“Wuthering Heights” is a classic gothic horror/romance novel written by Emily Brontë and published in England in 1847. The book was originally published under the pen name “Ellis Bell” and Brontë died the year after it was released. When the book was first released it was considered controversial for it’s themes of violence and it’s challenge of Victorian ideals. It was not until the last half of the 19th century that the work began to see a rise in sales and gain critical acclaim. Since then, the novel has been widely regarded as a classic of English literature and has been adapted many times into films, radio serials, television shows, plays and musicals, among other things.
The book is a somber tale of love and vengeance in a manor house on the English moors. It begins with a man named Lockwood who moves into a house called Thrushcross Grange. Lockwood meets with his new landlord, Heathcliff and immediately dislikes the man. He asks his housekeeper, Nelly about him and is given a story which spans the majority of the book. Heathcliff was brought into the household, called Wuthering Heights as an orphan boy and raised with the family. He quickly grew close to the families young daughter, Catherine.
The story revolves around Heathcliff and his thwarted love for Catherine who dies in childbirth after marrying another man. Heathcliff swears revenge on the man and his family and eventually forces his own son to marry Catherine’s daughter. However, this backfires after Heathcliff dies unexpectedly as does his son. Catherine’s daughter gains control of the manor house and marries again.
Mr. Lockwood writes in his diary about his first days at Thrushcross Grange, a manor house in the countryside. Lockwood pays a visit to his landlord, Heathcliff shortly after arriving, describing him as a dark-skinned, surly man living in a nearby manner called Wuthering Heights. “Wuthering” is an adjective used in Yorkshire to describe the strong winds that often blow across the moors during a storm. Lockwood gets the impression from Heathcliff that the man does not trust him and is left alone in a room full of snarling dogs at one point during the conversation. When Heathcliff returns, Lockwood is upset but after a conversation with the man he begins to like him a little better. Though he does feel unwelcome at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood decides to come again the next day.
The next day, Lockwood returns to the manor house only to be told by the servants that Heathcliff is away. He is shown into a sitting room by a young but rough-looking man where a beautiful young woman is sitting by the fire. Assuming that this woman is Heathcliff’s wife, Lockwood tries to make conversation but is rebuffed by the woman at every turn. Heathcliff arrives and informs Lockwood that the young woman is actually his daughter-in-law, the widow of his dead son. The rough-looking young man is Hareton Earnshaw.
When it is time for Lockwood to leave, he realizes that the snow outside has gotten worse and he will need to bring a lantern to guide him back to Trushcross Grange. However, when he takes a lantern one of the servants, Joseph thinks he has stolen it and looses the dogs on him. Lockwood is pinned by the dogs and becomes so furious at the residents of Wuthering Heights that he curses them. But he is hurt and must be brought back inside to recover. Lockwood is brought to a room in the house that Heathcliff forbids people from entering so that he can rest. He notices that the room is in poor condition and sees that three names have been carved into the paint on a shelf by the bed. The names are Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, and Catherine Heathcliff. Lockwood also finds a diary that belonged to Catherine Earnshaw twenty-five years earlier. Lockwood reads an entry in which Catherine’s uncaring brother, Hindley tells his wife to pull Heathcliff’s hair. He gathers from reading the diary that Catherine and Heathcliff were very close but that Hindley hated Heathcliff.
In the night, Heathcliff wakes to find a strange noise tapping on his window and is attacked by a ghost sobbing Catherine Linton’s name and begging to be let in. Lockwood struggles against the ghost and Heathcliff rushes into the room at the noise. When Lockwood flees the room, telling Heathcliff that it is haunted, Heathcliff curses him and begins begging at the window for Catherine to come back. The next morning Heathcliff sullenly brings Lockwood home. Lockwood spends the rest of the day in his study, alone.
