Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 766
Wuthering Heights (1847) is the British writer Emily Brontë’s only novel, and she published the book under the deliberately gender-neutral pseudonym Ellis Bell. Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights during a period of time in history when writing was not considered a suitable occupation for women. Indeed, women’s literature of the Victorian age in British history was often considered transgressive simply because it was written by women. With this historical context in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Brontë’s protagonist and heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, also defies feminine stereotypes of the time period. With complex characters, ties to the natural landscape, supernatural occurrences, and Heathcliff’s prominent role as a Byronic hero, Wuthering Heights is often identified as a representative work of Romantic fiction
The specific setting of Wuthering Heights is fictional, but the Gimmerton valley in which the novel takes place is likely based on the landscape surrounding Haworth, the village in West Yorkshire, England, that the Brontë sisters called home. Brontë wrote the novel from her home in Haworth, and while the natural landscape may have influenced her descriptions of the moors surrounding Wuthering Heights, few details beyond the setting of Wuthering Heights appear to be autobiographical.
The very name Wuthering Heights is significant to the understanding of the novel as a whole. As discussed in chapter 1 of the novel, the word “wuthering” is a synonym for “windy” or “blustery.” Though the name of the estate ostensibly describes the natural environment of Yorkshire in which the estate is located, readers soon see that it applies to the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights as well. When emotions are running high, the household of Wuthering Heights is chaotic and violent, much like the moorland weather conditions during a storm. Some readers may understand the depictions of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff’s youthful adventures on the moorlands as a kind of Edenic experience: Heathcliff’s presence enables Catherine to enjoy the natural wonderland of the Yorkshire moors in a youthful and innocent way; to extend the comparison, their soulful love for each other suggests the spiritual connection that existed between Adam and Eve, just as their respective demises mirror Adam and Eve’s Biblical fall. At the end of the novel, Catherine and Heathcliff lie next to each other, apparently having finally found peace in eternal rest. However, with Heathcliff’s ghost having been spotted on the moors and with Catherine’s grave placed directly between Edgar and Heathcliff, the exact nature and extent of this peaceful rest is left open to interpretation.
Wuthering Heights is a tale spanning multiple generations, and Brontë uses parallels between the characters to demonstrate the ways in which suffering may be inherited as well as to show how a cycle of revenge can be broken. The most noteworthy parallels in the novel are Catherine and her daughter, Cathy; Edgar and his nephew, Linton; and Heathcliff and Hareton. As mother and daughter, Catherine and Cathy share more than just their name. Both are headstrong, strong willed, and capable of forming strong attachments to those around them; however, Cathy is more selfless and sensitive to the feelings of others than her mother. Edgar and Linton share a physical resemblance and both suffer an early death, yet while Edgar cares for his daughter and desires above all to secure her happiness, Linton cares only for himself. Both fall victim to Heathcliff’s revenge schemes, though Edgar has the strength of character to fight against Heathcliff’s manipulation in a way that Linton does not. Heathcliff and Hareton form a particularly interesting parallel, as Hareton’s upbringing mirrors Heathcliff’s childhood by design, as Heathcliff is determined to subject Hindley’s son to the same abuse he himself endured at Hindley’s hands. Despite Heathcliff’s initial antipathy toward Hareton, the two seem to eventually reach a mutual understanding of one another. Hareton feels a sense of loyalty to Heathcliff and seems to be the only character other than Catherine that Heathcliff forms any attachment to.
Dramatic and passionate, Wuthering Heights is an unusual novel, especially given the context in which it was published. Full of turmoil and strife, the novel illustrates to readers the folly of loving too much and too intensely. On a hopeful note, however, the ending of the novel also suggests that destructive cycles of revenge do not have to live on forever. Heathcliff’s death closes the chapter on his and Catherine’s intense and all-consuming relationship, and in the union of Cathy and Hareton, readers see the beginnings of a different kind of love—one based in mutual respect and kindness.
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