This image depicts the ruins of a home believed by scholars to be Emily Brontë’s inspiration for the novel’s setting.
You will notice the relative lack of trees, a feature of the moors of Yorkshire where the novel is set.
Emily Brontë was born to Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë in 1818. Two of her sisters died after a typhoid outbreak at their school, Cowan Bridge School.
The remaining siblings, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne, grew very close and invented fictional kingdoms that served as the settings for their adventurous stories. All of the siblings had artistic backgrounds. Charlotte would write Jane Eyre, which remains one of the most famous Victorian novels; Branwell painted this portrait of Emily and was also a poet; and Anne wrote a novel called Agnes Grey.
Emily wrote poetry at least as early as her teens. Wuthering Heights is her only novel.
She probably began writing it in 1845, but it was published in 1847. Initially, Emily used the pseudonym Ellis Bell (her sisters wrote under the names Currer Bell -- Charlotte and Acton Bell -- Anne). Not until after her death was she revealed to be the author of Wuthering Heights. Charlotte wrote an introduction to the 1851 edition of Wuthering Heights that sheds a great deal of light on the novel.
Emily died at the age of 30 from tuberculosis, the scourge of the nineteenth century. Her brother Branwell died before she did; in fact, it is believed she caught the chill that led to her death at his funeral. She had been nursing Branwell prior to his death, and it’s probable she caught his illness. Their sister Anne would also die of the disease the following May (1849), leaving Charlotte alone.
Wuthering Heights is a farmhouse located near the fictional village of Gimmerton in Yorkshire.
It is the ancestral home of the Earnshaw family. One of the first things the reader’s attention is drawn to is an inscription with the name “Hareton Earnshaw, 1500.” The inscription refers to an ancestor of the Earnshaws who currently live in the house. The novel takes place over a 30 year time span from about 1770 to 1802.
After his father dies, Wuthering Heights is inherited by Hindley Earnshaw. Later in the novel, Heathcliff is able to acquire ownership of the home.
The word “wuthering” is a real word, but you’ll most likely only ever hear it used in reference to this novel. It is a local Yorkshire dialect word that means “wild, exposed, or storm-blown,” which makes it a perfect title for this novel. This definition fits not just the setting but also the characters.
Thrushcross Grange is the name of the home nearest to Wuthering Heights. The Linton family moves there, and afterward, the Lintons became inextricably linked with the Earnshaws. When the novel begins, the home is owned by Heathcliff and rented out to the first narrator, Mr. Lockwood. We find out how he obtains this property in the novel, which is told in flashback.
Let’s meet our narrators first. The novel begins as Mr. Lockwood goes to visit his landlord Heathcliff. He thinks it will be a polite, cordial visit. A terrible storm crops up, and Lockwood realizes he will not be able to travel back home in the dark, so he stays at Wuthering Heights for the night. He is told there are no spare bedrooms and goes to sleep in a chair, but awakes in the night and wanders into an unused bedroom. Deciding to use the room, he climbs into the bed with the diary of Catherine Earnshaw, whose bedroom he has found, and he becomes intrigued by the stories of the residents of Wuthering Heights.
When he goes home the next day, he hears the bulk of the story that constitutes the novel from our second narrator, Nelly Dean.
Nelly Dean tells Mr. Lockwood the story of the Earnshaws, the Lintons, and Heathcliff. She was a housekeeper at Wuthering Heights until the marriage of Catherine Earnshaw, when she moved with her mistress to Thrushcross Grange. Before this marriage, however, she was Hareton Earnshaw’s nurse after his birth. She did not want to leave him behind, fearing that he would not be properly cared for in her absence. She’s one of the few people to show Hareton compassion and love in his life. We’ll talk more about Hareton in a moment.
The characters in this novel are all linked together, and I admit the connections are a bit incestuous.
