Book Reviews

Storms that rage at the Wuthering Heights – Book Review

Wuthering refers to the blowing of strong winds. As the book itself says about the name Wuthering Heights, “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.” And indeed, the book bears within its pages some very strong winds, even amounting to storms at times. Wuthering Heights is a love story like no other. Or rather, it is a story of love that is worse than hate. It destroys everyone it touches and has no mercy.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is the book that made me realize what wonders live in the pages of truly great literature. I can almost say that it made me fall in love with literature. Before that, I only read books as pleasure. It is Wuthering Heights that first opened my eyes to the skill and mastery of literary greats.

Wuthering Heights is a marvel of originality, defiance, and intense writing. If I remember correctly, it was the first novel I studied as part of the B.A. English (Hons.) course. After that, I’ve always wanted to give this book a re-reading. I didn’t, because it is not an easy book to read. I have read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre maybe five or six times. But Wuthering Heights, I couldn’t touch again. Until now. When I read it the first time, it was with a young heart and time enough at my hands to read it uninterrupted. I still remember how I felt my heart surrounded by wild storms while I was lost in its page. Alas, I can no longer give the same time and attention to reading. I have grown up and my days have now become divided into bits and pieces under the claims of different responsibilities. Yet, even though I now read this book while being surrounded by distractions, it still shook me with its intensity. And recalling the time when I first read it, it also brought back the days when hopes were not tired yet and the dreams still bore the promise of coming true.

Wuthering Heights Review

Wuthering Heights review

Remarkable Characterization:

Anyway, coming to the novel, Wuthering Heights is a novel that proves great writing can make readers fall in love with even the characters that deserve disgust and repulsion. It is entirely a character-driven book. Things don’t happen to the people in it. Whatever happens, the characters do it. The lead characters in the book are their own worst enemies and nobody’s friends. They may seem unrealistic to some, dysfunctional to others, but they will always appear unique and remarkable. All the characters are finely etched. Even the minor characters like servants have their own manner of speech and tone and cannot be mistaken one for the other.

Heathcliff – The hero of Wuthering Heights:

William Makepeace Thackeray called his Vanity Fair ‘a novel without a hero.’ But I think, this description suits Wuthering Heights better. Even though it has one of the strongest and most unforgettable heroes in the entire English Literature.

Wuthering Heights - Heathcliff quote
“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life!” Heathcliff

The hero, or at least the male lead of Wuthering Heights, is named Heathcliff. He has no surname, and nobody knows anything about his parentage. He is a towering and unforgettable character, but a one who is cruel, unforgiving, and more a villain than a hero. He’s an orphan that finds shelter at the home of an indulgent man who loves him more than his own son. In return, like a dark cloud full of storm, Heathcliff blights the home that shelters him and even destroys its neighbours. He hangs the pet dog of his bride just so she’d know what sort of monster she has married. He opens graves. He torments dying people, even his own son. He beats and manipulates children to achieve his purpose. He loves the son of his enemy but turns him into an illiterate slave. He detests his own son and forces him to ride on moors even when the young man is too ill to be out of his bed. He relishes the thought of ‘vivisection’ of his own son and the daughter of the woman who is his one great love.

“It’s odd what a savage feeling I have to anything that seems afraid of me! Had I been born where laws are less strict and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening’s amusement,” Heathcliff.

He is a merciless tyrant. He is unfair to all and has no care for right or wrong. He curses his beloved’s soul to never be at peace as long as he’s alive. He won’t get a doctor for his dying son, nor even check on the dying young man himself.
Yet, we cannot detest Heathcliff. We know how he has been wronged. We’ve seen his passionate, obsessive love turn to all-consuming hate. We may shudder at him. But we cannot hate him. We know he himself is a haunted, tormented soul and his existence is his greatest punishment. His death is the only thing that can bring peace to him, and to those cursed to live near him. Remarkably, as consolation for his wretched life, the author does not even give him peace in death. Instead, it is hinted he roams the wild with the ghost of Catherine, the woman who was his love, his life, the sun of his universe, and its greatest blight.

And what does this Catherine think of him? She loves him passionately, yet knows:

“Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond—a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man,” Catherine to Isabella Linton.

And yet, she loves Heathcliff beyond all reasoning.

