Unsurprisingly, my first exposure to Wuthering Heights was Kate Bush’s 1978 single, the namesake to the book. Based on listening to the chorus (never a lyrics listener, it’s the music that matters) you might think the book is romantic:
Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy
I’ve come home. I’m so cold
Let me in-a-your window
Maybe Cathy has run away from home to Heathcliff’s abode, situated in the middle of the moors. After letting Cathy in from a window (maybe the door’s broke, anyway it’s just a detail), and warming her in a long and warm embrace by the fire, Heathcliff and Cathy go out to exchange loving glances in a warm late summer sun while lying on a bed of heathers.
Wuthering Heights is a story of love and hate, both amplified in a way that makes most drama queens quintessential stiff upper lips upper middle class English country squires, and Marvel super villains wet-eared school boys in their dorm planning on their first prank and giggling uncontrollably while doing it.
Warning, there will be spoilers (it’s only a 273-year-old novel).
Mr. Earnshaw returns to his home, Wuthering Heights, in the moors in the Northern England from Liverpool with a dark-haired orphan boy in tow. He has no name, until he is dubbed Heathcliff. Mr. Earnshaw is a gentle soul with a family of two children, an older boy, Hindley, and a younger girl, Catherine (Cathy). Hindley – who is going to inherit the estate – takes an instant dislike of the boy, while Cathy and Heathcliff rather get drawn to each other. They are both impulsive and headstrong, they fight and argue a lot. Great emotions. Lots of emotion.
Younger Mr. Earnshaw bullies Heathcliff, and, immediately after his benign father passes away, downgrades Heathcliff’s status from a family member to a servant. For that and what happened earlier between the two of them, Heathcliff holds a deepest grudge vowing to have his revenge. And he does mean it.
Meanwhile, Cathy is drawn to the nearby estate of Edgar Linton and his sister, Isobel, the Thrushcross Grange. They are civilised, handsome, and take her as their frequent guest gladly, invite her to balls. Soon, Cathy is enamoured by them, and becomes engaged to be married with Edgar.
Needless to say, the state of affairs is not optimal to Heathcliff. Quite contrary, he flees Wuthering Heights.
Cathy gets married and moves to Thrushcross Grange. Things are swell, until Heathcliff arrives, having made his fortune. He settles in Wuthering Heights, apparently with the now alcoholic Hindley’s consent; also, he’s been buying Hindley’s debts, so, in a way, he is looking after his investment. Living with Hindley and Heathcliff in the Heights is also Hindley’s young son, Hareton.
Heathcliff visits Cathy and Edgar. It is civil at first, but soon, the old Heathcliff–Cathy dynamic emerges. Now, Ms. Brontë could have written that Cathy and Heathcliff remain friends while Heathcliff becomes increasingly agitated underneath and releases his negative energy by plowing moor into field (a very Finnish way) and drinking himself into a stupor (ditto), but no, Heathcliff is a very controlled, even superhuman, in his search for revenge and what is his (ie, Cathy).
But it is not to be. Cathy and Edgar remain an item, albeit just barely. Instead, Edgar’s sister Isobel elopes with Heathcliff, even though Heathcliff does not love her one bit. He seduces her anyway. After the wedding, Isobel becames really no more than a kitchen maid. His wickedness knows no bounds.
Isobel bears a child, Linton. At some point she packs her bags and leaves, taking Linton with her. Heathcliff does not care, really. However, when Cathy falls stops eating, and becomes delirious – in a romantic mid 19th century way – he does care. Eventually, even having been forbidden to enter the Linton estate, he does so. Cathy dies after giving birth to a child, later named also Cathy.
Ms. Brontë continues the Victorian horror porn with Heathcliff the horned devil masterminding the next generation’s torturous journey: there is Linton Heathcliff, his son; Cathy Linton, Edgar and Catherine’s daughter; and Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley’s son, Cathy’s cousin. A lot of players will perish until only a couple remain and novel comes to a surprising, even abrupt ending.
A very draining reading experience; I was really, really waiting for the book to end. Yet, at the same time, I was and am still admiring Ms. Brontë’s vision and skill in writing such a singular classic.