If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.
I had a lot of high hopes for this classic because it seems to be a lot of people’s favourites, and I’m a lover of 19th century Gothic writing. I’m not quite sure I would place this in my top spot.
My opening statement probably sounds quite disparaging, but I really do think this is a good classic. It feels particularly accessible because of the plot and writing style, so if you’re new to classics and you like spooky romances, this would probably be a good place to start.
That being said, I wasn’t blown away by Wuthering Heights. That might in part be because of my high expectations, but I was left feeling a bit disappointed.
The story itself was quite interesting, and I think if you go into it playing less attention to it as a romance you’ll get a lot more out of the book. There are a lot of different themes and ideas going on that get quite lost if all you focus on is the central characters and their relationship to one another.
I did really like the darkness of this book, and the fact it doesn’t shy away from the bad parts of life and human nature. Sometimes reading classics can feel like a very idealised version of life, but Brontë manages to capture negative experiences in a way that is realistic and yet intriguing.
The characters for me are where my disappointment largely lies. I wasn’t really invested in any of them, and so whilst I could pass judgement based on the morality of their actions i didn’t really care what happened to them. Not to say that they’re not well-written, but something just didn’t click for me.
I’m going to discuss the book in more specific detail, so if you don’t want to see any spoilers scroll to the bottom of this review to find my rating and concluding thoughts.
In-Depth Thoughts (Spoilers!)
As I said above, I really don’t want to be too down on this book, because it is popular for a reason. I enjoyed Bronte’s writing a lot, and I think this is a great example of classics addressing the same topics and classes of people whilst being accessible to a modern reader. Her descriptions of the landscape and spaces that the characters inhabit were very vivid and captured the Gothic feeling of the novel perfectly. I think the scene she creates helps to set the bleak and tumultuous tone that permeates the story, and reinforces the atmosphere of isolation.
In terms of the plot itself, I did find it slightly anti-climactic. I feel quite indifferent to the narrative choice of having Heathcliff and Catherine’s history being relayed to Lockwood by Nelly, and him recording it in his journal alongside his own narrative. I think it served its purpose of showing how interlinked the characters were and it did keep the mystery of what happened suspended for longer, but it did just seem like a convenient way to explain how the story was coming to be told. The main events of the novel are undeniably dramatic, covering everything from cross-generational child abuse, violence, romantic betrayal, impossible desires and insanity. For whatever reason, though, the full force of these never really connected with me. Maybe that’s because I’ve read books that cover similar topics that are far more extreme, or maybe I just never invested in the characters beyond a basic moral judgement.
Following the transition from Heathcliff being welcomed as an orphan into the Earnshaw’s home, to his suffering under Hindley due to jealousy that his late father came to prefer an orphan over him, to his running away after Catherine’s engagement definitely makes for an interesting but tragic character development. I definitely liked the fact that Bronte avoided creating a stereotypical villain who is evil for no reason, but rather explained a history of abuse and betrayal that corrupted him. I think what was missing for me from the characters of Wuthering Heights was a slither more of humanity and warmth. I know the focus on abuse and violence means that this coldness was appropriate, but I felt like there was a lack of a spectrum. Catherine was forced to make choices that went against her feelings, but she also felt unnecessarily cruel and cold throughout the novel. Her relationship with Heathcliff had far less high stakes because the passion they had for each other felt unrealistic considering their wider characters. That is probably just down to a personal preference, and I do think that after studying the book more I could change my perspective on this.
I did quite like how Linton and Young Catherine’s relationship mirrored their parents, but how the situation was reversed: whilst Catherine felt forced not to marry Heathcliff, Young Catherine is trapped and forced to marry Linton. I think this is one of my favourite aspects of the novel because of the clever aligning and reversing of each generation’s fates. Whilst Catherine was forced to leave Wuthering Heights, Young Catherine is forced to stay there with Heathcliff. In this sense, not only does Catherine haunt the space in which he lives in his mind and spectral visits, but also physical in Young Catherine’s DNA.
For me, Heathcliff’s decline into insanity and his death on the moors wasn’t the best end to the novel. I felt like Bronte didn’t want to full commit to a supernatural element to her story, and this ambiguity really diffused the tension that had been created. For such a prominent and emotional character, I would have expected a few more dramatics. I did like the way he died though, as it did reinforce their relationship for me.
Concluding Thoughts and Rating
Overall, I think this just wasn’t the book for me. It is partially my fault, because I went in with certain expectations that left me disappointed. I do think this is a great classic for people to read, especially if you enjoy Gothic-style narratives or if you want something that’s a bit more accessible in terms of writing style and language.
If anyone loves this book and has anything that might make me understand or connect with this book more, please do let me know in the comments! I really want to be proved wrong on this one.
I’m rating Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte as 3 stars.