Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Shocking to its nineteenth century audience, Wuthering Heights is an unforgettable tale of passion, jealousy, and revenge centered on two families in the north of England. The Earnshaw home is named Wuthering Heights for its situation on a rocky mountaintop swept bare of all but the hardiest vegetation by the ceaseless wind, where stunted trees lean to one side, “as if craving alms of the sun.” The other family, the Lintons, live at Thrushcross Grange in a sheltered glen at the foot of the rocky heights.

The Earnshaws are as passionate, wild, and uncontrolled as the wind that “wuthers” over their mountain, whereas the Lintons are of a milder disposition, which seems almost insipid compared to the lusty Earnshaws.

The story begins with Mr. Earnshaw returning from a long journey, carrying a small, dark gypsy child he found wandering in the streets of Liverpool. Rather than leaving it to starve, he brought it home to his children, Hindley and Catherine, who are disconcerted by this turn of events. Hindley is jealous, hating the little interloper who has usurped his father’s love, but Catherine befriends Heathcliff, as he comes to be called, in defiance of her surly brother.

Even as she grows into her teens, Catherine would rather run wild on the moors with Heathcliff than act the part of a young lady, but her behavior changes once she becomes friends with the refined Lintons. Heathcliff, of unknown parentage and hardened by the constant mistreatment of Hindley, cannot partake of these new relationships.

When Edgar Linton proposes marriage, Catherine is forced to choose between the two sides of her character. With the mild Lintons she is “as harmless as gunpowder when no fire came near,” whereas Heathcliff is more like her but in many ways brings out her worst traits.

In his ruthless quest for revenge on those who have wronged him, Heathcliff tears apart the new life Catherine has constructed for herself. Does he ever feel remorse? At times he seems to be beyond the reach of redemption, yet the ending holds some surprises. There are also minor characters, such as the spunky housemaid Ellen Dean, who manipulate events for better or worse. Finally, there is the issue of the next generation, the progeny of these tumultuous relationships. Will they follow in their parents’ footsteps, or can they make peace with the ghosts of the past?

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