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Wuthering Heights: Summary, Setting & Themes

Instructor: Sophie Starmack

Sophia has taught college French and composition. She has master's degrees in French and in creative writing.

From wild and blustering moors to haunted houses to a blistering love that outlasts death, Emily Bronte's novel, 'Wuthering Heights,' has it all. In this lesson, we'll go over the plot points, setting, major characters and themes.

Overview

Emily Brontë's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights is an incredibly complex narrative. It's crammed with stories-within-stories, generations of characters (many of whom have the same name!) and flashbacks to minute plot details about who married whom.

It can be a little difficult to keep all the details straight (the Victorians seemed to have longer attention spans than we do), but the most important thing to keep in mind is the fierce and passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Although social conventions prevent them from marrying, their obsession with one another continues even beyond the grave.

Plot:

In the opening chapters, we meet Lockwood, who has just rented a home in northern England. He has an upsetting run-in with his landlord, Heathcliff, who lives across the moor in a sprawling old house called 'Wuthering Heights.' A troubled soul, Heathcliff is cruel to his family and convinced that his house is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Cathy. Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly, to tell him the backstory.

A Love Triangle

Thirty years ago, Catherine and her brother Hindley lived in Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by their father. Catherine and Heathcliff both have fiery tempers and soon become best friends. Their father comes to love Heatcliff more than Hindley, and Hindley becomes cruel to his adopted brother because of it. When eventually inherits the house, he and his wife make Heathcliff into a servant.

Catherine is secretly in love with Heathcliff, but she chooses to marry the wealthy and proper Edgar instead to climb the social ladder. Heathcliff runs away in despair.

When Heathcliff comes back three years later, the drama starts to heat up. Bent on revenge, Heathcliff tries to make Catherine jealous by flirting with Edgar's sister Isabella, and Catherine gets so riled up she takes to her bed, sick with rage. She dies after giving birth to a daughter, Cathy.

Isabella and Heathcliff elope, and they have a son named Linton. Heathcliff is now master of Wuthering Heights, but his wife won't live with him because he's cruel to her. She moves and takes her son with her. He's never really wanted anyone but Catherine.

Cathy and Hareton

Flash forward a dozen years. As you'll remember, the original drama started when the love between Catherine and Heathcliff was blocked by Edgar. This time around, a very similar situation is playing out: Catherine's daughter Cathy (who's beautiful and spunky, just like her mother) becomes good friends with Heathcliff's son Linton.

Cathy falls for Linton, but Heathcliff is orchestrating it so that they will marry and he can then own the Linton household as well, completing his revenge on Edgar. When Edgar dies, Heathcliff forces Cathy and Linton to marry. Linton dies soon after.

Cathy has to live a miserable life as a servant at Wuthering Heights.

The flashback is over, and we're once again in the present. Mr. Lockwood appalled, has left, but returns several months later to get updated. He finds that Heathcliff has died after a strange illness during which he saw visions of Catherine's ghost. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine. Cathy has fallen in love with Hareton, her deceased uncle Hindley's son. They are set to married.

Setting

The moors of Yorkshire, which inspired the setting of Wuthering Heights.
The Yorkshire moors

Nature plays a huge part in Wuthering Heights. Just like the characters in the story, author Emily Brontë grew up in the rolling hills, or moors, of Yorkshire, England. The moors are famous for their misty, melancholy atmosphere, and like Heathcliff and Catherine, Emily Brontë was known to wander about in the relatively uninhabited land around her family home. The stormy moorland provides a spectral, almost violent backdrop for the novel, mirroring the characters' inner turmoil.

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