I have to give the Bronte sisters a round of applause for having much more substance, mystery, and strange twists to their stories than Jane Austen. If Austen’s books are “Days of Our Lives,” then Wuthering Heights is “Jerry Springer.” It is dysfunction to an unbelievable degree. It’s filled with abuse (physical and verbal), revenge, family infighting, broken marriages, unrequited love, and more. I had to plow through 90% of this book before the dreariness and churning hatred began to lighten up.
The story is told from the point of view of the head maid, Mrs. Ellen Dean. She recounts the story of the inhabitants at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange for the new tenant of her master, Mr. Heathcliff. There are so many characters and names that overlap, that it would be confusing for me to comment on too many aside from Mr. Heathcliff. They all, however, seem unfortunately drawn and bound to him like mice to a trap.
Heathcliff is rescued as a boy on the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw, the patriarch of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is brought home, taught English, and enjoys a childhood equal to the Earnshaw children. He is especially close with Catherine, whom he loves, but is considered unworthy to marry because of the mystery behind his extended family and his darker features (his country of origin is never mentioned, but Mrs. Dean suspects he may be Spanish). All spirals out of control within the family once Mr. Earnshaw dies and his eldest son turns on Heathcliff.
If there’s one word I had to choose to describe the majority of the characters, it is venomous. The Earnshaws are infamous for their raging tempers, complete lack of manners, and insolence. It broke my heart to see characters with so much potential for goodness sucked into the swirling vortex of animosity. In spite of his love for Catherine, Heathcliff’s final plot is to break the spirit of her daughter. In doing so, he is able to exact revenge on a number of parties and secure for himself the wealth of two separate families. He is a man of deep anguish until the end, when it is suggested that he is visited by the ghost of the love from his youth. His death is unremarkable, but marks a sigh of deef relief for the handful of characters that survived his tyrannical rule.
It’s an intense, but riveting read. I highly recommend it!