Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Brontë

Catherine and Heathcliff grow up together and learn to love each other, but Heathcliff is an orphan with no family name and no future. Catherine is the only daughter of a gentleman, and knows that she cannot marry so far below her station. The two are embroiled in a tempestuous romance that breaks more than one heart and spans over generations with far-reaching revenge and hatred.

Short Review– This isn’t a romance; it’s a revenge story. Everyone is miserable. I can recognize the genius of the writing, but the subject material is too violent and evil for me to enjoy reading it.

Extensive Review-
Plot:

I love this plot structure. It really keeps you guessing, and there is always something happening and some circumstance that is changing for the characters. The relationships between the characters drive the story, and every little detail in the dialogue points to some deep emotion under the surface.
There is also a lot of violence, some of which made me nauseated to read about. There is a lot of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. There is murder and revenge and illness and lies and betrayal and hatred and spite and conceit and every kind of evil! It’s exhausting.

Whenever one tiny little ray of sunshine penetrates the gloom of this plot, you know you can’t trust it. You know that the evil will soon return and crush everything that is good or happy. Some people like and enjoy that kind of drama, but it makes me depressed.

Writing Style:
The writing really is powerful, and it sucks you into this vortex of darkness and chaos. Every scene is tense and emotional. Even in the few happy scenes where some poor character finds one small moment of tranquility, you are waiting… waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the wicked one to swoop in and wreak destruction. Tension. Fascination as you watch for the train wreck that you know is coming.

I think a big part of why there is so much tension is that Emily Bronte reveals the semi-ending to us right at the beginning when the tenant, Mr. Lockwood, first meets Heathcliff and his household. We see the end result of Heathcliff’s life, his misery and despair. We already know that Catherine is dead. We already see a second generation suffering and miserable too. Then we hear their stories from the beginning (told by the housekeeper, Ellen (Nelly)), and we know the train wreck is coming. The fascination lies in how did the train wreck occur.

Setting:
The setting is so very isolated. Many times I wondered, how could these awful things happen?! Where is the magistrate? Where is the cleric? Where is the constable? Where are the kind neighbors to lend a hand? Well, Wuthering Heights is out on the desolate moors, miles away from the village. There is no one to help. No one to hear the screams and the tears. No one to see the bruises and cuts. You can really feel the loneliness in this remote setting.

Characters:
The characters are each so vivid in their own ways. They all have deeply complex personalities. Heathcliff is a violent brute, but you can understand why he does what he does. He’s utterly evil through and through, and he spends the entire book taking out his horrible revenge, and I hate him with every fiber of my being, but I can understand his reasons. He really is nasty, but he is a well-written character.

Catherine is foolish and headstrong and selfish. I don’t think she quite intends to be evil, she just ends up that way because she is spoiled and stupid. She’s wonderfully fierce! You can feel her power and her influence radiating off the page. She’s mesmerizing. I can’t stand her. But I can’t look away.

Isabella is silly. Hindley is ferocious and scary. Joseph is disgusting. Nelly is the only one with any common sense, but she is ineffectual at curbing anyone’s foolishness. Edgar is a little weak in the beginning, but he finds his footing later on. But they are all complex, well-written, interesting, and vivid people. They feel quite real.

Most of the second generation of characters are very stupid and weak. I was frustrated with young Cathy, and Linton, and Hareton. (Why doesn’t anybody in this book ever listen to the good advice Nelly gives them?) However, I did find it fascinating to see the “sins of the father” being inflicted on the next generation, as they play out the same roles as their parents did. I think this plot structure is absolute genius.

Duality:
There are so many mirror images and striking opposites in this book! There are two main houses, two families, and two generations. One household is refined and lives on an orderly estate. One household is as wild and untamed as the windy moors they live on. A person is abused, then he becomes the abuser. I could go on and on about all the intriguing symbolism and the contrasts in each character.

I think it’s amazing to see how the characters begin to define themselves and their own personality, their own sphere of life, by comparing themselves to the house down the way, and saying “I’m not like THAT.” Part of their confirmation of their own identity in their own mind is the comparison to what is their opposite. And this is not just for the reader’s benefit; this is an integral part of the character’s own personal growth and developing personality. And people of both houses do this, looking at the others and saying “I’m glad I’m not like THEM.” It’s brilliant. It’s fascinating. I love it!

Themes:
Love-This book is an interesting exploration of the idea of love. I’m not sure that anyone in the entire book knows what it is or experiences actual love.
What Heathcliff and Catherine have, they call “love”, but it isn’t. It’s a perverted obsession with each other.
Young Cathy was bullied into a pitying “love” that she never really felt. Isabella fell into an infatuation type of “love” that was based on wishes instead of reality.
What Nelly feels for the little children she cares for might be closer to real love, since she truly wishes them well and would do almost anything to help them grow healthy and good. However, her feelings, although affectionate and warm, seem to lack the intensity of a true love.

What Edgar feels for his wife and daughter I think is the closest thing to real love in this book. Therefore Edgar is my favorite character. The only part of the entire book that I really enjoyed was when (view spoiler) This is my favorite scene not so much because of the actual action in the scene, but because of Edgar’s personality and courage in this moment. I think it was true love that spurred his actions.

Family and Social Structure– There are various families and generations that we get to see intimately in this book, each one different and with its own flaws and strengths. Their social position plays a large part in how the characters regulate their behavior.

Is family a place where we belong? Heathcliff is sort of adopted by Catherine’s father, but he doesn’t really belong to the family.
Is family a source of identity? Catherine decides who to marry based on her ideas of what is due to her family name. Her family identity hampers her freedom.
Is family the people you are loyal to? Catherine marries one person, but her loyalties lie with someone else.
Is family the people you acknowledge as your tribe? Young Cathy has completely different relationships with her two cousins, Linton and Hareton. She is happy to acknowledge one cousin as family, but is distressed to learn that the other is related to her.
Is family the people that you love? Heathcliff abuses his family mercilessly. He uses his only real family, his wife and son, as pawns in his revenge.
What exactly is family, and what does it mean? Apparently it means nothing to these people. Young Cathy and her father have the only really decent family relationship in the entire book.

Of course, there are many other themes about the role of women, the nature of friendship, pride, morality, courage, cowardice, compassion or the lack of it, and a dozen other things that are explored by different characters at different times. But (contrary to what you might think if you have read this far) this is not a doctoral essay, and I don’t have time to write about them all.

Final Thoughts:
Overall, I just hate this book. I could go on and on about how I know it’s brilliant and fascinating, but I still hate reading it. I hated reading it the first time as a teen, and I hated reading it this second time as an adult. Ugh. It’s just way too dark and violent for me. It’s genius. It’s depressing. I hate it.

This is a very polarizing book. I have never met anyone who was “meh” about this book. You either love it passionately, or you hate it vehemently. There is no in-between. And that just shows how genius it really is. You may love or hate Emily Bronte’s book, but you cannot ignore it.

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