In the late winter months of 1801, a man named Lockwood rents a manor housecalled Thrushcross Grange in the isolated moor country of England. Here, hemeets his dour landlord, Heathcliff, a wealthy man who lives in the ancientmanor of Wuthering Heights, four miles away from the Grange. In this wild,stormy countryside, Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell himthe story of Heathcliff and the strange denizens of Wuthering Heights.
Nelly consents, and Lockwood writes down his recollections of her tale inhis diary; these written recollections form the main part of WutheringHeights. Nelly remembers her childhood. As a young girl, she works as a servant atWuthering Heights for the owner of the manor, Mr. Earnshaw, and his family.
One day, Mr. Earnshaw goes to Liverpool and returns home with an orphan boywhom he will raise with his own children. At first, the Earnshaw children-aboy named Hindley and his younger sister Catherine-detest the dark-skinnedHeathcliff. But Catherine quickly comes to love him, and the two soon growinseparable, spending their days playing on the moors. After his wife’sdeath, Mr.Order now
Earnshaw grows to prefer Heathcliff to his own son, and whenHindley continues his cruelty to Heathcliff, Mr. Earnshaw sends Hindleyaway to college, keeping Heathcliff nearby. Three years later, Mr. Earnshaw dies, and Hindley inherits WutheringHeights. He returns with a wife, Frances, and immediately seeks revenge onHeathcliff.
Once an orphan, later a pampered and favored son, Heathcliffnow finds himself treated as a common laborer, forced to work in thefields. Heathcliff continues his close relationship with Catherine,however. One night they wander to Thrushcross Grange, hoping to tease Edgarand Isabella Linton, the cowardly, snobbish children who live there. Catherine is bitten by a dog and is forced to stay at the Grange torecuperate for five weeks, during which time Mrs. Linton works to make hera proper young lady.
By the time Catherine returns, she has becomeinfatuated with Edgar, and her relationship with Heathcliff grows morecomplicated. When Frances dies after giving birth to a baby boy named Hareton, Hindleydescends into the depths of alcoholism, and behaves even more cruelly andabusively toward Heathcliff. Eventually, Catherine’s desire for socialadvancement prompts her to become engaged to Edgar Linton, despite heroverpowering love for Heathcliff. Heathcliff runs away from WutheringHeights, staying away for three years, and returning shortly afterCatherine and Edgar’s marriage. When Heathcliff returns, he immediately sets about seeking revenge on allwho have wronged him. Having come into a vast and mysterious wealth, hedeviously lends money to the drunken Hindley, knowing that Hindley willincrease his debts and fall into deeper despondency.
When Hindley dies,Heathcliff inherits the manor. He also places himself in line to inheritThrushcross Grange by marrying Isabella Linton, whom he treats verycruelly. Catherine becomes ill, gives birth to a daughter, and dies. Heathcliff begs her spirit to remain on Earth-she may take whatever formshe will, she may haunt him, drive him mad-just as long as she does notleave him alone.
Shortly thereafter, Isabella flees to London and givesbirth to Heathcliff’s son, named Linton after her family. She keeps the boywith her there. Thirteen years pass, during which Nelly Dean serves as Catherine’sdaughter’s nursemaid at Thrushcross Grange. Young Catherine is beautifuland headstrong like her mother, but her temperament is modified by herfather’s gentler influence. Young Catherine grows up at the Grange with noknowledge of Wuthering Heights; one day, however, wandering through themoors, she discovers the manor, meets Hareton, and plays together with him.
Soon afterwards, Isabella dies, and Linton comes to live with Heathcliff. Heathcliff treats his sickly, whining son even more cruelly than he treatedthe boy’s mother. Three years later, Catherine meets Heathcliff on the moors, and makes avisit to Wuthering Heights to meet Linton. She and Linton begin a secretromance conducted entirely through letters.
When Nelly destroys Catherine’scollection of letters, the girl begins sneaking out at night to spend timewith her frail young lover, who asks her to come back and nurse him back tohealth. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Linton is pursuingCatherine only because Heathcliff is forcing him to; Heathcliff hopes thatif Catherine marries Linton, his legal claim upon Thrushcross Grange-andhis revenge upon Edgar Linton-will be complete. One day, as Edgar Lintongrows ill and nears death, Heathcliff lures Nelly and Catherine back toWuthering Heights, and holds them prisoner until Catherine marries Linton. Soon after the marriage, Edgar dies, and his death is quickly followed bythe death of the sickly Linton.
