“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 can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!”
Set in the moors of Yorkshire, Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte, 1847) centers around the tragic love between Catherine, daughter of the ancient Earnshaw family, and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted from the scums of Liverpool. An acclaimed part of the Western canon, this work, which has not one but two unreliable narrators, challenges traditional conceptions of heaven and hell, and grapples with the wildness inside all of us. Published ten years into Queen Victorian’s reign, Wuthering Heights is a thrilling intersection between the Gothic and Victorian novel.
Difficulty Level: 3/5
The Elevator Synopsis:
When Earnshaw returned home from a business trip with an orphan, he had no idea that he was in fact bringing home the cause of his family’s destruction. Catherine and Heathcliff, despite unpleasant first impressions, fall in love, and so begins an unhealthy, extremely codependent love affair. Throughout the novel, the two struggle to define themselves separate from each other but fail in every attempt. In the end, two ancient families are destroyed, and Lockwood, the outside narrator, is left alone in the wild moors.
… spoilers ahead …
Although he is one of the main characters, the novel provides few concrete details about who Heathcliff is. His birth is unknown, his long periods of absence unexplained, and his mind inscrutable. In fact, at times, he seems not even human at all.
However, one interesting theory that has developed about Heathcliff is while he is definitely human, he is not Anglo-Saxon. The Earnshaws and their neighbor, the Lintons, represent England of old, but Heathcliff could be a child of Britain’s vast (and growing) empire. The novel repeatedly describes him as dark. His earliest location, Liverpool, which was a major port, also suggests that he may be a slave child.
If we accept this theory, then Wuthering Heights takes on new meanings. For example, Catherine’s rejection of Heathcliff in favor of the bland and blond Linton becomes even more significant. Despite having been raised in her family and been her first (and only true?) love, Heathcliff is still not accepted.
Ultimately, this rebuff culminates into a rage that pulls down both House Earnshaw and Linton. In the end, Catherine and her husband are dead. Her brother and sister-in-law have long been gone. Her daughter Cathy and Hareton, her cousin, seemed doomed to repeat the same mistakes as the generation before them. And although Heathcliff himself dies by the finale of the novel, he already has had his revenge.