This post contains minor spoilers for Wuthering Heights.
I lost track of the number of times I said, “Oh no!”, “What?!”, and “Uh-oh!” while I was reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. This book boasts a visceral power of fascination; once it hooked me, I literally could not stop reading, and no book has shocked and intrigued as much as this. It may be cliché to say this, but reading Wuthering Heights is an experience like no other. I cannot explain – nor do I pretend to entirely understand – this book, but I do know that I enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve read in the past couple of years.
If I were to attempt to pinpoint why Wuthering Heights is so powerful, I would center on Brontë’s prose and her presentation of the story. Brontë opens her novel with a character named Mr. Lockwood visiting Wuthering Heights. He notices something amiss about the place and its inhabitants – Mr. Heathcliff and his daughter-in-law, Catherine – and, a few chapters later, the former housekeeper Mrs. Dean endeavors to tell him the storied history of Wuthering Heights, beginning when Heathcliff was a child. What follows is one twisted tale of the destructive power of untethered passions.
With its unsettling story, Wuthering Heights reminded me of another one of my favorite novels, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Both are sprawling tales of two interconnected families with dubious characters named Catherine, though the Catherine of East of Eden is far worse than either of the Catherines of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff himself. Both books feel like two different stories because they explore two generations of the families, so the focus shifts to different characters about halfway through the book. I have not yet seen the most famous film version of Wuthering Heights – the 1939 William Wyler film – but I hope that it retains the entirety of the plot of the book, unlike Elia Kazan’s 1955 East of Eden, which merely adapts the latter half of the book.
With both of these books, it is impossible to comprehend the dynamics of the relationships and the story of the second half without the background contained in the first half. In Wuthering Heights, it is particularly eerie to watch Linton and the second Catherine carry out their own bizarre love affair in light of the shenanigans of their parents. And Heathcliff’s motives would be even more of a mystery if one didn’t know his history growing up with the Earnshaws.
And after all, Wuthering Heights is the story of Heathcliff, one of literature’s most unusual and opaque characters. Heathcliff is not a man that I would have liked to know in real life, but as a character in the page of a book, I found myself inexplicably drawn to him – not as a romantic hero but rather as a puzzle. I neither like nor dislike Heathcliff – and basically all the characters of Wuthering Heights – but I see him as one of the many explosive elements that made me love this book so much.
I will certainly be rereading Wuthering Heights sometime in the future. In the meantime, I know that Wuthering Heights is a divisive book, so I’m curious to see what you think of it if you have read it. Did you experience the same inexplicable draw that I did? Did you actually like any of the characters?
This was the Book #5 off my Classics Club list. To see the rest of it, click here.