Wuthering Heights, the mid-nineteenth century romantic work by Emily Brontë, is pretty depressing. Even the name invokes a bad day. “Wuthering” refers to strong, gusty winds. Who would name their house after a tornado? But this is what you find in the house that bears the book’s name. The story does have a bit of a happy ending, but just enough so that you don’t pound the book to a pulp with your fist while screaming, “Why, Heathcliff, why?”
The narrator is Mr. Lockwood, staying at Thurshcross Grange, a house on the same property as Wuthering Heights. He isn’t a party to any of the events in the book, but his gossipy housekeeper, Mrs. Dean, has been there since it all began, and boy can she talk. Many years ago, when her mother worked for the Earnshaw family as a nurse, Mr. Earnshaw brought home an orphan boy during a business trip to Liverpool. Unfortunately, the family doesn’t really do the whole “care for the orphan” thing well, and the child, Heathcliff, grew into a bitter, vengeful man.
Years later, Heathcliff took his revenge, slowly working to destroy the various relationships in the family. But then there’s Catherine, Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter, raised alongside Heathcliff. Can his passionate love for her keep him from ruining everyone at Wuthering Heights? Or will he put his desire for retribution above his own heart? Or will he go crazy before he can accomplish his goal?
It’s all of these. The ending is as complex as the character of Heathcliff. It’s a satisfying read, but in its role as a classic, I wonder how it is supposed to transform me. Do I relate to the rejected orphan consumed with hate? Or to young Linton, whose maltreatment leads to a life of apathy? Or to the many characters who claim to love those near to them, but only do so until minor troubles disturb daily life?
I think I most relate to Mr. Lockwood, the narrator, whose interest in the characters remains only as long as the story seems interesting. When everything is resolved, he departs Wuthering Heights as if it never impacted him. Even Heathcliff grows tired by the end, telling Mrs. Dean, concerning his plans for revenge, that he has “lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction.” While the storytelling was dramatic, and the depictions of revenge were heartless and cruel, by the end I felt little remaining of the story, as if a wuthering wind had passed through my thoughts.
The Well-Read Man Project
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