Let’s start with the Earnshaws. Mr. Earnshaw goes on a business trip to Liverpool where he finds Heathcliff, a child who is poor, starving, and wandering the streets. Earnshaw takes pity on him and decides to adopt him and bring him back to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is favored over Hindley, which makes Hindley very jealous and causes Hindley to mistreat Heathcliff. Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw die early in the story that Nelly Dean tells.
Upon the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley returns to Wuthering Heights with his wife, Frances. They have a son together, Hareton Earnshaw.
Hindley’s sister, Catherine, is the heroine of the novel. She is in love with Heathcliff, but as you will see, circumstances prevent them from marrying, so she marries Edgar Linton, the son of her neighbor at Thrushcross Grange. They have a daughter named Catherine Linton. Most of the time, she is called Cathy.
Edgar’s sister Isabella becomes quite taken with Heathcliff and marries him. He is pretty awful to her, so she leaves him, but not before she becomes pregnant with their son, Linton Heathcliff.
As you can see, Cathy Linton marries her first cousin Linton Heathcliff. While we frown upon first cousins marrying today for all kinds of reasons, it was a fairly common practice at the time the novel is set, particularly in remote areas where you didn’t have a lot of options. After Linton’s death, Cathy marries her other first cousin, Hareton.
Let’s examine these characters in more detail.
Heathcliff is the troubled protagonist of the novel, if the novel has one. He is adopted by Mr. Earnshaw and brought to live at Wuthering Heights as a child. His origins are unknown. Based on his physical description and the “gibberish” language that the other characters describe him speaking, he is most likely of Romany descent. The Roma were commonly referred to at the time as gypsies and were feared and hated by many English. You probably know that the Roma were one of Hitler’s targets in the Holocaust as well. Casting Heathcliff as a gypsy was clever on Brontë’s part because it sets him up to disliked and mistrusted by the novel’s characters and even perhaps by the readers.
As a child, Heathcliff develops an attachment to his adopted sister Catherine. He falls in love with her and assumes they will always be together. However, when Hindley Earnshaw returns to claim his inheritance, he brings Heathcliff low, treating him as a servant, and Catherine does not feel they can be married anymore. She feels she must marry Edgar Linton and use her new husband’s money to help Heathcliff.
Heathcliff and Catherine are star-crossed lovers. Neither one of them is particularly likeable. They are selfish and cruel, and it might be better to describe them as antiheroes.
Heathcliff is a typical Byronic hero. He’s mysterious, dangerous, quick of temper, and in love with a woman he cannot have. As I’ve mentioned before, the Byronic hero was popular in Victorian novels. Charlotte Brontë, Emily’s sister, would invent a famous Byronic hero in the form of her character Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. Even Charlotte thought that Heathcliff was a bit too bad and questioned whether such a character should have been created in the introduction she wrote to Emily’s novel in 1851.
On the one hand, we feel sorry for him because he is so clearly mistreated by Hindley, but later we see him take his anger out on those who don’t deserve it, and he destroys innocent lives. He’s a very complicated character for that reason.
Catherine is, of course, foster sister of Heathcliff. Lockwood encounters her room and perhaps something more when he stays at Wuthering Heights during a storm. She loves Heathcliff, but she is unable to be with him. She agrees to marry Edgar Linton. He is more refined and cultured than Heathcliff. Catherine loves Edgar in a way, but in a famous speech, she declares that her love for him will change like the foliage does as the seasons pass. Her love for Heathcliff is like the rocks beneath, which she describes as a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Edgar and Heathcliff both truly love her.
Heathcliff leaves for a few years after Catherine marries Edgar Linton, and Catherine believes she will never see him again. However, he has just gone to make a fortune so he can exact his revenge on the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Before Heathcliff returns, Catherine becomes pregnant with Cathy. She dies during childbirth, leaving both Heathcliff and Edgar in despair.
