In this blog so far, we’ve seen modern-day Gothic writing (Rebecca), and parodies of the Gothic style (such as Northanger Abbey), but today, at long last, we arrive at real, full-blown traditional Gothic literature. It comes in the form of Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights, published in 1847. Also, yes, this Brontё is related to Charlotte Brontё, author of Jane Eyre.
Chances are, you read Wuthering Heights in high school or college. There’s also a good probability that this novel baffled, bewildered, or even bored you, what with the often-confusing cast of characters (two of which are both named Catherine, adding to the perplexities), and the odd way the story’s events are told–we’re talking flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks here.
So today I hope to (re)introduce Wuthering Heights to you in the hopes that if you dust if off, you’ll not only weather it, but also enjoy it, seeing Brontё’s work as a product of Gothic genius standing out for its truly brilliant characters, the chaotic power struggles between them, and, of course, the famously eerie English moor setting.
The at-times confusing narrative arc I mentioned earlier starts with one Mr. Lockwood arriving at an unsettling moor home called Wuthering Heights, home to a moody, contemptuous man named Heathcliff, who soon becomes one of two main characters in the novel. The other protagonist is the deceased Catherine Earnshaw, who pays a ghostly visit to Wuthering Heights the night Lockwood stays there. Terrified, Lockwood decides to investigate.
This leads to Lockwood getting, from various characters, about the most non-linear and disturbing family history I’ve run across in fiction. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is celebrated enough that before I read Wuthering Heights, I already knew about their attraction. But I didn’t realize just how complicated it would be! There’s emotional manipulation galore, especially on Heathcliff’s part. I won’t reveal how their relationship winds up, other than that Catherine drops a landmark quote on the psychology of love when she declares, “I am Heathcliff.”
Even if you’re not a fan of the Heathcliff-Catherine dynamic, Brontё shows the past, present, and future of their relationship unfolding in such a zigzagging, unpredictable, and dare I say unreliable (*cough* Nelly Dean *cough*) way that it’s an enthralling story regardless. This novel serves as definitive proof that authors don’t always have to tell a story in a straight line.
While Heathcliff and Catherine go through a lot more drama than many real-life relationships (hopefully), you can still relate as a reader today to the broader elements of their time together. This includes the scrutiny and pressure they receive from parents and relatives, as well as their difficulties in bridging the gulf between their statuses: Catherine is a lot higher on the ladder of life than Heathcliff.
This is just the surface story, too! I haven’t even mentioned the sinister servant Joseph, whose dialect will either frustrate or amuse you. Nor have I brought up the mysteriousness of Heathcliff’s origins. Or that pretty much everyone but Catherine despises him, most of all Edgar Linton, Catherine’s other significant–if less fascinating–love interest.
To top it all off, you’ve got the English moors. The wild and rugged geography of these lands makes a convenient tie-in, as probably a bajillion people a lot smarter than me have pointed out in dissertations, with the drama going on between Catherine and Heathcliff. If ever a landscape was more than a setting in literature, it’s here in Wuthering Heights.
Happy dusting off!
Read what others have to say about this novel here on Goodreads.com. Plus, follow me on Twitter at @ethan_nelsonwrt for takes on writing and reading under 280 characters!