Theirs was a really, really messed up romance.
Wuthering Heights is a romance, that’s what some people say. It’s an epic romance. The monster, Stephanie Meyer, says that each of her four volumes of Mormon feminine servitude and hate, “Twilight” is analogous to a classic. The first one is apparently like Wuthering Heights.
Having read both books (don’t judge, Twilight will face judgement soon), there is no comparison between the two. Not a single one.
Wuthering Heights is a book about northern miserablism, about feral children with no real parental guidance, about a romance which is ultimately destructive and ruins generations of people. Generations. That takes a lot of effort.
There are a few barriers to reading the story, which is a shame as once it gets going, it’s really good.
The first is the narrative technique. The narrator’s a personality-less cipher who buys an estate and has to deal with the owner up in the dingy Wuthering Heights. He gets talking with Nellie, the servant. Small talk turns into her telling the story of the owner and the events which led to the current state of affairs. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Mr Lockwood, who gets the longest backstory for his new estate and all in one or two sittings.
The anecdotal mechanics aren’t used in an interesting fashion, despite reaching the present day of the book and briefly involving Mr Lockwood. The coda is all delivered through Nellie as well, making the use of the technique almost entirely pointless.
Frankenstein did the same thing, but better, and it was still tiresome then.
This may sound like a complaint, and it is, but if you pile through, then you get to the good bits. This is a story worth reading, once you get beyond a clumsy storytelling mechanic.
The Earnshaws are a humble family who own Wuthering Heights, so compared to a lot of people they’re doing alright for themselves. That doesn’t stop things being cold and bleak and miserable. Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw are children raised in this moody landscape. Their father brings a random stray child, Heathcliff, home with him one day. Heathcliff is of unknown descent, barely literate or legible and becomes the servant of the Earnshaws. He’s abused and beaten, primarily by Hindley, who eventually leaves the home. Heathcliff and Cathy have a much better relationship… kind of. Cathy is pretty feral, too. She’s left to roam while the men work. Heathcliff is her peer and the two get on amazingly, often leading to him getting in trouble. He leads her astray and vice versa.
When Cathy’s dad dies, Hindley inherits the farm, brings back a frail city wife who dies pretty quickly afterwards from northern miserablism. Okay, consumption or something. Hindley drinks and doesn’t care for his son, Hareton.
Cathy and Heathcliff on one of their excursions beyond where they should roam find the home of the Linton siblings, well-behaved and annoyingly posh. After the dog’s set on her, Cathy’s taken in and Heathcliff is shooed. When Cathy returns, she’s friends with the Lintons and emulating their wealthy ways. This leads to Edgar Linton’s proposal to her. No reason left to stay, Heathcliff runs away.
Years later, Heathcliff returns, better turned out than he was before. His original intention was to kill Hindley, then himself, but seeing Cathy brings everything back. The pair flirt shamelessly and start to return to their destructive ways. Cathy fights with Isabella Linton, who has fallen for the roguish Heathcliff. He marries her specifically to be a dick. Cathy falls ill and dies, Isabella suffers a lot and Wuthering Heights is now miserable for three families. Heathcliff sees Hindley drive himself to the grave and takes on his son as a servant, a kind of whipping boy like he was.
That’s the half way point. Edgar Linton and Heathcliff are all who are alive out of our ugly love pentagon.
We skip ahead again and now there’s a new generation in town. Heathcliff is in charge of Wuthering Heights and kept his ward, Hareton, stupid and illiterate. Edgar Linton has a daughter called Cathy Linton, who Cathy Linton (nee Earnshaw) left him. Then there’s the actual progeny of Heathcliff, Linton Heathcliff, a frail nothing who isn’t used to the north, only just returned to his father.
The names are a problem, given that there’s a lot of crossover, and sometimes who is who can get confusing with the tendency to use the formal for people, one of whom has only one name, one has both his names as surnames of two of the families and one has the exact same name as her mother, but is Miss Linton instead of Mrs Linton. Don’t let your attention span wander. Even the maid is Nelly, Elly and Ellen depending on who’s talking.
Anyway, Heathcliff, Machiavellian bástard that he is, plans on marrying his son to Cathy Linton, securing the land of the Lintons as his own and getting his revenge on basically everyone but the maid. She’s still telling us this story, remember. This is all anecdotally being told to the narrator. We dip into his head for a few chapters, seeing the state of the twisted plots and the manipulations of Heathcliff for himself, but as I said earlier, the final moments are recounted to him by the maid anyway, so his presence meant nothing.
In a post Game of Thrones world, the idea that Heathcliff is trying to marry his son to his niece isn’t as horrible as all that, although it’s a bit disturbing to realise that her other potential suitor, the feral Hareton, is ALSO HER COUSIN. There’s no non-squicky way out of this, so just ride the novel out. It ends surprisingly well for the surviving cast, given that this romance between Heathcliff and Cathy started everything and led to the deaths of almost everyone in the story.
Despite several road blocks in reading the story, it is definitely worth reading. We often see romances which are the be-all and end-all of the cast. In modern romances, the successful relationship is the end goal, rarely has a larger impact on the world and is where the curtains are drawn.
Wuthering Heights bucks this idea by having love actually be the worst thing possible. Sure it’s good between some people, but the main romance of the book is over half way through and causes the destruction of both participants, a neighbouring family AND some of the next generation of them. Love is blood and revenge in this world, it’s the kind of dedication to ruin a whole family line.
It’s terrible to sound so cynical about love, and there are several amazing love stories out there. It’s just nice to see a change from that, a story where you see that all-consuming, world-burning love which is everywhere in the popular culture, and how crazy it can seem if you reframe it just a little.
Wuthering Heights is legally obtainable for free at Project Gutenberg, at Amazon for the Kindle, or purchasable at most good charity shops. This book gets around, and rightfully so.