The novel, which features an unusually intricate plot, traces the effects that unbridled hate and love have on two families. Ellen Dean, who serves both families, tells Mr. Lockwood, the new tenant at Thrushcross Grange, the bizarre stories of the house’s family, the Lintons, and of the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights. Her narrative weaves the four parts of the novel, all dealing with the fate of the two families, into the core story of Catherine and Heathcliff. The two lovers manipulate various members of both families simply to inspire and torment each other in life and death.
Heathcliff dominates the novel. Ruthless and tyrannical, he represents a new kind of man, free of all restraints and dedicated totally to the satisfaction of his deepest desires no matter what the cost to others or himself. He meets his match in Catherine, who is also his inspiration. Her visionary dreams and bold identification with the powers of storm and wind at Wuthering Heights are precisely what make Heathcliff worship her.
When Catherine betrays Heathcliff by marrying Edgar Linton, Heathcliff feels she has betrayed the freedom they shared as children on the moor. He exacts a terrible revenge. However, he is no mere Gothic villain. Somehow, the reader sympathizes with this powerful figure who is possessed by his beloved.
The interchangeability of their souls--Catherine makes the astonishing statement, “I am Heathcliff”--calls attention to Emily Bronte’s powerful projection of her own surcharged identity. Unlike her talented sister Charlotte, who wrote several novels, Emily wrote one great book, but into it she poured a vastness of contradictory emotions.
Davies, Stevie. Emily Brontë: The Artist as a Free Woman. Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1983. Discusses not only the novel but also Brontë’s personal life and tragedies, the fantasy worlds created by her and her siblings, and her poetry. Provides an incisive look at the novel’s structure and an in-depth study of the personalities and motivations of the main characters.
Everitt, Alastair, ed. Wuthering Heights: An Anthology of Criticism. London: Frank Cass, 1967. A collection of introductory critical explorations of the novel that examine such fundamental issues as structure, narrative strategies, origins, the supernatural, madness, and sadomasochism.
Kavanaugh, James H. Emily Brontë. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985. Offers a late twentieth century critical interpretation of the novel, including a deconstructionist reading. Useful also for its survey of critical approaches to this novel.
Miles, Peter. Wuthering Heights. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1990. Provides various readings of Brontë’s novel as well as an introduction that traces the history of the most popular interpretations of and reactions to the book. Includes a helpful bibliography, mostly covering the more traditional approaches.
Vogler, Thomas A., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Wuthering Heights. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Offers insight into the novel’s background, important themes such as childhood and incest, and an informative account of the lives of the Brontë family. Also includes selected portions of important mid-twentieth century critical responses.