When Lockwood recovers somewhat from his scare, he asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean to relate to him the history of Wuthering Heights and it’s residents. Nelly was a servant at Wuthering Heights and grew up there. She tells Lockwood that the current Catherine is the daughter of the Catherine that she served as a maid. Hareton Earnshaw is young Catherine’s cousin. The old Catherine was Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of the proprietor of Wuthering Heights and the young Catherine is the last of the Linton’s. Nelly tells Lockwood that when she was a young girl, Mr. Earnshaw returned home from a trip to Liverpool with a bedraggled orphan boy whom the Earnshaw’s began calling Heathcliff. Mr. Earnshaw told his family that Heathcliff was to be a new member of their family.
Initially, the children did not like this new addition but Catherine grew to love Heathcliff over time and the two became all but inseparable. Hindley continued to resent and hate Heathcliff and treated him terribly. Mrs. Earnshaw also seemed to hate the boy. Two years after Heathcliff arrived at Wuthering Heights, Mrs. Earnshaw died, leaving Hindley without a mother and without anyone else who disliked Heathcliff in the house. Mr. Earnshaw became so irritated by the constant battle between Heathcliff and Hindley that he eventually sent Hindley away to college. Towards the end of his life, the servant, Joseph used his fanatical religious beliefs to exert more and more control over Mr. Earnshaw. Soon, Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley must return home to take over as master of Wuthering Heights. When Hindley returns, it is with a new wife, a selfish, stupid woman named Frances.
Hindley immediately declares that Heathcliff must leave school and begin working in the fields. One day Heathcliff and Catherine are playing in the fields after their curfew and Hindley tells Nelly to bolt the doors so that they cannot get back into the house when they return. Nelly only pretends to do this and instead waits outside for the children. Only Heathcliff returns and he tells Nelly that he and Catherine were at Thrushcross Grange spying on the Linton children when the family’s guard dog attacked them and bit Catherine. Catherine was taken inside the Linton’s home because she could not walk home but the Linton’s refused to let Heathcliff in because of his ‘rough’ appearance.
The next day, Mr. Linton travels to Wuthering Heights and scolds Hindley for his careless treatment of his sister. Embarrassed, Hindley reacts by telling Heathcliff that he is not allowed to play with Catherine anymore. Catherine spends weeks recovering at Thrushcross Grange and receives lessons in manners and deportment from Mrs. Linton in the mean time. When she returns to Wuthering Heights at Christmas she is much changed and seems to find herself above Heathcliff.
The Linton children visit the next day for dinner and Hindley orders that Heathcliff is locked in the attic to be keep away from them. Catherine is upset by her brother’s treatment of Heathcliff and goes up to see him after dinner. Nelly says that she released the boy and gave him dinner later that night and Heathcliff warned her that he intended to take revenge on Hindley.
Back in the current time, Nelly tells Lockwood that it is getting late and she must stop her story to go to bed. However, Lockwood assures her that he will sleep in the next day and urges her to continue the story. Nelly does but skips ahead a bit to months later. Hindley’s wife gave birth to a boy named Hareton but died shortly after. Hindley is so bereft that he begins drinking excessively and behaving like a mad man toward the servants. He tells Nelly to take care of the baby as he has no interest in it.
Catherine continues spending time with the Linton children Edgar and Isabella. One day, Heathcliff tells her that he intends to skip working in the fields and spend the day with her. Catherine tells him that the Linton’s are visiting that day. Heathcliff and Catherine argue. He tells her that she is spending too much time with the Linton’s. At that moment, Edgar enters the room without Isabella and Heathcliff becomes so upset that he storms out.
Nelly is still in the room and tells Catherine that she is not allowed to leave because she was asked to be a chaperone between Catherine and Edgar. Catherine pinches Nelly and slaps her in an effort to get her to leave. When the baby begins to cry she shakes him, roughly. Edgar is horrified by this behavior and tries to calm Catherine who then boxes his ears. Eventually they situation calms and Nelly leaves the room, reentering only to tell the pair that Hindley is home and that he is drunk. Nelly tells Lockwood that she can tell by the atmosphere in the room that Catherine and Edgar have told each other that they love one another. To avoid Hindley, Edgar hurriedly leaves and Catherine goes to her bedroom. Nelly hides the baby in his room and takes the bullets out of Hindley’s gun because he often plays with the weapon when he is drunk. Hindley finds Hareton despite Nelly hiding the boy and drunkenly drops him over the banister of the stairs. Luckily, Heathcliff catches the baby.