Edgar Linton moves to Thrushcross Grange as a child and makes the acquaintance of Catherine Earnshaw and her foster brother Heathcliff when the two happen upon the house and Catherine is hurt when one of the dogs chases her. The Lintons nurse her back to health, cementing the relationship between the two families.
He has a younger sister named Isabella. The Lintons are all described as blond.
Edgar Linton begins courting Catherine and eventually marries her. They have one daughter, Cathy. Catherine dies while giving birth to Cathy, and Edgar mourns Catherine for the rest of his life, but he is a loving father and indulges his daughter.
Isabella Linton becomes infatuated with Heathcliff when he returns after earning his fortune. He courts her and woos her because it suits his purposes for getting revenge on Edgar Linton. Isabella runs away with and marries Heathcliff. They have one son, Linton Heathcliff.
Cathy Linton is the daugher of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton. When we meet her, she is spoiled and willful, not unlike her mother.
She encounters Heathcliff, not knowing who he is, while out on a walk, and she inadvertently tells him that his wife has died and that her father is bringing Linton Heathcliff, his son, back to Thrushcross Grange to live with them.
Heathcliff kidnaps her and forces her to marry his son Linton.
Linton Heathcliff is the son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. He is sickly and spoiled. When he arrives at Thrushcross Grange after his mother has died, Heathcliff goes over the the house and demands his son be handed over to him. Edgar Linton knows that he has no legal right to refuse, so he reluctantly lets Linton go. Heathcliff hates his son and feels he is weak, but he does serve a purpose.
Heathcliff uses his son to lure Cathy Linton to Wuthering Heights where he holds her captive and forces her to marry Linton.
Hindley Earnshaw is Catherine Earnshaw’s brother. He owns Wuthering Heights upon the death of their father and uses his power to bully and mistreat Heathcliff, whom their father favored.
He and his wife Frances have a son named Hareton, but Frances dies in childbirth, devastating Hindley, who falls into alcoholism and gambling. Heathcliff is later able to obtain Wuthering Heights because of Hindley’s problems with gambing and alcohol, and Heathcliff gets revenge on Hindley both through encouraging his drinking habits, which will hasten his own death, and through mistreating his son, Hareton.
Hareton Earnshaw is Hindley and Frances Earnshaw’s son. He is initially cared for by Nelly Dean, who is one of the few people in his life to show him love and compassion; however, after Hareton’s aunt Catherine marries, Nelly goes to Thrushcross Grange with Catherine, and Hareton is left alone with Hindley, who sees him only as a reminder of his wife’s death.
He is near wild and uneducated when the reader first meets him. Heathcliff has treated him in much the same way that Hindley always treated Heathcliff. Hareton, however, idolizes Heathcliff. Over time, Cathy Linton and Hareton fall in love, and they marry after the events of the novel.
Frances Earnshaw is Hindley’s wife and Hareton’s mother. She dies during childbirth.
Joseph is a cranky servant at Wuthering Heights. He is very religious, and he believes Heathcliff and Catherine to be evil. He remains a servant even after Heathcliff takes over Wuthering Heights. He speaks his mind and fears no one. If you ever read the novel, you’ll notice Brontë wrote his speech in a thick Yorkshire dialect that takes some practice to understand. Most novels have footnotes that explain Joseph’s speech.
The framed technique of Brontë’s novel demands readers’ intellectual engagement and results in a distrust in the narrators due to a lack of a direct point of view.
The novel is comprised of 34 chapters, divided in two volumes of 17 chapters each.
In volume 1, the first three chapters are Lockwood’s story, including his introduction of Heathcliff. They take place in 1801. The next six are Catherine Earnshaw’s diary and Lockwood’s dream along with Nelly’s narration of how Catherine came to leave Wuthering Heights, covering the years 1771-1784, and the final eight of the first half are Nelly Dean’s narration of Heathcliff’s return and subsequent ownership of Wuthering Heights, taking place from 1789-1796.