Heathcliff now controls both WutheringHeights and Thrushcross Grange. He forces Catherine to live at WutheringHeights and act as a common servant, while he rents Thrushcross Grange toLockwood. Nelly’s story ends as she reaches the present. Lockwood, appalled, ends histenancy at Thrushcross Grange and returns to London. However, six monthslater, he pays a visit to Nelly, and learns of further developments in thestory. Although Catherine originally mocked Hareton’s ignorance andilliteracy (in an act of retribution, Heathcliff ended Hareton’s educationafter Hindley died), Catherine grows to love Hareton as they live togetherat Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff becomes more and more obsessed with thememory of the elder Catherine, to the extent that he begins speaking to herghost. Everything he sees reminds him of her. Shortly after a night spentwalking on the moors, Heathcliff dies. Hareton and young Catherine inheritWuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and they plan to be married onthe next New Year’s Day. After hearing the end of the story, Lockwood goesto visit the graves of Catherine and Heathcliff.
ChronologyThe story of Wuthering Heights is told through flashbacks recorded in diaryentries, and events are often presented out of chronological order-Lockwood’s narrative takes place after Nelly’s narrative, for instance, butis interspersed with Nelly’s story in his journal. Nevertheless, the novelcontains enough clues to enable an approximate reconstruction of itschronology, which was elaborately designed by Emily Bront. For instance,Lockwood’s diary entries are recorded in the late months of 1801 and inSeptember 1802; in 1801, Nelly tells Lockwood that she has lived atThrushcross Grange for eighteen years, since Catherine’s marriage to Edgar,which must then have occurred in 1783. We know that Catherine was engagedto Edgar for three years, and that Nelly was twenty-two when they wereengaged, so the engagement must have taken place in 1780, and Nelly musthave been born in 1758. Since Nelly is a few years older than Catherine,and since Lockwood comments that Heathcliff is about forty years old in1801, it stands to reason that Heathcliff and Catherine were born around1761, three years after Nelly. There are several other clues like this inthe novel (such as Hareton’s birth, which occurs in June, 1778).
Thefollowing chronology is based on those clues, and should closelyapproximate the timing of the novel’s important events. A “~” before a dateindicates that it cannot be precisely determined from the evidence in thenovel, but only closely estimated. 1500 -The stone above the front door of Wuthering Heights, bearing the name ofHareton Earnshaw, is inscribed, possibly to mark the completion of thehouse. 1758 -Nelly is born. ~1761 -Heathcliff and Catherine are born.
~1767 -Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff to live at Wuthering Heights. 1774 -Mr. Earnshaw sends Hindley away to college. 1777 -Mr. Earnshaw dies; Hindley and Frances take possession of WutheringHeights; Catherine first visits Thrushcross Grange around Christmastime.
1778 -Hareton is born in June; Frances dies; Hindley begins his slide intoalcoholism. 1780 -Catherine becomes engaged to Edgar Linton; Heathcliff leaves WutheringHeights. 1783 -Catherine and Edgar are married; Heathcliff arrives at Thrushcross Grangein September. 1784 -Heathcliff and Isabella elope in the early part of the year; Catherinebecomes ill with brain fever; young Catherine is born late in the year;Catherine dies. 1785 -Early in the year, Isabella flees Wuthering Heights and settles in London;Linton is born.
~1785 -Hindley dies; Heathcliff inherits Wuthering Heights. ~1797 -Young Catherine meets Hareton and visits Wuthering Heights for the firsttime; Linton comes from London after Isabella dies (in late 1797 or early1798). 1800 -Young Catherine stages her romance with Linton in the winter. 1801 -Early in the year, young Catherine is imprisoned by Heathcliff and forcedto marry Linton; Edgar Linton dies; Linton dies; Heathcliff assumes controlof Thrushcross Grange. Late in the year, Lockwood rents the Grange fromHeathcliff and begins his tenancy.