That evening, Catherine confesses to Nelly that Edgar has asked for her hand in marriage. Heathcliff overhears the conversation and storms off in rage and disappointment. Because of his leaving, he misses Catherine telling Nelly that she isn’t sure if she can marry Edgar because she feels that she is in love with Heathcliff. However, over the course of the conversation, she decides that she must marry Edgar. Heathcliff runs away from the house and Catherine goes to search for him in the rain. She catches a fever and nearly dies but is taken to Thrushcross Grange to recover. Catherine does recover, but Mr. and Mrs. Linton catch her illness and soon die. Three years pass and Catherine and Edgar marry. Nelly moves with Catherine to Thrushcross Grange, unfortunately leaving little Hareton alone with his father.
At this point in the story, Nelly again reminds Lockwood that it is late and she needs to go to bed. Lockwood lets her go this time and goes to bed himself. Lockwood becomes ill from his experience at Wuthering Heights and spends weeks in bed recovering. Heathcliff visits him to check on his state and after he leaves Lockwood calls Nelly in and begs her to finish the story. He asks how Heathcliff managed to get control of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange if he was an orphan and an outcast from the family. Nelly confesses that Heathcliff was gone for the three years before Catherine and Edgar married and he made his fortune then through some means that she is not aware of.
Six months after the marriage, Heathcliff came back to Wuthering Heights and Catherine is delighted to see him. During his absence, Heathcliff became a polished gentleman. He says that Hindley invited him to stay for a while once the other man found out that he had become wealthy. Isabella begins visiting Heathcliff and eventually falls in love with him. Although he is still in love with Catherine, Heathcliff does nothing to dispel these feelings and Nelly suspects that he might be up to something vengeful. Heathcliff soon stops young Hareton’s schooling and Nelly discovers that he has taught him to swear at his father.
Catherine demands that Heathcliff confesses his real feelings about Isabella and Heathcliff tells her that he feels that she has wronged him by marrying Edgar and that he wants revenge. Edgar overhears and orders Heathcliff off his property. Edgar summons help from his servants but Catherine demands that he face Heathcliff without any help. Catherine begins taunting Edgar into striking Heathcliff after which the former runs out into the garden. Edgar tells Catherine that she must choose between himself and Heathcliff. Catherine is so upset by this that she locks herself in her room and refuses to eat. Edgar also tells his sister that if she pursues a marriage with Heathcliff any further he will cast her out of the family.
Catherine spends days in her room, ranting hysterically and refusing food. Several days later Isabella and Heathcliff elope suddenly and Edgar disinherits Isabella as a result. Soon, Catherine realizes that she is pregnant. Heathcliff is angered by this and begins punishing Isabella in her brother’s place. Heathcliff has assumed the role of master of Wuthering Heights and drunken Hindley tells Isabella that he intends to kill Heathcliff.
Soon Heathcliff visits Catherine and the two have a fight over what has come to pass between them. Catherine is still weak from her pregnancy and faints when she hears that her husband has come home. Heathcliff catches her and forces her into her husband’s arms, telling him that he must tend to her before he deals with his anger at Heathcliff. Nelly hurries Heathcliff away before Edgar has a chance to attack him. Heathcliff vows that he will sit in the garden all night so that he can be near Catherine.
That night, Catherine gives birth to a daughter. The birth has complications and Catherine dies hours later. Nelly goes to the garden to tell Heathcliff but he seems to already know. Heathcliff weeps and pleads with Catherine’s spirit to come back and haunt him. At one point, Heathcliff manages to see Catherine’s body and replaces a lock of Edgar’s hair in the locket around her neck with one of his own. Nelly replaces Edgar’s hair in the locket but leaves Heathcliff’s as well.
