Wuthering Heights

(by Emily Brontë) (1847)

It is, maybe, the greatest novel of them all: passionate; intransigent, mystical, sui generisWuthering Heights is where heaven and hell combine, and it outdoes either. It is mythical, whilst at the same time, prosaically real. It is made eternal by the art of Emily Brontë, and her characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, whose afterlife-marriage stoked the fires of romanticism that still flicker in our post-modern age. (Indeed, is Heathcliff the Humbert Humbert of that earlier age?  As Joyce Carol Oates observed, “Heathcliff’s true bride is Death.”)  He is a cruel man, with some reason, but he develops humanity of a sort over the course of the book.) “[P]resented to an uncomprehending public without preface, introduction or explanation,”* it “revolted many readers by the power with which wicked and exceptional characters are depicted.”**  It was described by one contemporary critic as  ‘coarse and loathsome.’  Orwell, usually unerring, called it ‘perverse and morbid.’


We will not bother providing a synopsis – it would read like a Mills and Boon – suffice to quote some ardent admirers in brief:

“[W]e are struck by the novel’s masterful amalgam of voices as well as the breadth and imagination of its vision.” ***

[Charlotte] “likened Emily’s novel to a mountain crag become human.”  “Wuthering Heights is possibly the only English novel that ignores the reader so thoroughly, in such a European, and even Kafkaesque, way…characters in other novels live by passion, as Cathy and Heathcliff do, but these characters are unapologetic about it – they don’t seem to understand that there is any other way to live.”#

“Wuthering Heights is filled with sound – storm and rushing wind – a sound more important than words and thoughts. Great as the novel is, one cannot afterwards remember anything in it but Heathcliff and the elder Catherine… Wuthering Heights has no mythology beyond what these two characters provide; no great book is more cut off from the universals of Heaven and Hell. It is local, like the spirit it engenders…” ^

“We know a great deal about the self-contained, self-absorbed early family life of the Bröntes in the isolation of the rectory at Haworth; we know how they grew up in the private worlds of daydream…[their novels] are the products of immense solitude, of the imagination turned inwards upon itself, and of ignorance of the world outside Haworth and literature. With Emily this does not matter: Wuthering Heights is a work of art self-contained and complete as very few novels are: one can only read and wonder.  / Wuthering Heights is the most remarkable novel in English. It is perfect, and perfect in the rarest way: it is the complete bodying forth of an intensely individual apprehension of the nature of man and life. That is to say, the content is strange enough, indeed baffling enough; while the artistic expression of it is flawless. Artistically, neither Jane Austen nor Henry James nor Joseph Conrad, the great masters of form in the English novel, did anything to surpass it. And this combination of an intensely individual apprehension and a wonderfully complete formal rendering of it gives it a uniqueness which makes even the fullest and most sensitive discussion of it less than adequate…the primary difficulty in dealing with it…[is that i]t is utterly unlike any other novel. There is nothing one can compare it to…/ “The central fact about Emily Brönte is that she is a mystic…[she] makes no distinction between the natural and the super-natural; her world is one…it is a spiritual world.” @

“This story of demonic passion, devouring one generation and then wearing itself out before a second can be destroyed, is not really a novel at all…and cannot be criticised as novels…it is an astounding performance for a girl in her twenties, leaping in one bound from Victorian fiction to Elizabethan tragedy.”****

“It is, after all, destruction, a dedication to death, that results from Catherine’s faith and Heathcliff’s sombre intensity….The presence of death is felt intensely in Wuthering Heights, at times as something against which the protagonists react with all the force of their passionate energies, and at times as a profoundly evocative intuition of peace.” ~

“…the subject of Wuthering Heights – a study of love taken to its logical conclusion beyond the grave.”^*

As that leading author, Ellis Bell Esq., said, “the vision is divine.”

Emily remains a shadowy figure, who lived quietly, wrote privately, published anonymously, smiled at the stupidity of critics and died of tuberculosis at 30.  As Margaret Lane wrote in The Brontë Story (1953), “Yet, to the last, Emily adhered tenaciously to her habits of independence.  She would suffer no one to assist her…The morning drew on to noon. Emily was worse: she could only whisper in gasps. Now, when it was too late, she said to Charlotte, ‘If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now.’ About two o’clock she died.” (p. 219).  “My soul’s bliss kills my body, but does not satisfy itself.”  Her life, and masterpiece, are in fact brilliant mannerist counters to Gothic frippery, complete, phenomenal masterworks by an authentic She-God.

We quote excerpts from Wuthering Heights as follow:

“One time, however, we were near quarrelling…I said his heaven would only be half alive, and he said mine would be drunk; I said I should fall asleep in his, and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow very snappish.”

“His eyes met mine so keen, and fierce, I started; and then, he seemed to smile.”

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers , for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”


*Juliet Barker The Brontës (1994) p. 502.  **Elisabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857).  ***Joyce Carol Oates, Uncensored: Views & (re)views (2005) p. 237.  #Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (2006) pages 363 & 365.  ^E.M.Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927) pages 131 & 132. @ Walter Allen, The English Novel (1954) pages 187, 194, 194-196.  **** J.B. Priestley, Literature and Western Man (1960) p. 226.  ~ Derek Traversi, The Brontë Sisters and Wuthering Heights (1958) (Pelican Guide to English Literature, Volume 6) pp. 269, 271. ^* Winifred Gérin, Branwell Brontë (1961), Appendix A.

[Kate understood – her pop song is the ne plus ultra of pop songs.] [Trivia fact: in Wuthering Heights According to Spike Milligan (1994), when Cathy’s cold hand closes with Lockwood’s, he has “to clench [his] bum to stop an emittance of solids.”]


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