As it’s the season of love, let’s talk romance!
I asked you to pick between the Brontë sisters – and you chose Emily; great! Emily Brontë is the lesser known, yet, in my opinion more interesting one. She only wrote one novel! And this novel was very controversial.
Just like her sister, she wrote under a pseudonym, which is not unusual for women in history. Emily and Charlotte Brontë were Ellis and Currer Bell.
Jane Eyre is a more typical romance; it is the autobiography of Jane, who works as a governess and falls in love with Mr Rochester, her employer. After a few detours, she is reunited with Edward Rochester.
Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights was very controversial for its time; It challenged the ideas of Victorian time.
In case you haven’t read it, here is a short summary. As with most classics, it is not the content itself which makes the book, but the characters and the writing, so feel free to still read it, or re-read it, later.
The story is a tale of the life of the people of Wuthering Heights, a farmhouse. When Mr Lockwood comes to visit Wuthering Heights in 1801, he is snowed in and has to extend his stay, allowing him to get to know the inhabitants. Some strange encounters arouse his interest and as he leaves to make his way back to Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood asks Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, about the family of the house. She then becomes the narrator, with Lockwood framing the story.
The tale begins thirty years prior with Mr. Earnshaw, who owned Wuthering Heights at the time. One day he brings an orphan back to his home, and raises him as his own. While his daughter Catherine loves Heathcliff, his son Hindley is jealous.
When Earnshaw dies a few years later, Hindley inherits the land and comes back to live on Wuthering Heights with his wife Frances. Heathcliff is kept as a servant. Him and Catherine still play together and one day encounter the Lintons on Thrushcross Grange. Due to an accident – one of the dogs bites her – Catherine has to stay at the Grange and returns weeks later, with impeccable manners.
Even though she loves Heathcliff, Catherine is tempted by the life of the Lintons and gets engaged to Edgar. Heathcliff is hurt by Catherine’s change of attitude towards him and since his wife died, Hinley has been even more abusive towards him; he runs away. He returns a few years later, shortly after Catherine and Edgar married, to revenge Hindley. He lends him money, hoping to send the alcoholic deep into debt, and indeed, when Hindley dies, Heathcliff inherits the farmhouse. To revenge Catherine and Edgar, he marries Isabella, Edgar’s sister, who he despises and treats awfully.
Catherine dies soon after giving birth to a daughter, which drives Heathcliff mad. His wife leaves to give birth to their son, Linton, in London.
During this time, Catherine’s daughter is brought up at Thrushcross Grange, with Nelly Dean. One day, by accident, she meets Hareton, Hindley’s son, playing in the moors. She comes to Wuthering Heights, meets Heathcliff and Linton, and they fall in love. Cathy sneaks out to meet him, but Linton is only interested in her because his father is forcing him to. Eventually, when Linton is ill, Heathcliff brings Nelly and Cathy to the house and holds them captive until Cathy marries Linton, getting him closer to owning Thrushcross Grange and revenging Edgar Linton. Eventually both Edgar and Linton die and he owns both properties, keeping Cathy as a servant the way he was kept as a child.
It brings us back to the present day – or rather 1801. Even at the time, Lockwood was appalled by the cruelty and psychological pain and abuse within the family.
Six months later however he returns, and sees the developments: Cathy has fallen in love with Hareton, Heathcliff has gone mad, talking to Catherine’s ghost, and died.
It is understandable why this was unfathomable at the time; this story is based on revenge and emotional abuse. While in Jane Eyre there is an element of it in Jane’s childhood (her aunts and cousins abuse her emotionally and physically), this is the heart of the story. It goes as far as Heathcliff taking Hareton out of school right after his father’s death, to keep him illiterate and as uneducated as his father saw Heathcliff.
We talked about reading and re-reading Classics and how the words don’t change, but our perception does. This is a prime example: While some issues would not be the same now (we wouldn’t be able to live oblivious of family’s past like young Catherine did, or meet as easily as her and Linton; let alone simply bringing an orphan home), but others are even more provoking now: The aggression in Heathcliff which fuels all his revenge plans, the servants position which is almost like a slave’s character, and the ongoing abuse of characters become more abstruse every time you read it.
So while you may class it as one of the romance novels along with Jane Eyre and many Jane Austen books, it has, in fact, little to do with a love story, which you only find out once you read it, making it by far one of the most interesting Classics to read!