Soon after the funeral, Isabella arrives at Thrushcross Grange and tells Nelly that there has been an altercation between Hindley and Heathcliff. Hindley aimed his gun at Heathcliff who managed to turn it on him and wound him. The men began fighting and Isabella fled the house to take refuge with Nelly. A short while later, Isabella leaves town entirely and goes to London where she later gives birth to Heathcliff’s son who she names Linton. Heathcliff knows of where his wife and son live but chooses not to pursue them. Isabella dies when the boy is only twelve years old. Soon, Hindley dies as well. Heathcliff becomes the main owner of Wuthering Heights and plans to raise Hareton himself. He turns Hareton into a servant as revenge for his hatred of the boy’s father.
Young Catherine grows up at Thrushcross Grange happily although she is forbidden to ever go to Wuthering Heights. However, when her aunt Isabella dies, her father must go to London and young Catherine is left in Nelly’s care. She manages to slip away from Nelly and wanders into Wuthering Height’s grounds where she meets Hareton. The two children take an instant liking to each other and begin to play. When Nelly discovers where the girl is gone she rushes to collect her and must tell her that Hareton is her cousin in order to get her to leave. Edgar returns home with Linton and when Heathcliff hears of this he demands that Linton is brought to Wuthering Heights. Linton is afraid to see his father and Nelly tries to reassure him. But when they get to the house Heathcliff acts very badly toward the boy and tells him that he is his property. Linton begs Nelly not to leave him but she realizes that she must go back home and there is nothing she can do.
A few years pass until Catherine is sixteen. She meets Heathcliff and Hareton out on the moors one day and he invites her back to his house to meet his son. Nelly tries to refuse, but Catherine insists on going and when Catherine meets Linton again neither cousin recognizes each other from their brief meeting three years before. Catherine doesn’t think that she likes the boy and leaves to tour the house with Hareton instead. Heathcliff forces Linton to go after them.
The next day, at home Catherine, demands to know why her father has kept her cousins a secret. Edgar cannot explain but Catherine surmises that he dislikes Heathcliff. Catherine and Linton begin writing secret letters to each other. Soon, Nelly discovers the correspondence and urges Catherine to break it off. After she does, Heathcliff corners her and demands to know why she would stop writing to his son. He tells her that Linton is heartbroken and needs to see her. Catherine demands that Nelly take her to Wuthering Heights.
Catherine visits Linton and the boy proposes an offer of marriage to her. Catherine is shocked and in a fit of temper, shoves him. Linton pretends to be hurt and Catherine feels bad. After this, she begins traveling to Wuthering Heights secretly to see Linton. Nelly discovers the secret meeting, however, and informs Edgar of them. Edgar is angered and tells Catherine she is not longer allowed to visit the house but that Linton may come over and visit her at home.
Back in present day, Nelly interrupts her story to tell Lockwood that she has reached a point where the story is almost caught up to where they are now. These events happened in the previous year. Returning to her story, Nelly tells Lockwood that Linton never visited Catherine at home, perhaps because he was a very sickly young man and wasn’t able to make the trip. Edgar, who is sick himself by this point, tells Catherine that he will agree to a marriage between her and Linton if it will make her happy. Although he realizes that this would mean that Heathcliff would inherit Thrushcross Grange when he dies.
Catherine meets Linton to talk and the boy confesses that his father has been forcing him to court her and he is scared of what will happen if he doesn’t. While they are talking, Heathcliff arrives and asks them back into the house. Once Nelly and Catherine are inside Wuthering Heights, he imprisons them and demands that Catherine marries Linton. He locks Nelly in a room for five days and orders Hareton to guard her. Nelly is eventually set free by the housekeeper who tells her that Catherine and Linton have been married. Linton is happy about this, gloating that all of Edgar’s possessions are soon to be his.
