Wuthering Heights is, above all else, a novel about obsession. Perhaps most famous amongst adolescents as “Bella and Edward’s favorite book” it preceded Twilight fame by being an intensely original work for its prose and story. Catherine and Heathcliff are two of the least sympathetic protagonists I’ve ever come across in literature while never earning the distinction of villains. They are two individuals whom are raised together and find themselves having an affection that goes far deeper, far more intimate than the sibling one a reader might perhaps expect.
Heathcliff -dark, rugged, and an orphan- is rescued from the streets of Liverpool by Catherine’s father and brought to Wuthering Heights to be raised along side the two other children; Hindley and Catherine. Quickly and strangely Catherine and Heathcliff form a bond- one which grows more intense with time and the onset of the terror Hindley, lord of the manor since their father’s death, unleashes upon him. It is demonstrated to us initially through a diary passage:
“How little did I dream that Hindley could ever make me cry so!” she wrote. “My head aches, till I cannot keep it on the pillow; and still I can’t give over. Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won’t let him sit with us, nor eat with us any more; and, he says, he and I must not play together, and threatens to turn him out of the house if we break his orders. He has been blaming our father (how dared he?) for treating H. too liberally; and swears he will reduce him to his right place-“
Catherine is a headstrong child whom never shies from doing whatever it is she prefers doing, so long as she could do most of it in Heathcliff’s presence. Forever traipsing around together in the out of doors her connection, her devotion is always readily on display. One fateful day she injures herself and ends up having to stay with another family, the Lintons. They have a boy close to her in age whom also happens to be relatively wealthy, fair, learned and quite enamored with Catherine.
It is here where the dark story gets still darker. The tale is decidedly Gothic and, strangely, not particularly tragic. The protagonists, as I mentioned before, are more despicable than not- hardly ever did I root for them if even I did once- and still I came to the end and thought, “Wow, that was brilliant, moving!” It is, perhaps, the darkest love story you’ll ever read and I can assure you it’s completely worth staying on until the end.
The structure of this piece is incredibly interesting and original, just as the dark and haunting material itself was for the time (still is, I think). Not done in the classic third person narrative (Witch of Cologne), protagonist point of view (Prince of Tides), or even fake memoir style (Jane Eyre) but is instead told through the eyes of a servant, whom is recounting the story to her master per his own request. It is seamlessly done and a mark of tremendous talent that such a complex notion was so completely adhered to. Moments where the servant stops her story telling are clear and defined and serve to remind the reader from whose point of view we’re really seeing the story- the master, Mr. Lockwood. For we hear the words the servant has to offer, but we get to feel what the lord’s view is.
Another week over-and I am so many days nearer health, and spring! I have now heard all my neighbour’s history, at different sittings, as the housekeeper could spare time from more important occupations. I’ll continue it in her own words, only a little condensed. She is, on the whole, a very fair narrator, and I don’t think I could improve her style.
Wuthering Heights is a work that has stayed its course through time. The language, not as sophisticated or flowing as Jane Eyre, is still quite remarkable and good. If you have not read this tale, or only read it in the days of high school required reading, I would heartily encourage you to give it a (another) shot.