The second volume of the novel is symmetrical to the first. The first eight chapters are Nelly Dean’s narration focusing on Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff’s romance. It covers the years 1796-1801. The next six are also Nelly’s focusing on Cathy and Linton’s marriage and Linton’s death as well as Lockwood’s visit, taking place in 1801. The final three are Lockwood’s narration of his return to Yorkshire and discovery of the death of Heathcliff in 1802.
Just as the novel itself is comprised of this doubled structure, the concept of doubles appears in many of the characters. In many cases, the doubles represent two sides: one light and one shadow.
Heathcliff and Catherine are the star-crossed lovers who are unable to be together in life, but equally unable to forget one another and be happy with others. Their love was obsessive and destructive.
Even though Linton Heathcliff was Heathcliff’s son, his true heir in terms of personality was Hareton Earnshaw. Hareton was like Heathcliff. He grew up despised and was treated cruelly. He fell in love with his own Cathy, but these two were able to overcome the curse that seemed to hang over these two families and unite and be happy. They planned to marry on New Year’s Day: a day for a new beginning. They have the chance at happiness that Heathcliff and Catherine never had.
Edgar Linton and his sister Isabella are also doubles. They both fall in love with someone who does not love them back, and both are destroyed by that love. They are different in that Edgar is strong enough to love and remain loyal to Catherine despite her love for Heathcliff, while Isabella is not able to endure Heathcliff’s ill treatment or his love for Catherine.
Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton are also doubles. Both men lost their beloved wives in childbirth, but their responses were quite different. Hindley retreated into drink and hated his son Hareton, whom he saw as a reminder of his wife’s death. Edgar became a doting father to Cathy.
Frances and Catherine both die in childbirth, but one woman is seen as refined and blameless while the other is wild and somewhat cruel.
The two narrators Nelly Dean and Mr. Lockwood are also doubles. One is intimate with the details of the family, while the other is a stranger entranced by the families’ history. Lockwood stands in for the reader, while Nelly is the storyteller.
Finally, Catherine and Heathcliff are doubles. Connected by passion and feelings no one around them seems to understand, neither seems to be able to forget or stop loving the other. Their love destroys two families. Ultimately, Catherine feels such a part of Heathcliff, that when she tells Nelly she is marrying Edgar Linton, she says the following:
“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don't talk of our separation again: it is impracticable.”
And when he hears of Catherine’s death, Heathcliff says to Nelly:
“May she wake in torment!' he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. 'Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
This Web site is an excellent guide to the novel, and I highly encourage you to visit it and explore it as we view the movie in class. I have rarely seen such an excellent resource on any novel, and I think it will really help you understand the story and keep the characters straight as well.
Born July 30, 1818 to Patrick Brontë
and Maria Branwell Brontë
Siblings Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte,
Branwell, and Anne
Poet and novelist
Wuthering Heights published
Died September 28, 1848 of
Ancestral home of the Earnshaw family
Inherited by Hindley Earnshaw
Purchased by Heathcliﬀ
wuthering = “wild, exposed, storm-blown”
Nearest neighbor to Wuthering Heights
Home of the Lintons
Later obtained by Heathcliﬀ and rented to Mr. Lockwood
Narrator of Wuthering
Tenant at Thrushcross
Housekeeper at Wuthering
Heights and later
Nurse of Hareton
Narrator of Wuthering
Hareton and Cathy Heathcliﬀ and Catherine
Edgar Linton Isabella Linton
Edgar Linton Hindley Earnshaw
Frances Earnshaw Catherine Earnshaw
Nelly Dean Mr. Lockwood
Catherine Earnshaw Heathcliﬀ
Barnes, Pete. “Wuthering Heights.” Photograph. 7 May
2009. Pete's Photo Blog. 26 May 2009
Thompson, Paul. The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering
Heights. April 2009. 26 May 2009 <http://www.wuthering-
Wuthering Heights. Dir. David Skynner: DVD.
Masterpiece Theater, 1998.