In a winter storm, Lockwood takes illand begins conversing with Nelly Dean. 1801-1802 -During the winter, Nelly narrates her story for Lockwood. 1802 -In spring, Lockwood returns to London; Catherine and Hareton fall in love;Heathcliff dies; Lockwood returns in September and hears the end of thestory from Nelly. 1803 -On New Year’s Day, young Catherine and Hareton plan to be married. Important Quotations1. But Mr.
Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style ofliving. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners agentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: ratherslovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because hehas an erect and handsome figure-and rather morose. Possibly, some peoplemight suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympatheticchord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct,his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling-tomanifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate, equally undercover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again-No, I’m running on too fast-I bestow my own attributes over-liberally onhim. ExplanationThis passage, from the first chapter and spoken in the voice of Lockwood,constitutes the first of many attempts in the book to explain themysterious figure of Heathcliff, his character and motivations.
Outside ofthe novel, when critics and readers discuss Wuthering Heights, the samequestion arises repeatedly. How is Heathcliff best understood? We see herethat the question of his social position-is he a gentleman or a gypsy?-causes particular confusion. The situation of the reader, just beginning to enter into Wuthering Heightsas a novel, parallels the situation of Lockwood, just beginning to enterinto Wuthering Heights as a house. Like Lockwood, readers of the novelconfront all sorts of strange scenes and characters-Heathcliff thestrangest of all-and must venture interpretations of them. Laterilluminations of Heathcliff’s personality show this first interpretation tobe a laughable failure, indicating little beyond Lockwood’s vanity. Lockwood, in claiming to recognize in Heathcliff a kindred soul, whom hecan understand “by instinct,” makes assumptions that appear absurd onceHeathcliff’s history is revealed.
Lockwood, while he rather proudly styleshimself a great misanthrope and hermit, in fact resembles Heathcliff verylittle. In the many misjudgments and blunders Lockwood makes in his earlyvisits to Wuthering Heights, we see how easy it is to misinterpretHeathcliff’s complex character, and the similarity between our own positionand Lockwood’s becomes a warning to us as readers. We, too, should questionour instincts. 2. The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled upin one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint.
Thiswriting, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds ofcharacters, large and small-Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied toCatherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapidlistlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spellingover Catherine Earnshaw-Heathcliff-Linton, till my eyes closed; but theyhad not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from thedark, as vivid as spectres-the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousingmyself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick recliningon one of the antique volumes, and perfum-ing the place with an odour ofroasted calf-skin. ExplanationIn this passage from Chapter III, Lockwood relates the first of thetroubling dreams he has in Catherine’s old bed. The quotation testifies toLockwood’s role as a reader within the novel, representing the externalreader-the perplexed outsider determined to discover the secrets ofWuthering Heights. Upon Lockwood’s first arrival at the house, no oneanswers his knocks on the door, and he cries, “I don’t care-I will get in!”The same blend of frustration and determination has marked the responses ofmany readers and critics when facing the enigmas of Wuthering Heights. The connection between Lockwood and readers is particularly clear in thispassage.
Catherine first appears to Lockwood, as she does to readers, as awritten word-her name, scratched into the paint. When Lockwood reads overthe scraped letters, they seem to take on a ghostly power-the simile Brontuses is that they are “as vivid as spectres. ” Ghosts, of course, constitutea key image throughout the novel. In this instance, it is crucial to notethat what comes back, in this first dream, is not a dead person but a name,and that what brings the name back is the act of reading it.
We see thatBront, by using Lockwood as a stand-in for her readers, indicates how shewants her readers to react to her book; she wants her words to come vividlybefore them, to haunt them. In this passage, one also can see an active example of Wuthering Heights’sambiguous genre. The work is often compared to the Gothic novels popular inthe late eighteenth century, which dealt in ghosts and gloom, demonicheroes with dark glints in their eyes, and so on. But Bront wrote her bookin the 1840s, when the fashion for the Gothic novel was past and that genrewas quickly being replaced as the dominant form by the socially consciousrealistic novel, as represented by the work of Dickens and Thackeray.
Wuthering Heights often seems to straddle the two genres, containing manyGothic elements but also obeying most of the conventions of Victorianrealism. The question of genre comes to a head in the appearances of ghostsin the novel. Readers cannot be sure whether they are meant to understandthe ghosts as nightmares, to explain them in terms of the psychology of thecharacters who claim to see them, or to take them, as in a Gothic novel, asno less substantial than the other characters. Bront establishes thisambiguity carefully.
