Friday, 4 January 2013

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

It's more than twenty years since I last read Wuthering Heights and I found on re-reading it that my feelings about it have changed. There will be some spoilers ahead for those who haven't read the book.

My main surprise was that I had completely forgotten how early in the book Cathy dies. The whole of the second half is without her. The story is grimmer than I remembered, unremittingly grim in fact, nothing good ever seems to happen. Also, in my mind Heathcliffe was one of the triumvirate of great romantic heroes, along with Mr Darcy and Rochester. Actually he is a man that any sensible woman would go to great lengths to avoid.

What I had remembered correctly is how powerful Emily Bronte's writing is. In the front of the Penguin Popular Classic edition that I have, there is a 'Biographical Notice' by Charlotte Bronte. In it she describes finding a volume of verse by Emily;

I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me - a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, nor at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they also had a peculiar music - wild, melancholy, and elevating.

I can't say that I felt particularly elevated after reading Wuthering Heights, but I certainly think that the words 'wild' and 'melancholy' could be applied to it. Charlotte also describes Emily as 'not a person of demonstrative character' and I find it quite moving that this quiet person poured out all this forceful emotion, anger and passion into her poetry and her novel.

There are passages which really pull at the heartstrings. I was particularly affected by the scene in which young Linton is left in the care of his father, Heathcliff. We know that Heathcliff only wants him  to exact revenge, and that the poor child will have a terrible life. Nelly Dean accompanies the frightened little boy to Wuthering Heights:

Having no excuse for lingering longer I slipped out, while Linton was engaged in timidly rebuffing the advances of a friendly sheep-dog. But he was too much on the alert to be cheated: as I closed the door, I heard a cry, and a frantic repetition of the words:
'Don't leave me! I'll not stay here! I'll not stay here!'

I'm not sure that this is a book I'll go back to. Jane Eyre I could read over and over again, but not this one. It's too unrelenting and raw to be a really enjoyable read for me.


  1. I read the novel after watching a very dark adaptation with Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff, but I was still surprised at the book too. I haven't re-read it, but I keep it on my shelves because it's such a powerful story. I agree with you about Heathcliff by the way!

  2. I read a theory somewhere that the older you get the more you distance yourself from Wuthering Heights. The young can empathise with huge passions and violence. I agree with what you set about perceptions of Heathcliff .changing over time, too. The last poetical paragraph is still my favourite, though.