Wuthering Heights Book summary

Emily Brontë

Overview

About

 Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Brontë in 1847, which was the same year as her sister Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights share a lot of similarities, in that they were both romance novels that drew on elements of the Gothic tradition and featured Byronic Heroes. The Byronic Hero archetype was created by Lord Byron of Don Juan, these protagonists are morally ambiguous, isolated, brooding, and overly passionate. Unlike Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights failed to be a commercial or a literary success, as it was considered to be too violent and cruel for Victorian readers despite the lack of any overt bloodshed. Wuthering Heights gained its place in the world literary canon due to its compellingly passionate and unforgettable characters, Emily's lyrical prose, and its carefully constructed plot.

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Plot Summary

 Wuthering Heights begins with Mr. Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, meeting his landlord, Heathcliff, for the first time. His welcome at Wuthering Heights is rather bleak given the almost hostile attitude of the occupants that include a meanly dressed young man called Hareton Earnshaw, and a beautiful but rude Catherine Heathcliff. Mr. Lockwood spends a night at Heathcliff's home due to poor weather and has a nightmare about Catherine Linton, in whose room he is lodged for the night. He reveals the details of his nightmare to his host, who is strangely moved by the plight of the specter of Catherine Linton from Lockwood's nightmare.

Lockwood returns to Thrushcorss Grange and engages himself by learning about the history of Heathcliff, the gentleman with 'gypsy' features, from his housekeeper Nelly Dean. She reveals that she had been raised at Wuthering Heights along with Hindley Earnshaw and Catherine Earnshaw, whom she served. Hindley Earnshaw was the elder son of the old master, while Catherine was the youngest daughter, but Mr. Earnshaw adopted a child that was yet younger than Catherine when she was just six years old. Mr. Earnshaw had found an orphaned boy on a trip to Liverpool and had brought him to be raised with his children. His love for the child seemed to exceed what he felt for either the fourteen-year-old Hindley or the young Catherine. Hindley grew jealous of his father's love for the 'gypsy' boy, but Catherine and he became nearly inseparable. Mr. Earnshaw soon fell ill and passed away shortly afterward, leaving all his wealth to Hindley, who at the time had been away for college. He returned upon his father's demise and surprised all by bringing along a bride, a frail girl called Frances. Hindley ignored the upbringing of his sister and reduced Heathcliff to the role of a common servant. Heathcliff and Catherine were uncaring of Hindley's cruelty, and they spent all of their free time roaming the wide moors of Yorkshire, Northern England. In one such excursion, they found their way onto Thrushcross Grange, which is the property of the Linton family and the only other large estate in the region. Catherine is recognized by the Lintons who have two children, Edgar and Isabella, both of whom are beautiful but weak. Catherine is recognized as the daughter of Mr. Earnshaw and taken into the property while Heathcliff is expelled from the premises. She is taken under the wing of Frances Earnshaw and Mrs. Linton, who help turn her into a sophisticated lady while Heathcliff is further oppressed by Hindley.

Hindley soon has a son, Hareton Earnshaw, but his wife passes away shortly afterward, and Hindley sinks himself into alcohol with grief. Over the years, Catherine grows quite close to the handsome yet delicate Edgar Linton and decides to marry him. She confesses to Nelly that Heathcliff is too low for her to marry, however she is well aware that her love for Heathcliff dwarfs the love she feels for Edgar. Heathcliff hears Catherine tell Nelly why she cannot marry him and departs Wuthering Heights without any word. Catherine takes seriously ill after he leaves, and has to be carefully nursed back to health while the doctors warn her family that her delicate health cannot withstand excitement. Heathcliff returns after three years, in the meanwhile, Catherine had already married Edgar and begun to reside at Thrushcross Grange. They were well on their way to creating a happy life for themselves when Heathcliff returned to the region. He was significantly altered as he now resembled a gentleman in both manners and garb. His return caused Catherine a lot of joy but it upset Edgar Linton. Heathcliff had taken up residence with Hindley, with whom he wished to settle his old grudge. It was rumored that Hindley and Heathcliff spent whole nights gambling with one another and that Heathcliff won ever more of the Earnshaw gold.

Heathcliff's visits to Thrushcross Grange had an unintended effect and that was the infatuation of Isabella Linton, who began to nurse a deep love for the mysterious stranger. Catherine discovered Isabella's love for Heathcliff and attempted to dissuade her by revealing her feelings to an uncaring Heathcliff, but the idea seemed to intrigue him. Nelly guessed that Heathcliff was interested in Isabella since she was Edgar's heir, and revealed in a fit of passion that he sought revenge against Edgar as well as Hindley. Nelly reports the conversation to Edgar Linton who attempts to have his servants expel Heathcliff, but Catherine prevents that and instead tries to have Edgard flogged by Heathcliff. Edgar manages to save himself and returns with servants but Heathcliff has already escaped. He then confronts Catherine with an ultimatum but Catherine's health worsens and she locks herself in a room. She shuns food over the next several days and becomes quite sick while Heathcliff elopes and marries Isabella Linton.

Catherine begins a slow process of recovery, and Edgar disinherits his younger sister who finds herself married to a monster that expresses no love for her. Nelly visits the couple after their marriage and finds Isabella in a terrible state. During her visit, Heathcliff convinces her to arrange a meeting for him with the ailing Catherine. Nelly helps them meet, and the two lovers exchange passionate expressions of their love as they both realize that Catherine is soon going to die. Catherine dies after giving birth to a beautiful girl whom Edgar names Catherine and dotes on throughout his whole life. Isabella escapes from Heathcliff and sets up a residence in London where she gives birth to a boy that she calls Linton. Hindley passes away soon after his sister, and Nelly learns that Heathcliff now owned all of Hindley's land so that Hareton Earnshaw is left penniless and upon the mercy of his father's enemy, Heathcliff. Upon Isabella's death, Edgar brings Linton back to Thrushcross Grange but Heathcliff takes him into his custody the very next day owing to his status as the boy's father. He raises Linton quite harshly since the boy seems to have inherited all of the worst qualities of both his parents. As the children continue to grow, Heathcliff reveals that his ultimate plan is to have Linton and the young Catherine married so that he could have both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange to himself. He can bring this plan to fruition due to the tender feelings that Catherine nurses for the hateful and weak Linton. Heathcliff practically kidnaps Catherine and has her married to Linton while Edgar lies on his deathbed. Linton is not long in following his uncle, and Heathcliff forces Catherine to care for the dying Linton. Lockwood wishes to marry the young Catherine but has to depart for London, but when he returns the following year, he discovers that Heathcliff had passed away and that Catherine and Hareton are now a couple. Nelly Dean explains how Heathcliff had suddenly begun to be joyful as he had felt that his death was approaching and that he would be restored to the company of his lover. As Heathcliff worsened, Hareton and Catherine grew closer together as she taught him how to read and write. Heathcliff died quietly in his room, while Catherine and Hareton resolved to marry on New Year's Day.

  • Author(s)

    Emily Brontë
  • Publication date

    1847

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Gothic Novel, Romance, Realist Fiction

  • Pages

    464

Keywords

Romance, Byronic Hero, Gothic Tradition

Publisher

Thomas Cautley Newby

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