Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

I have been meaning to read this book for a long, long time. In actual fact, I started Wuthering Heights when I was in high school and got to the end of the first part and didn’t make it any further. I think I was disappointed and I’ll explain why. This review may contain spoilers – as it’s a classic I’d like to discuss it in a bit more detail.

When I was younger, my huge problem with the book was what I thought was the ‘so-called’ love story. I think this was a case of my expectations being vastly different to what the book was actually about. I imagined Wuthering Heights to be terribly melodramatic, full of swooning scenes on the moors and declarations of love, and even, dare I say it, a happy ending (for Cathy and Heathcliff). It is of course completely melodramatic, but the swooning scenes were probably heavily influenced by Kate Bush’s rather wonderful song inspired by the book and the dancing in her video (see below). Also, a scene from the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch when Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda is describing her love for the book and Sabrina magics herself into it and is wandering about in a flowy dress on a misty moor. The episode was called The Long and Winding Shortcut if you fancy watching it, although I will say that I watched it again recently and realised just how bad that programme was – I used to love it as well!

Anyway, onto the book. It’s one of those books that most people have heard of but maybe don’t know the story so to give you a feel for it, the synopsis on Penguin’s website captures the atmosphere rather well:

‘In a house haunted by memories, the past is everywhere … As darkness falls, a man caught in a snowstorm is forced to shelter at the strange, grim house Wuthering Heights. It is a place he will never forget. There he will come to learn the story of Cathy: how she was forced to choose between her well-meaning husband and the dangerous man she had loved since she was young. How her choice led to betrayal and terrible revenge – and continues to torment those in the present. How love can transgress authority, convention, even death. And how desire can kill.’

Spoilers coming up!

On my first reading of the book, I couldn’t believe that Cathy married Edgar and not Heathcliff, and that Heathcliff disappeared for years, only to return as a rich man. And Cathy dies?! It seems so obvious now, looking back, that her memory haunts Heathcliff and that’s why their love is so powerful and a classic love story but I just didn’t get that at the time.

On my second reading of the book I actually finished it and got a lot more out of reading it. I didn’t really like the characters all that much but found them incredibly interesting.

Heathcliff really is the original bad boy. He stalks Cathy and doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to thwart his intentions. He stalks about under her window and flaunts the love between him and Cathy in front of Edgar. I suppose maybe there are some women who would like to have someone that in love with them, not giving up on you even though you have already gotten married to someone else but I found him so obsessive. In real life, that would be terrifying, but as a character he really works.

And Cathy. Man, she was annoying. She’s a right madam, isn’t she? I think this was my big difficulty with the book on the second attempt – so few of the characters are likeable, they are all implicated in their own unhappiness, and are just so passive that they leave people to the cruelty of others, usually because they don’t have the courage to take on Heathcliff. I feel like there are so many gaps in the plot, like how Heathcliff got his fortune, how he manages to keep people under his spell and imprisoned by fear, and how he has no birth right to live at Wuthering Heights, but yet successfully takes over and Earnshaw is powerless to stop him.

It is such a powerful novel and it certainly succeeded in rousing strong emotions, although I must say that for me they were mainly negative ones. It sounds odd, but because of that I actually think this is such a great book. I got completely sucked into their world, the storytelling is gripping and I almost felt Heathcliff’s power working over me too – he enraged me but I struggled to think of ways that the characters could overcome his influence. I completely understand why it is a classic – it depicts many interesting contemporary issues, such as the rights of women at the time, legal ownership of land and guardianship of children. It is so much a novel of its time and it’s hard to think of how this could be set in a time like today with all of the connections we have outwith our own communities. Catherine Linton, for example, ends up marrying Linton Heathcliff even though he is a terrible choice for her and the only reason I can find for this is that she really had no opportunity to meet someone better!

What does everyone else think of Wuthering Heights? Have you ever read anything that you didn’t necessarily enjoy reading but appreciate how good it is all the same? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

  1. I have only read Wuthering Heights once, and it remains the Bronte novel I like least – at least I think so it is a very long time since I read it. Having recently re-read Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall all of which I already knew I loved – I think I may need to revisit this one too.

    • Jennifer Wallace

      The only other one I have read is Jane Eyre which I loved and it definitely beats Wuthering Heights for me. Will be adding the others to my list!

  2. I read this as a teenager, so very hard to recall, but I do remember a sensation of everything being dark and ominous. I did enjoy it, because it was one of my first entries into older books, so more for its sense of achievement I think. Jane Eyre as well, which I loved.

    • Jennifer Wallace

      I don’t think I had the patience for it when I was younger – Jane Eyre was probably the first classic that I read at a young age and it has really stuck with me.

  3. I love this book in spite of all the hate it gets these days. I liked the setting, the very claustrophobic feel of the book, the self-destructiveness, everything. I think it was a very powerful novel. For good or for bad, I think Heathcliff was a very powerful character.

    In comparison with Jane Eyre, the latter book seems weak. Jane is quite mild, and Rochester hiding the truth of his marriage seems very weak. I still like Jane Eyre, don’t mistake. But in my memories, this book seems much more powerful.

  4. Great review! If I hadn’t already read it, this review would have persuaded me to give Wuthering Heights a go! You’ve made it sound very intriguing. I usually like dark and atmospheric novels, but I found it very hard to like this one. I just wanted to strangle all of the characters!

    • Jennifer Wallace

      Thanks! I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters either – they could be somewhat frustrating. It was such an interesting novel and certainly a powerful one.

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