Chapter 1 & Opening Scene in Wuthering Heights: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Chapter 1 of Emily Brontë's ''Wuthering Heights'' sets the mood by describing the book's isolated location and introducing the character of Mr. Heathcliff, who seems happy to be left alone but is intruded upon by the book's narrator, Lockwood.

Setting the Stage

In any work of literature, the setting, when and where the story takes place, is important. Setting is rarely as important as it is in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. The book is named after its primary location, the rundown and isolated house owned by Mr. Heathcliff. This lonely location is crucial to the story. Chapter 1 sets the mood of the story by introducing us to this location and to Mr. Heathcliff.

On the Moors

Brontë's book opens in 1801. Our narrator, Lockwood, has just returned from a visit to his new landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. Lockwood has apparently rented a place in the middle of nowhere, with beautiful views but no people around it. Because of this, he hopes he and Heathcliff, his only neighbor, can be friends.

Thrushcross Grange

Lockwood then describes his less-than-friendly encounter with Heathcliff. Heathcliff seems very tense and is not happy about renting out his cottage, Thrushcross Grange, to Lockwood. Lockwood also notices that Heathcliff is a puzzling fellow who doesn't fit the typical picture of a country squire who owns two fine houses:

'But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose.'

The description of Heathcliff as a 'dark-skinned gipsy' is particularly important. It sets up a mystery the novel will unravel: How has someone of Heathcliff's background come to be the lord of such an impressive estate?

Wuthering Heights

Lockwood then describes Heathcliff's house, named Wuthering Heights. The name comes from the extreme weather that it endures. The structure boasts an elaborate, Gothic front door that looks to be hundreds of years old:

'Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date '1500', and the name 'Hareton Earnshaw.'

In addition to the description of the decaying statues and grotesque front door, this description sets up another central mystery: If this old house has the name 'Earnshaw' inscribed on it, why is someone named Heathcliff now in possession of it?

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