The “spectres” here are introduced within a simile,and in a context that would support their interpretation as a nightmare. Similarly subtle ambiguities lace Lockwood’s account, a few pages later, ofhis encounter with the ghost of Catherine. 3. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know howI love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’smore myself than I am.
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are thesame, and Edgar’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frostfrom fire. ExplanationCatherine’s speech to Nelly about her acceptance of Edgar’s proposal, inChapter IX, forms the turning-point of the plot. It is at this point thatHeathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights, after he has overheard Catherine saythat it would “degrade” her to marry him. Although the action of WutheringHeights takes place so far from the bustle of society, where most ofBront’s contemporaries set their scenes, social ambition motivates many ofthe actions of these characters, however isolated among the moors.
Catherine’s decision to marry Edgar Linton out of a desire to be “thegreatest woman of the neighbourhood” exemplifies the effect of socialconsiderations on the characters’ actions. In Catherine’s paradoxical statement that Heathcliff is “more myself than Iam,” readers can see how the relation between Catherine and Heathcliffoften transcends a dynamic of desire and becomes one of unity. Heterosexuallove is often, in literature, described in terms of complementary opposites-like moonbeam and lightning, or frost and fire-but the love betweenCatherine and Heathcliff opposes this convention. Catherine says not, “Ilove Heathcliff,” but, “I am Heathcliff. ” In following the relationshipthrough to its painful end, the novel ultimately may attest to thedestructiveness of a love that denies difference. 4.
“. . . I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove theearth off her coffin lid, and I opened it. I thought, once, I would havestayed there, when I saw her face again-it is hers yet-he had hard work tostir me; but he said it would change, if the air blew on it, and so Istruck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up-not Linton’s side,damn him! I wish he’d been soldered in lead-and I bribed the sexton to pullit away, when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too.
I’ll have it made so,and then, by the time Linton gets to us, he’ll not know which is which!””You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!” I exclaimed; “were you not ashamedto disturb the dead?”ExplanationWhen Heathcliff narrates this ghoulish scene to Nelly in Chapter XXIX, thebook enters into one of its most Gothic moments. Heathcliff, trying torecapture Catherine herself, constantly comes upon mere reminders of her. However, far from satisfying him, these reminders only lead him to furtherattempts. Heathcliff’s desire to rejoin Catherine might indeed explain themajority of Heathcliff’s actions, from his acquisition of ThrushcrossGrange and Wuthering Heights, to his seizure of power over everyoneassociated with Catherine. He tries to break through what reminds him of his beloved to his belovedherself by destroying the reminder, the intermediary.
Readers can see, inthe language he uses here, this difference between the objects that referto Catherine and Catherine herself. When he opens her coffin, he does notsay that he sees her again. Instead, he says, “I saw her face again,”showing that her corpse, like her daughter or her portrait, is a thing shepossessed, a thing that refers to her, but not the woman herself. It seemsthat, in this extreme scene, he realizes at last that he will never getthrough to her real presence by acquiring and ruining the people andpossessions associated with her.
This understanding brings Heathcliff a newtranquility, and from this point on he begins to lose interest indestruction. 5. That, however, which you may suppose the most potent to arrest myimagination, is actually the least, for what is not connected with her tome? and what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but herfeatures are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree-filling theair at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I amsurrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women-my ownfeatures-mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadfulcollection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!ExplanationIn this passage from Chapter XXXIII, Heathcliff confesses to Nelly hisinner state. What Nelly calls Heathcliff’s “monomania on the subject of hisdeparted idol” has now reached its final stage of development.
In thepassage in which Heathcliff describes his excavation of Catherine’s grave,the reader gains insight into Heathcliff’s frustration regarding the doublenature of all of Catherine’s “memoranda. ” While Catherine’s corpse recallsher presence, it fails to substitute fully for it, and thus recalls herabsence. Heathcliff’s perception of this doubling comes through in hislanguage. The many signs of Catherine show that “she did exist” but that “Ihave lost her. ” In the end, because his whole being is bound up withCatherine, Heathcliff’s total set of perceptions of the world is permeatedby her presence. Consequently, he finds signs of Catherine in “the entireworld,” and not just in localized figures such as her daughter or aportrait of Catherine.