Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Wuthering Heights is a story of passionate love that encompasses two generations of two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons. It is a framed tale narrated by two different characters, one with intimate knowledge of the families (Nelly Dean) and one unacquainted with their history. The first narrator is the stranger, Mr. Lockwood. A wealthy, educated man, Lockwood has chosen to rent a house in the isolated moors, saying that he has wearied of society. Yet his actions belie his words: He pursues a friendship with Heathcliff despite the latter’s objections and seeks information about all the citizens of the neighborhood. Lockwood is steeped in the conventions of his class, and he consistently misjudges the people he meets at Wuthering Heights. He assumes that Hareton Earnshaw, the rightful owner of Wuthering Heights, is a servant and that Catherine Linton is a demure wife to Heathcliff. His statements, even about himself, are untrustworthy, requiring the corrective of Nelly Dean’s narrative.

Lockwood cultivates Nelly Dean’s friendship when a long illness, brought on by his foolish attempt to visit Heathcliff during a snowstorm, keeps him bedridden for weeks. Nelly has been reared with the Earnshaws and has been a servant in both households. She has observed much of the central drama between the two families, but her statements, too, are colored by prejudice. Nelly dislikes Catherine Earnshaw, who behaved selfishly and treated the servants badly at times, and she supports Edgar Linton because he was a gentleman.

Through these two unreliable lenses are filtered the love stories of Catherine and Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar, and in the second generation, Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw. The antithesis of character—Heathcliff’s past is a blank, Edgar is a gentleman’s son; Heathcliff is dark and brooding, Edgar is fair and cannot conceal his feelings—is echoed with other oppositions. Wuthering Heights is an exposed, cold farmhouse; Thrushcross Grange is an orderly gentleman’s home with plush furnishings, warm fires, and an enclosed park. The houses, instead of places of safety, become literal prisons for the female characters, while the wild moors (which nearly kill Lockwood) represent freedom and naturalness of behavior.

Patterns of dualism and opposition are played out between the first and second generations as well. Heathcliff, the physically strongest father, has the weakest child, Linton Heathcliff. By dying young, Linton dissolves the triangular relationship that has so plagued the older generation, undermining Heathcliff’s influence. Hareton Earnshaw, abused like Heathcliff and demonstrating surprising similarities of character, nevertheless retains some sense of moral behavior and is not motivated by revenge. Catherine Earnshaw’s daughter, as willful and spirited as her mother, does not have to make the same difficult choice between passionate love and socially sanctioned marriage. Instead, Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw are left to help each other and inherit the positive legacies of the past, enjoying both the social amenities of Thrushcross Grange and the natural environment of Wuthering Heights.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Yorkshire. Region comprising three English counties—North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and South Yorkshire—in northern central England. The properties of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are located in this region of Yorkshire’s lonely, wild, and sparsely populated moors. The moors are characterized by spacious, open grassland and the heather that grows abundantly throughout the region.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights. Estate of the Earnshaw family located on England’s Yorkshire moors. Wuthering Heights is described by Mr. Lockwood, a tenant at neighboring Thrushcross Grange, as desolate and the ideal home of a misanthropist. Lockwood explains that “wuthering” is a local word used to describe the tumultuous and stormy conditions that are common at Wuthering Heights. The house itself seems dark and forbidding, with a decidedly Gothic physical and spiritual atmosphere. Upon entering the gates of Wuthering Heights for the first time, Lockwood points out its general state of disrepair, especially noting the carvings of griffins at the threshold. Mr. Lockwood also observes that Heathcliff appears as a gentleman, in sharp contrast to the house itself, while the young Catherine Linton Heathcliff appears wild and untamed. He finds in time, though, that in reality the opposite is true.

As the novel progresses and the house passes from one owner to the next, in and out of the Earnshaw family, it is evident that the physical state of the house is somehow connected with the emotional state of its inhabitants. While the elder Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw live, the house retains a more civilized feeling, but as first Hindley Earnshaw and then Heathcliff obtain ownership, the atmosphere of the house becomes darker and more brooding. Like Heathcliff, the current master of the property, the house steadily deteriorates until the height of its disrepair is described by Mr. Lockwood, who has rented Thrushcross Grange near the end of Heathcliff’s term of ownership.


*Liverpool. Major port city in western England. When Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw are young children, their father goes to Liverpool on business. He returns with a young and untamed boy, a homeless child he found in the streets of Liverpool and was unable to leave behind. No one in Liverpool knew who the homeless child was or where he came from, though he was thought by many in Liverpool to be a gypsy. The foundling boy is named for a former inhabitant of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, the name of the elder Earnshaws’ dead infant son.


Gimmerton. Fictional village near Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The village plays a minor, though integral, role in the novel. Heathcliff returns first to Gimmerton before he reappears at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange after his three-year absence. Near the end of the novel, when the young Catherine Linton and Ellen Dean are held hostage by Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, the people of Gimmerton are enlisted to join in the search for them in the Yorkshire moors.