Nelly hurries back to Thrushcross Grange where she finds Edgar on his deathbed. She assures him that Catherine is safe a will be home soon. Edgar attempts to change his will so that Catherine’s inheritance will be in the hands of trustees. But before he can, Catherine manages to visit and reassures her father that she is alright. Edgar dies thinking that she is happily married.
After Edgar’s funeral, Heathcliff brings Catherine back to the Grange so that she may gather her things. He talks with Nelly and informs her that while the sexton was digging a grave for Edgar he had the man reopen Catherine’s grave so that he could look upon her face. He announces that Catherine has not rotted in the least and will not until he can join her in the afterlife. He tells Nelly that Catherine’s spirit has come into his room every night for eighteen years. He also informs Nelly that she is never to visit Wuthering Heights again.
The housekeeper at Wuthering Heights keeps in contact with Nelly and tells her that Heathcliff forced Catherine to tend to Linton in his illness herself and that she was not allowed to ask for any help. He also ordered all of his servants to be unkind and cruel to her. Linton dies before too long and Catherine remains at Wuthering Heights not speaking to anyone.
Nelly buys a cottage in town for herself and tells Lockwood that she wishes to move Catherine in with her but knows that Heathcliff will not allow it. Nelly says that the only thing that would get Catherine away from Wuthering Heights would be a new marriage. Lockwood narrates that this is the end of Nelly’s story and that he intends to go to Wuthering Heights as soon as possible and inform Heathcliff that he is leaving and that he must find another tenant for Thrushcross Grange.
Lockwood does go to the manor the next day and witnesses a fight between Catherine and Hareton. He speaks to Heathcliff who tells him that Hareton is beginning to look so much like his aunt Catherine that he can no longer look at him. Lockwood leaves the house and thinks about what a dreadful place it is and how awful its residents are.
A year later, Lockwood narrates that he returns to the Grange to visit Nelly but finds that she has moved back to Wuthering Heights. He rides to see her and finds that she has been made housekeeper of the manor house. He also finds that Hareton and Catherine are getting along better and seem to respect each other now.
One morning Heathcliff and Catherine get into a fight and he grabs her as if he is going to hurt her but stops short. Nelly suspects that he realized in that moment how much she looks like her mother and couldn’t bring himself to hurt her. Heathcliff admits to her that so many reminders of his lost love have worn him down and he no longer desires to carry out his plan of revenge. After this, Heathcliff begins withdrawing from society and walking alone on the moors at night. He begins to speak of seeing apparitions and murmurs Catherine’s name. This all culminates in his sudden, unexpected death.
Nelly tells Lockwood that Heathcliff will be buried and that Catherine and Hareton plan to marry. Lockwood goes to the graveyard and sees the graves of Catherine, Edgar and Heathcliff side-by-side. The villagers tell him that they have seen Heathcliff’s ghost in the company of another spirit. Lockwood wonders about this and thinks that he doesn’t believe that anyone who lies in such quiet earth could have an unquiet slumber.
Mr. Lockwood – the main character and narrator of the story. Lockwood retells the story that he hears from Nelly through diary entries. Lockwood travels to Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights from a more polite, posh part of England and as a result of his breeding, is at a loss when he is faced with the more brusque, uncultured residents of Wuthering Heights. Lockwood’s narration is a bridge to get to Nelly’s who tells the main story and handles most of the novel’s exposition. Lockwood is a somewhat vain, naive man who nonetheless means well and has a strong moral center.
