Book Review - Wuthering Heights, a classic gothic novel

“Out on the wiley, windy moors
We'd roll and fall in green
You had a temper like my jealousy
Too hot, too greedy
How could you leave me
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too”

Does anyone recognise these song lyrics? It’s Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights. Now I must admit that when I first heard this song in 1978, I was too young to fully understand the lyrics, but I do remember that I was completely mesmerised by it. Not only by the artist’s voice or her unusual expressive dancing, but the names Heathcliff and Cathy. Who were they? I wanted to know more about them. Unlike nowadays, I couldn’t Google the song, let alone look it up on YouTube.

Anyway - all was to be revealed to me, not long after the song came out…

Now I know Kate Bush may not be everyone’s cup of tea and completely understand it, if you describe her voice as some highly pitched screeching, but take your time to listen to it carefully, close your eyes and use your imagination. Maybe you too may be swept away by the lyrics and the meaning of the song. It may even take you away to some desolate moor.

In my first year at secondary school, we had to read a few English books (usually an abridged version) and even though I was an avid reader, I had never read an English language book before. They had always been translations (I loved the Famous Five books), so when I came across Wuthering Heights and read the short summary on the back, it all fell into place. This was the story Kate Bush was singing about – the tragically doomed love story of the main characters Heathcliff and Catherine.

Written in 1847 by Emily Brontë (1818 – 1848), Wuthering Heights was her only novel as she soon died after the book was published. Her sisters Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) were also accomplished writers. Although the house Wuthering Heights was set in a fictional place, it’s easy to imagine that Emily based it on the wild and windy moors, with its treacherous bogs, heather and bracken, that surrounded her house in Haworth, Yorkshire. Wuthering, by the way, means blusterous or windy, which is often the case when you’re on the moors.

This book has all the elements of a gothic novel as it touches on mystery, suspense and elements of the supernatural. It deals with violent emotions like revenge and the setting is the bleak and desolate moorland, where the weather can be quite extreme. Wuthering Heights is the tragic story of Catherine Earnshaw (Cathy in Kate Bush’s song) who is torn between her love for Heathcliff, an orphan who was adopted by her father, and Edgar Linton, a wealthy neighbour who lives at Thrushcross Grange, a nearby estate.

Set during the harsh winter of 1801, the story is told by the housekeeper Nelly Dean to an Englishman called Lockwood who has rented Thrushcross Grange. On his first visit to Wuthering Heights, Lockwood had an unusual encounter with Heathcliff, his gruff landlord, who owns both farmhouses, on the inhospitable moors of Yorkshire. During his second visit to Wuthering Heights, he was forced to stay overnight at the desolate farmhouse, when the weather turned for the worse and he was unable to return to Thrushcross Grange.

That night, in his bedroom, he was visited by the ghost of Catherine, who kept asking to be let in. Kate Bush sings “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy I’ve come home. I’m so cold. Let me in-a-your-window”. When he told Heathcliff about his eerie encounter the following morning, his landlord suddenly turned on him and he was told to leave immediately. He left, but not before he witnessed how Heathcliff entered the bedroom and was startled to hear the man wail and beg for Catherine’s return.

Upon his return to Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood asked his housekeeper Nelly Dean about the strange encounter. The book is partly based on Nelly’s recollections, who used to work at Wuthering Heights as a young servant. Although she was hesitant at first, she proceeds to tell Lockwood about Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff and Catherine. Lockwood in turn writes everything down in his diary.

Heathcliff and Catherine always had a special bond, ever since they were kids and soon became inseparable. Even though they came from different classes, they fell in love, much to the jealousy of Catherine’s cruel brother Hindley, who never liked his dark-skinned adopted brother. When their father died, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights, and starts to treat Heathcliff even worse than before.

The story takes a turn when Catherine decides to marry Edgar Linton, their wealthy neighbour. Bitter over her rejection and feeling betrayed, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights. Years later, he returns and marries Edgar’s sister for her money.

Catherine dies after giving birth to a daughter also named Catherine, leaving Heathcliff devastated by her death and determined to enact his revenge and cruelty on Edgar, Hindley’s son Hareton and even his own son Linton. And it is here where the story becomes dark and gloomy and the character of Heathcliff turns even more mysterious and violent, as he becomes completely consumed by vengeance. Turning him from a hero (as a youngster with Catherine) to a villain (once Catherine has died).

“Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy, I've come home I'm so cold,
let me in your window
Ooh, let me have it
Let me grab your soul away”

It’s easy for me to get carried away and to reveal more about the book, but I hope that what I have written so far may have piqued your interest. Some see Wuthering Heights as a tragic love story. But I must disagree, as it’s far more than that; it’s a story about social injustice, revenge, doomed love, cruelty, abuse, and a lot more. I am not even too sure if it was Emily Brontë’s intention to create such a complex narrative, but that’s what makes this book so incredibly fascinating and interesting.

It’s a complete coincidence, but for the past 20 years, I’ve also lived in Yorkshire – not too far (10 miles/16 kilometres) from the place where Emily Brontë wrote her book. And yes, the moors, which are within walking distance from my house, can be very windy, wild and inhospitable, but there’s also a raw and unpredictable beauty to it.

Read Wuthering Heights yourself and let me know your thoughts. The next book that we’ll review will be a completely different genre, when Nataly discusses her choice - Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.