Thrushcross Grange

Thrushcross Grange. Home of the Linton family, the nearest neighboring estate to Wuthering Heights. In stark contrast to the dark and forbidding Wuthering Heights, the Grange is lighter and more orderly, a home filled with windows and fresh air. Even the willful and wild Catherine Earnshaw changes markedly when, as a girl, she stays for a few weeks at this location. The atmosphere of Thrushcross Grange does much to tame the formerly unrefined girl.

Like Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange passes from the hands of the elder generation, Mr. and Mrs. Linton, to those of a younger generation, first to their son Edgar and later to his daughter Catherine. In the process, as opposed to Wuthering Heights, the atmosphere of the house becomes increasingly refined and civilized. Even the marriage of Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights’ Catherine Earnshaw does little to change the more civilized atmosphere of Thrushcross Grange. However, though Catherine’s high spirits are held in check during the first days of her marriage to Edgar, the reappearance of Heathcliff does begin to affect the emotional state of all those who live at Thrushcross Grange. It is only when Thrushcross Grange falls into the hands of Heathcliff, who has gained ownership of the Heights through the marriage of his son Linton to young Catherine, that it begins to fall into a state of relative disrepair. It is this condition in which Mr. Lockwood finds Thrushcross Grange at the beginning of the novel.

By the end of the novel, young Catherine inherits Thrushcross Grange and Hareton Earnshaw inherits Wuthering Heights. The marriage of Catherine Linton Heathcliff and Hareton Earnshaw, then, unites the two houses in one well-matched and happy marriage. Finally, both the houses and the people who live in them can begin the process of physical and spiritual healing.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

When it was first published, Wuthering Heights received almost no attention from critics, and what little there was proved to be negative. Critical opinion deemed the book immoral, and Charlotte Brontë felt moved to apologize for it after Emily’s death by saying that her sister wrote during the feverish stages of tuberculosis. To publish at all, the Brontë sisters chose to submit their works using male pseudonyms because they believed that it would be impossible to market their poems and novels otherwise. They experienced many rejections and were never recompensed fairly for the value of their work. When their identity was revealed, many critics expressed surprise (that the novels could be written by inexperienced women who lived in isolated circumstances) and shock (that the violence and passion of Wuthering Heights could be conceived by a woman at all). There has even been a serious attempt made to prove that Emily’s brother, Branwell, was the true author of Wuthering Heights.

This reaction suggests the reluctance of the Victorian public to accept challenges to the dominant belief that women were beneficent moral influences whose primary function was to provide a pure environment for men who, of necessity, sullied themselves in the world of work. Wuthering Heights provides no overt rebellion against this view, but the depiction of female characters who display anger, passion, and a desire for independence demonstrates Emily Brontë’s judgment that women were suited to a wider sphere of action.

Contemporary feminist critics have seen Catherine Earnshaw as a character for whom no meaningful choices are possible. Her self-starvation and periods of madness can be read as signs of female powerlessness and rage. Even her death can be seen as the last resort of the oppressed, a kind of willed suicide which she announces is her only form of revenge against both Edgar Linton and Heathcliff for thwarting her true nature. The second half of the novel, focusing on Catherine Linton, is then an assertion of Victorian society’s values countering Catherine Earnshaw’s desire to be self-determining. Catherine Linton is beautiful in a conventional way, and she dutifully serves as daughter, wife, nurse, and teacher. Yet, compared to her mother’s, her story has much less drama and fails to persuade the reader of its truth. In fact, it best serves to highlight the unique and deeply felt nature of her mother’s subjugation.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Top Withens, the farm which served as a model for the one in Wuthering Heights. Published by Gale Cengage

The Victorian Age (1837-1901)
England under the reign of Queen Victoria was in a prolonged phase of expansion. The...

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Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The power of Wuthering Heights owes much to its complex narrative structure and to the ingenious...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Wuthering Heights has an interesting construction. There are actually two narrators — a male and a female — who filter the action...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Wuthering Heights is a book that can be approached from several discussion avenues. A brief introduction to Bronte's life will orient...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Even though Emily Bronte had limited experience with people outside her home, she was interested in the human psyche. In Wuthering...

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Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • Late 1700s: World economies are predominately agrarian.


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Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • What achievements of modern medicine have reduced the high rates of maternal deaths in childbirth that were commonplace during the period...

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Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although Wuthering Heights is Bronte's one published novel, it is entirely possible that it is not her only novel. Evidence shows that...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The novels by Charlotte Bronte that are set in the same locale are fascinating to read in relation to Wuthering Heights. Her Jane...

(The entire section is 202 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since it was first filmed in Great Britain in 1920, Wuthering Heights has been a popular basis for films. There have been numerous...

(The entire section is 143 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Still from the film Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, 1939. Published by Gale Cengage
  • Wuthering Heights continues to inspire filmmakers: adaptations include those by William Wyler, starring Laurence Olivier and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Allen, Walter. The English Novel. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1955.

Benvenuto, Richard....

(The entire section is 489 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë (1910) is a collection of Brontë's metaphysical poetry.
  • The...

(The entire section is 96 words.)