Heathcliff – Lockwood’s landlord and Catherine’s former love. Heathcliff is an orphan who is brought to Wuthering Heights as a child to become Mr. Earnshaw’s ward. Heathcliff is perhaps the most memorable character of the story. His dark and brooding nature and over-the-top villainy set the tone for the gothic romance. He also the least demonstratively moral character in the book and the hardest to sympathize with. Heathcliff begins the story as an innocent boy who is picked on by Hindley and falls madly in love with Catherine, but Catherine’s marriage to another man and eventual death in childbirth tip him over the edge into cruelty and hatred. He never recovers from the loss of her and spends most of his life carrying out an elaborate plan to get revenge against Hindley and Edgar even after they are both dead. Heathcliff very much lives in the past for most of the story and only wishes to join Catherine in death. When he finally feels himself beginning to die, he seems largely relieved and happy for the first time in years.
Catherine Earnshaw/Linton – the spoiled daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, who grows up at Wuthering Heights and falls deeply in love with Heathcliff. Catherine confesses to Nelly that she loves Heathcliff to the point where she considers them to be the same person but her desire for upward social mobility causes her to marry Edgar instead so that she will not be considered “low” for marrying a penniless orphan. Catherine is a free spirit but very arrogant and often genuinely cruel. She is hot-headed and prone to fits of anger. She never truly seems to be happy with either man that she claims to love and dies young in childbirth.
Nelly Dean – the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights and former housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange. Nelly’s narration makes up most of the story as it is through her that we learn the story of Wuthering Heights. Nelly is a kind, intelligent, compassionate woman who very much grew up alongside Catherine, Heathcliff, and Hindley but was never considered part of the family like they were. She feels strongly for all of the characters despite how they treat her and feels most strongly for young Catherine, whom she wishes she could rescue from repeating the same mistakes as her mother.
Young Catherine – the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw/Linton. Young Catherine is somewhat of a poster child for nature vs. nurture. She is raised without her mother, who dies giving birth to her, but still manages to take on the exact same nature as the woman. She develops the same arrogance, impetuousness and especially the fits of anger as her mother and falls in love with the son of the man that her mother once loved. However, Catherine’s life, by the end of the book has gone in a slightly better direction with her potentially marrying Hareton and inheriting Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
Emily Brontë Biography
Emily Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire England on July 30th, 1818. She was one of six children and the sister to famous Victorian authors Charlotte and Anne Bronte. The sisters were the children of a Reverend and were brought to live on the famous English moors at a young age. Emily’s mother, Maria, died when she was only three years old and she and her siblings were raised by her father with the help of her aunt thereafter. Writing became a pastime for the Bronte children at a young age. They began writing plays and making up stories to entertain each other. Bronte attended a girl’s school for a short time but found that she missed her home and returned soon after.
Emily attempted to become a teacher in 1838 but found that her health suffered from the stress and returned home again to serve as the stay-at-home daughter and housekeeper. She taught herself German and how to play the piano.
During their early twenties, Emily and Charlotte planned on opening a school of their own and teaching. However, after they attended more schooling and tried to open a school they found that it was difficult to attract students to the remote town that they lived in.
In 1845, Charlotte attempted to publish some of Emily’s poems but Emily became insulted by the invasion of her privacy and refused to let her. However, after Anne revealed that she, too had been writing poems, Emily relented and allowed her poems to be published under a pen name. All three sisters chose a pen name that resembled their own name and published a work containing all of their poems. The work did not sell very well. Despite this, Emily published her most well-known work and only novel, “Wuthering Heights” in 1847 under her pen name, Ellis Bell.
The novel was originally published as two volumes in a three volume set including Anne’s novel “Agnes Grey”. The novel received mixed reviews upon first being published and many Victorian readers were offended by it’s violent and passionate characters. Most of the public assumed that the book was written by a man and Emily’s name was not added to the cover under after her death years later.
In 1848, Emily began feeling ill and soon came down with tuberculosis. She refused to see a doctor and quickly grew worse. She dies on December 19th, 1848 at the age of 30 and was buried in the family tomb in Haworth, Yorkshire, England. After her death, Charlotte re-released ‘Wuthering Heights’ with her sister’s real name on the cover and the book began to see better sales. It has since become regarded as a literary classic and is one of the most well-known English books of all time.