Wuthering Heights, first published in 1847, is known throughout the world as a classic love story and yet its most memorable scenes are filled with violence and to many readers, its characters appear ghastly who end up killing one another.
For a normal love story, it is also odd that both lovers deliberately marry other partners, and the heroin – Catherine dies halfway through the novel, leaving new generation of characters to grow up and develop their own momentum. For such reasons, Wuthering Heights has possibly been the object of more discussion than any other novel in English literature and wherever you focus in the book, there are puzzles.
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The novel, in other words, is a compound of enigmas, and it is this which keeps us enthralled. It has been translated into 26 languages and has generated 23 stage plays, 14 musical settings including ballet and opera, 11 radio and 5 television adaptations, 8 films and 12 later novels at least partly based on Wuthering Heights.
The novel opens in the hills of Northern England, when a Mr. Lockwood arrives prepared to spend a few months of solitude. But as soon as he meets his landlord Heathcliff, in the house called Wuthering Heights, he is subjected to shocks one after the other and the reader is equally bewildered at the turn of events. Finally, he manages the housekeeper of Thruscross Grange – the house where he is residing- Mrs. Ellen Dean to tell him the story and the readers learn about the family of the Earnshaws and the upheavals caused in there lives after arrival of a dark infant with unknown parentage amongst them during one of Mr. Earnshaw’s journeys.
Young Catherine and Heathcliff become friends and soul mates, equally spirited, wild, adventurous and with no care about the social notions of propriety. But the young Hindley Earnshaw eyes Heathcliff as his rival and after the death of his father, treats him brutally. Catherine grows up into a beautiful girl and at the onset of puberty is introduced to the family of polished Lintons living at the Thruscross Grange. She decides to marry Edgar Linton with no notion of giving up Heathcliff. But Heathcliff leaves her and does not return for three and a half years until he has earned a fortune for himself. Catherine insists that Edgar and Heathcliff should be friends but this doesn’t happen. Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella as an act of revenge and Catherine dies of broken heart after giving birth to a girl who is also christened Catherine. Isabella runs away from Heathcliff and raises her son called Linton by herself. At the Wuthering Heights, meanwhile, Hindley has lost everything to Heathcliff in gaming and dies leaving his son Hareton and his property in possession of Heathcliff.
When the children grow up, young Linton is forced to return to his father Heathcliff when his mother dies. Heathcliff contrives the marriage of Linton with young Catherine by cunning, cruelty and brute force all combined together. Linton dies within a few months of marriage leaving young Catherine without money and friends as her father is already dead.
Such is the flow of the story that the reader is so many times baffled by the occurrence of events (as they are narrated in flashbacks), by names passed to next generation and by apparent co-relations between the fate of the parents and the children. When reading for the first time, the story undoubtedly makes the reader feel sad and confused until the very end is reached. But, despite all this, at the end you do realise why it is a story of Love and not hate and violence only. Because the principle that redeems the characters at last is Love.
Heathcliff is one of the mightiest characters of the story and it is not possible for any reader not to hate him for his cunning, cruelty and brutishness and not to sympathise with him for the oppression and cruelty he has received from life and other human beings. And you can’t help pitying him when you witness his torment when Catherine dies and he says:” I cannot live without my life; I cannot live without my soul”. Such is his condition that he can’t wish that the dead Catherine will rest in peace. He would rather her become a ghost and torment him for the rest of his life rather than living with her memories and the feeling of her physical /spiritual presence gone forever from his life. It is this love that finally redeems him when he ends up killing himself and releases the young lovers to live their life together.
As much as might be said about the book, it is an experience of one of its kind. A world that would not have existed but for Emily Bronte’s genious and her poetic yet sharp prose. She died within a year of the publication of this only novel of hers and hardly left anything about her except a few poems. But this one work has made her immortal.
A must read for all who wouldn’t mind escaping the easy and spicy current literature for a much vivid, much emotional and much tormenting tell.