preference for his adopted son, resents and abuses Heathcliff. As the conflict between Heathcliff and Hindley grows, Mr. Earnshaw finally decides to resolve the situation by sending Hindley away to college. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley returns from school with his new wife, Frances, and takes control of Wuthering Heights.

Almost immediately, Hindley reduces Heathcliff to the position of a servant. Though Heathcliff’s life is now full of difficult and degrading work, his friendship with Catherine keeps him going. Hindey is utterly devoted to Frances and, as a result, gives little thought to Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s upbringing. Largely unmonitored, they spend their childhoods wandering through the moors and misbehaving together. On one of their adventures, they sneak over to nearby Thrushcross Grange, where the refined Linton family resides. After the children are attacked by the Lintons’ dogs while spying through the windows, the Lintons take...

(The entire section is 1296 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

First published in 1847, Wuthering Heights is an enduring gothic romance filled with intrigue and terror. It is set in the northern England countryside, where the weather fluctuates in sudden extremes and where bogs can open underfoot of unsuspecting night venturers. Under this atmospheric dome of brooding unpredictability, Brontë explores the violent and unpredictable elements of human passion. The story revolves around the tempestuous romance between Heathcliff, an orphan who is taken home to Wuthering Heights on impulse, and Catherine Earnshaw, a strong-willed girl whose mother died delivering her and who becomes Heathcliff’s close companion.

The setting is central to the novel. Both action and characters can be understood in terms of two households. Wuthering Heights, overtaken by the sinister usurper, Heathcliff, becomes a dark, winter world of precipitous acts that lead to brutality, vengeance, and social alienation. What Wuthering Heights lacks in history, education, and gregariousness is supplied by the more springlike Thrushcross Grange, where the fair-haired Lintons live in the human world of reason, order, and gentleness. Unfortunately, these less passionate mortals are subject to the indifferent forces of nature, dying in childbirth and of consumption too easily. They are subject to Heathcliff’s wrath as well, losing all assets and independence to him.

Brontë uses the element of unpredictability to spur the action in Wuthering Heights, which adds excitement and suspense at every turn and enlivens the characters by infusing them with the characteristic storminess of the moorland weather. Seemingly chance events gather like ominous clouds to create the passionate tale of Heathcliff and Catherine. They are brought together by chance and are left to roam the moor together, far from the world of shelter and discipline, when Catherine’s father dies, leaving her tyrannical brother, Hindley, in charge. Accident also accounts for Catherine’s introduction to the more refined world of Thrushcross Grange, when she is bitten by a watchdog while spying on her cousins, who then rescue her. Even Heathcliff’s angry departure and vowed vengeance is the result of eavesdropping, hearing only what he could mistake for rejection, and not Catherine’s true feelings for him.

In Heathcliff’s character, Brontë explores the great destructive potential of unrestrained passion. In him, human emotion is uncontrollable and deadly. In the ghostly union of Catherine and Heathcliff beyond the grave, however, Brontë suggests the metaphysical nature of love and the potential of passion to project itself beyond the physical realm of existence.

The ending of Wuthering Heights depicts Brontë’s final answer to the theme of destructive passion—the answer of mercy and forgiveness, which Brontë holds to be the supreme quality in human beings. Hareton, whom Heathcliff once unwittingly saved from death and then forever after abused, forgives his captor for everything. This forgiveness is accompanied by the mercy that Catherine Linton shows Hareton, teaching him to read after years of mocking his ignorance. Together, these acts of grace nullify the deadly effects of their keeper, who dies soon afterward. The passion of winter becomes the compromise of spring; the storm has passed, and life continues in harmony at last.