"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte : a review
1818 - 1848
One of the greatest classical novels from England and one of my favorites is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, published in 1847. It is the dark, intense and highly imaginary novel of passion and hate set on the English Yorksire moors.
Although critics called it too savage and brutal, too animal-like and clumsy in construction, it has become to be considered, today, one of the finest novels in the English language. The novel is distinguished from other such novels by its dramatic and poetic presentation, its absence of author intrusion and its unusual structure.
Emily is considered to be the greatest of the three famous Bronte sisters - the other two being Charlotte, who penned Jane Eyre, and Anne, who authored Agnes Grey. Wuthering Heights is a far superior novel to those written by Charlotte and Agnes. Of the three Bronte sisters, we know the least about Emily because she was quiet and reserved and lead a quiet life and left no letters, documents or journals behind to define her. She never married.
In 1820, Emily's father became rector of Haworth and remained there for the rest of his life. Her mother died in 1821, and the children were left very much to themselves in the bleak rectory on the moors.
The three girls were educated at home for the most part. Emily did attend a private school for a short time, but was not happy there and returned home within six months. She also did a six month stint as a governess, but that was not to her liking either. She and Charlotte did start a school at Haworth for younger students and worked at that for several years.
All three sisters wrote poetry and in 1846 published a volume of their poetry called Poems, and it was published under the names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the pseudonyms of all three sisters. Emily contributed about twenty-one poems and she reveals herself as a true poetic genius in this collection.
In June 1847, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's Agnes Grey, were accepted for joint publication. But, publication was delayed until Charlotte's Jane Eyre was ready. So they were not published until December 1847. Jane Eyre was immediately popular and successful and Wuthering Heights was not.
After publication of the novel, Emily's health began to fail and she died in December 1848 of tuberculosis.
Cathy and Heathcliff
The novel, "Wuthering Heights"
Emily wrote her novel between October 1845 and June 1846. It was published in 1847 under her pseudonym Ellis Bell. It centers on the all-obsessive, passionate and doomed love between Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by her father. It is about how their unresolved passion eventually destroys them and the people around them.
It is an intense and solidly imagined novel. The novel begins with the recounting of a disinterested party, a man named Lockwood, who begins the narrative and serves as the frame for a series of retrospective shorter narratives by Ellen Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, an English estate on the moors in Yorkshire, England.
The story concerns the impact of Heathcliff, an orphan, on the two families of Earnshaw and Linton in a remote district in Yorkshire at the end of the 18th century. Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw fall in love and share a stormy nature and temperment. They are the love of each other's life. Heathcliff becomes embittered by the abuse he suffers at the hands of Cathy's brother and by the loss of his true love when Cathy chooses to marry the gentle and prosperous Edgar Linton.
As a result of these actions, Heathcliff plans revenge on both families extending into the second generation. Cathy's death in childbirth does not release Heathcliff from his obsessive love for her which continues until his death. The marriage of the surviving heirs of the Earnshaw and Linton families finally restores peace between the two families.
Emily Bronte worked the novel within confined scenes and with a small group of characters. She constructed an action, based on profound and primitive energies of love and hate, which proceeds logically. She shows contrast of actions, behaviors, love, hate and passion through her characters.
Heathcliff represents nature, free and wild, and Edgar represents refined, mannerly culture. Cathy has difficulty in identifying her own nature. Is she free and wild like Heathcliff or is she refined and cultured like Edgar? Her internal conflict is that she is unable to choose between nature (Heathclilff) and culture (Edgar). Her final decision to marry Edgar and live the life of a refined, cultured, and stately lady is seen as a surrender to the cultured estate life and a rejection of Heathcliff and all he represents and this ends up impacting all the characters in the novel.
Throughout the novel, Edgar's refined and courteous manner and mannerisms are contrasted with Heathcliff's rough, brutal and savage behavior.
Ellen "Nelly" Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights has previously worked in both the Earnshaw and Linton estates and is the bridge between nature and culture as she desperately tries to help her mistresss, Cathy.
Isabella Linton, Edgar's younger sister, sees Heathclifff as a romantic hero and doesn't understand why Cathy and Edgar dismiss him so. Cathy warns Isabella against this view of Heathcliff. Isabella marries Heathcliff anyway, despite the objections of Cathy and Edgar, and suffers from Heathcliff's emotional and physical abuse. She also becomes an unwitting partner in Heathcliff's revenge. Isabella finally is able to escape to London and gives birth to her and Heathcliff's son - Linton. This Linton and Cathy's daughter marry at the end of the novel and bring peace to the two families and estates.
Of course, the setting on the moors, brings a haunting, gloomy, dark atmosphere to the novel. The wind blows wildly like Heathcliff and Cathy when they are in love. The cold snow respresents the cold bitterness Heathcliff has for Edgar after he marries Cathy. And it represents the cold, unfeeling bitterness in his heart that turns into emotional and physical abuse he exacts on his wife, Isabella. She literally shrinks into an ematiated shadow of her former self.
And, of course, the greatest contrast of all is the look at the two emotions of passionate, obsesssive love contrasted with cold and chilling hate. Never had a novel before nor since been written depicting such passionate and obsessive love and such cold and chilling hate.
Copyright (c) 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved
- Literature.org - The Online Literature Library
- Emily Brontë (Author of Wuthering Heights)
About Emily Brontë: Emily Jane Brontë was a British novelist and poet, now best remembered for her only novel Wuthering Heights, a classic of English lit...
- Emily Bronte - Biography and Works. Search Texts, Read Online. Discuss.
Emily Bronte. Biography of Emily Bronte and a searchable collection of works.
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