Back To CourseEnglish 101: English Literature
15 chapters | 137 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Wuthering Heights was originally published in 1847 under Emily Bronte's pseudonym, Ellis Bell. Emily and her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, all wrote under these gender-ambiguous pseudonyms because they weren't sure how novels would be received if they were perceived to be written by women. This might seem kind of lame, but if you think about it, it still goes on today. Why does Joanne Rowling go by J.K. Rowling? It's because her publishers thought that young boys wouldn't read a book that was written by a woman. So this is still going on, although it was obviously much more of a big deal back in the 1850s when people thought that women couldn't do anything.
Wuthering Heights - that was how it got its start. It was like, who is this Ellis Bell? Turns out it's a woman - psych! It's a classic now. We don't care that it's written by a woman. But when it was first published, people thought it was actually dark and had way too much cruel stuff going on in it. It takes its name from an estate where the story takes place, and because it takes place at a house that is named something, it's probably set in England - that is a good tip-off.
It starts with a man named Lockwood who was renting a house called Thrushcross Grange. That's another one of those named houses. He's renting it from a man named Heathcliff, who lives in a nearby home called - wait for it - Wuthering Heights.
Lockwood finds the residents of Wuthering Heights to be kind of strange people, and he can't really figure out how they all relate to each other. He's curious about it. He asks his housekeeper, whose name is Nelly, to tell him the story about what happened to all those people who live in that house. The rest of the story is sometimes told from Lockwood's point of view and sometimes from Nelly's. Not everything is perfectly chronological. It's a frame narrative - a story within a story. But we're going to go through it chronologically because that will make it make a lot more sense. It is difficult enough to understand it anyway without going all out-of-order.
Nelly starts out by telling him about the Earnshaw family, who she used to work for when they lived in Wuthering Heights 30 years ago. The Earnshaws had two children, whose names were Hindley and Catherine. While Mr. Earnshaw was traveling on business, he ended up adopting a homeless boy who he ran into. It's like when homeless people ask you for money and you're supposed to give them food. Apparently, this guy decided to give him a home. He named him Heathcliff - probably not after the fat, orange cat (although that was a great movie that I watched when I was little).
This is where the story really starts to get good.
Hindley is so jealous of Heathcliff, who is now his sort-of new, adopted brother, because he gets way more attention from his father and from his sister. He's raised like a member of the family, although his attachment to Catherine seems a little more than brotherly, if you know what I mean. It's kind of like how Woody Allen fell in love with the daughter of his ex-girlfriend. It's not his biological daughter, but it's still kind of family. It's still kind of creepy. It's like that situation.
Eventually, Hindley goes off to university and doesn't return for three more years, until after he's married and his father, Mr. Earnshaw, is dead. Once he's back, he demotes Heathcliff from adopted brother to poorly-treated help. Here's where stuff gets weird.
One day, Heathcliff and Catherine head over to Thrushcross Grange (where Lockwood is living now, but he wasn't living at that time). They're hoping they're going to mess around with the snobby Linton children who live there. They don't really like them. Catherine ends up getting bitten by a dog and has to stay with the Linton family for about a month while she's getting better. To a modern reader that probably does not make any sense at all, but it seems to be something that people did back in the 18th and 19th century, at least in literature. Apparently, if you get sick at someone's house, you have to stay there for a while. It happens to Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
While she's there for five weeks, she spends some time with the Lintons.
She not only becomes as snobby as they are, but she also falls for Edgar Linton, even though she isn't totally over Heathcliff either. She gets engaged to Edgar, even though she realizes she loved Heathcliff a bit more. She wants to marry someone of higher social status and with more education. Heathcliff can't take this, and he runs away for three years, which, I guess, is the amount of time that people run away for in this book.
When he comes back, he's acquired some mysterious wealth, and he's decided he's going to use this to exact revenge on everybody who has wronged him, as is the tradition with newly wealthy, vigilante-type people. Hindley has become a sad-sack drunk in the meantime. His wife died giving birth to their son, Hareton (all these names - I know it's hard to keep track of, and I'm sorry). Heathcliff views this as an opportunity, and he loans Hindley a lot of money. Hindley is his old adopted brother who eventually demoted him to servant. So, when Hindley dies, Heathcliff ends up inheriting Wuthering Heights as debt repayment. It's a way to get back at Hindley.
He doesn't wants to stop there, so he also marries Isabella Linton. Remember the Linton family? That's what Catherine married into. So he's setting himself up to be the heir of Thrushcross Grange as well. He's a terrible husband to Isabella. He's awful, like only revenge-obsessed, mysteriously wealthy men can be.
Simultaneously, Catherine, who we all assume Heathcliff's crazy behavior is really directed at, gets sick and dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter. Heathcliff begs that her spirit will stay with him, even if it's going to torture him and be nasty and bad and make him miserable. Not liking this at all, Isabella - who's, remember, his wife - decides to jump ship and moves to London, where she gives birth to her and Heathcliff's son, whom she names Linton after the family Heathcliff is trying to destroy. It's kind of like a final thumbing her nose at him.
Eventually, Isabella also dies, and the adolescent Linton, Heathcliff's son, comes back to live with Heathcliff. Linton's a sickly lad, and Heathcliff is nasty to him as he seems to be nasty to everybody. Heathcliff eventually meets Catherine and Edgar's daughter, who is also named Catherine (all these names - they have the same names, so I understand why it's confusing). She and Linton form a very unlikely friendship.
Nelly - remember, Nelly, the maid, who's telling all this to Lockwood - by this time is Catherine's nurse-maid. She does not approve of any of this. She knows how badly things ended for their parents, but Heathcliff encourages the relationship of Catherine and Linton, forcing them to marry, essentially thinking that this marriage is really going to complete his revenge on Edgar Linton for stealing Cathy away because he's going to take Edgar Linton's daughter.
Shortly after Linton and Catherine marry, Linton and Edgar both die. Heathcliff inherits Thrushcross Grange because, remember, he set himself up to inherit that as well and treats his young daughter-in-law just as poorly as he did his wife and son.
After hearing all of this from Nelly, Lockwood, who's that guy we started out with who moved into Thrushcross, decides he really can't stay there anymore. He's like 'these people are too awful. I have to get away.' He returns to London. A few months later, he visits Nelly, and he gets an update on the residents of Wuthering Heights.
It turns out that Catherine and Hareton - remember now, Hareton is Hindley's son, and Hindley's the guy who was the brother of the original Catherine, and then Heathcliff was their adopted brother - form an unlikely alliance as they're living together at Wuthering Heights because they're both stuck in this house with awful Heathcliff. They want to be friends with anybody who's not mean and crazy like he is.
Heathcliff, meanwhile, has become convinced that he can commune with the dead Catherine - commune with her ghost - and he has conversations with her all the time. He's clearly insane. He's obsessive. He's not in his right mind. Eventually he dies, and Catherine and Hareton are going to get married. Why they would do that instead of just running the hell away is beyond me. This place is just haunted and awful, but we end up wishing them the best in the end anyway.
And that's Wuthering Heights. You can see why critics thought that it was just dark and full of harsh treatment and totally impossible to tell people apart, but that has not stopped people from reading it still 150 years later. It's still in print. It's certainly Emily Bronte's real contribution to the English literature canon. It really is a great book despite how crazy it sounds. That is a complicated summary of Wuthering Heights.
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Back To CourseEnglish 101: English Literature
15 chapters | 137 lessons | 10 flashcard sets