Catherine – the heroine of Wuthering Heights:

Wuthering Heights - Catherine's quote about Heathcliff
“My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being,” Catherine to Nelly Dean.

This woman, Catherine Earnshaw/Linton is far from being a typical heroine too. She is proud, headstrong, sharp of tongue, throws tantrums, and can make herself sick at will. She’s a free wind with a storm in her heart. She is made to play with the branches of a proud oak and shake them into submission. But she does the mistake of accepting abode with a tender garden plant. As a result, she ends up breaking her heart and the hearts of the two men who love her most ardently. She gives up the love of the man who is one with her being, and repulses and insults the love of a husband whose affections may not be as stormy, but run just as deep.

Edgar Linton:

This husband, Edgar Linton, the man who comes between our hero and heroine, is the one we pity most. He may have obstructed a love most ardent and true, but he’s not a villain. He’s the victim who gets caught between two raging storms and loses everything. He is not as larger than life as Heathcliff and Catherine. He is not as strong or passionate as Heathcliff. But his love is sincere and his feelings true. He too loses his love, but unlike Heathcliff, he seeks no revenge. But all the while he lives as a doting father, we know he is yearning for his release from the world so he can join his beloved. He is no match for Heathcliff or Catherine, but that doesn’t mean he is any less than them.

As he says to Ellen Dean,

“Ellen, I’ve been very happy with my little Cathy: through winter nights and summer days she was a living hope at my side. But I’ve been as happy musing by myself among those stones, under that old church: lying, through the long June evenings, on the green mound of her mother’s grave, and wishing—yearning for the time when I might lie beneath it.”

Catherine and Heathcliff are elemental beings. Like forces of nature, they must remain true to themselves. When meddled with, they unleash destruction. Edgar Linton and his sister Isabella, on the other hand, are like potted plants, raised with tenderness. They stand no chance against the ravages of such strong and stormy natures as that of Catherine and Heathcliff, whose feeling sometimes even seem to border on insanity.

Unique narrative technique and tight plot:

Wuthering Height is Emily Bronte’s first (sadly, also the last) book. Yet, even in her first book, she uses a very innovative technique of dual narrators. The story is narrated by a servant Ellen (Nelly) Dean. She is not the main character, but she is present in almost all major events. She has followed and even participated in the changing destinies of all the major characters. Ellen’s narrative is reported to the reader by Mr. Lockwood, the tenant of Edgar Linton’s house.

In fact, there are times when there are not two, but three narrators. For example, when Isabella narrates her miseries suffered at the Wuthering Heights. This, in turn, is being narrated by Ellen to Mr. Lockwood, who reports it to the reader.

The narration of the book is quick and does not let the intensity to dwindle. Unlike many classics, there are no long descriptions of surrounding or characters. The characters speak for themselves by their actions.

Wuthering Heights – a marvel of English Literature:

Wuthering Heights is a story of hate as much as of love. It shows that when pushed to the limit, even the best of us can forget the kindness and become cruel. But it also shows that with kindness and forgiveness, you can rise above the hate. Catherine Linton/Heathcliff and Hareton Earnshaw are two youngsters who have to suffer through the storms raised by their elders’ hate. They were in danger of being smoldered by it and turn hateful in their turn. But by being forgiving and loving, they rise above this hate and change the nature of Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights is the first and the last book of Emily Bronte. It was published in 1847, under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. The fake name was used because at that time, women writers were considered inferior to men writers. Emily died just about a year later. She had a shy, solitary, and reclusive nature.

As per Charlotte Bronte (Author of Jane Eyre, Villete …)

“My sister’s disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word.”

It is a marvel how such a gentle, shy, and solitary woman created a character like Heathcliff. The book and its hero scandalized the reading public of its time. Its unforgettable characters, its defiant and violent storyline comes as a shock even now. To think it was written by a woman at an era when women were only expected to excel at domestic arts and do, think, or say nothing beyond the dictates of propriety.

I wonder what storms raged in Emily’s heart as she sat silent and smiled at the world. A silent mouth doesn’t always mean a quiet heart. I wonder what unquiet throbbed in her that resulted in such a book.

So, should you read Wuthering Heights?

First of all, it is not a light read. If you enjoy reading only light romances, then this book is not for you. But if you enjoy books that can lift you up, surround you with their force, and take you through an unforgettable experience, Wuthering Heights (Amazon link) is a must-read.

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