Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (re-read)

Since I started blogging in 2009 (which seems so long ago now) I have discovered lots of great books, have tried genres I had never thought about trying before, and have been introduced to some wonderful new authors. One thing that has been sadly neglected, though, is re-reads of my old favourites – something that used to form such an important part of my reading life. Making more time for re-reads has been a goal of mine for the last few years, but I have never actually done it; I’m determined that 2017 will be different! I have re-reads of Rebecca and The Count of Monte Cristo coming up soon for the Classics Club, both of which I’m looking forward to, but before I get to those two, I’ve been revisiting a book I first fell in love with as a thirteen-year-old: Emily Brontë’s 1847 classic, Wuthering Heights.

For those of you who have not yet had the unforgettable experience (in one way or another) of reading Wuthering Heights, here is a quick summary. The novel opens in 1801 with Mr Lockwood, the new tenant at Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire, paying a visit to nearby Wuthering Heights to meet his landlord, Heathcliff. Lockwood is hoping for some peace and quiet in which to enjoy his stay at the Grange and at first he is happy with what he sees in Heathcliff. It’s not long, however, before he discovers that what he had mistaken for quiet reserve hides a cruel and violent nature. After passing an uncomfortable night at Wuthering Heights, in which he is treated with hostility by the inhabitants and tormented by strange dreams, Lockwood retreats to the safety of his own lodgings, where he begs his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him what she knows of Heathcliff and his household.

Most of the novel is narrated by Nelly Dean, as she relates the story of Heathcliff’s first arrival at Wuthering Heights, a child brought back from Liverpool by old Mr Earnshaw, and raised alongside Earnshaw’s own children, Catherine and Hindley. As the years go by, the childhood friendship between Heathcliff and Catherine begins to develop into something more, but when Edgar Linton from Thrushcross Grange enters Catherine’s life, Heathcliff finds himself pushed aside. He devotes the rest of his life to causing misery for the Lintons – as well as taking revenge on Hindley who, unlike his sister, had never accepted Heathcliff as one of the family.

It seems that a lot of people who dislike Wuthering Heights approached it for the first time expecting a romantic love story and in that case I can understand why they would be disappointed. The relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy is hardly a conventional romance and although there is love, it is an obsessive and unhealthy love. When I first came to this book as a young teenager, though, I had no idea what it was about and no expectations whatsoever, so none of that bothered me. At that age, I loved it for the darkness, the melodrama and the passion. The blurb on the back of my old Penguin copy (not the one pictured above) describes Wuthering Heights as “perhaps the most passionately original work in the English language” and I think I would agree with that. Who could forget the moment Catherine declares her love for Heathcliff:

“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.”

Another reason people have for not liking Wuthering Heights is the unpleasant, unsympathetic characters. Well, I can’t argue with that. They are certainly unpleasant – not just Heathcliff and Cathy, but most of the supporting characters too, from Nelly herself, who puts the child Heathcliff “on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow”, to the elderly servant, Joseph, “the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours”. And although I’ve always had a soft spot for Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley’s son, I struggle to find any sympathy for any of the others. But again, not liking the characters has never been a problem for me where this particular book is concerned.

This is not the first time I’ve re-read Wuthering Heights but it is the first time for quite a few years. I was worried that I would feel differently about it, but I’m pleased to say that I still loved it. I did find different things to notice and appreciate this time – with more knowledge of Emily Brontë herself than I had during previous reads, I could think about the ways in which she may have drawn on her own life for inspiration in writing her novel (the descriptions of Hindley’s drunken behaviour, for example, were surely influenced by Emily’s experiences with her brother Branwell). I also found myself constantly noting down favourite passages and phrases, such as the wonderful description of Cathy’s relationship with the Lintons as “not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn”.

I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read and am looking forward to re-reading more old favourites during the rest of the year.

What do you think of Wuthering Heights? Do you love it or hate it?

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31 thoughts on “Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (re-read)”

  1. Wow I am just like you – not rereading old reads! I think it has something sad to do with growing up 😦 less time to indulge. I loved this review. I also recently reread Wuthering Heights (well, last summer actually). I loved this post, I still loved the book after I reread it too, I think the book holds itself together so remarkably despite the hateful, selfish and despicable characters. Well, except for Hareton ofcourse 🙂

    1. Yes, it seems that a lot of us reread less as we get older. It makes me sad as I used to get so much enjoyment from reading my favourite books over and over again. I’m glad you still love Wuthering Heights despite the hateful characters!

  2. I love this book. I’ve read it 2-3 times and certainly intend to reread it one or two times more. I actually remember the bit about the thorn and the honeysuckle. I personally think Emily Bronte was genius level, and I agree that she poured what she knew into WH. Her early death was tragic on a personal level and for the literary works she had left in her. I remember thinking last time I read it that it almost had a Biblical quality to it, sort of a banishment from Eden culminating at the end with a step into a redeemed, but chastened world. I think the 1940 movie with Laurence Olivier probably did more to trash the book than anything–it only told half the story, and pitched as a love story.

    1. I’m glad you love Wuthering Heights too, Jane. Emily is my favourite of the Brontes. It’s so sad to think about her early death and what else she might have written if she had lived. I agree with you about the Laurence Olivier film – I’ve never understood why it only told the first part of the story.

  3. All the pleasure for me is yet to come: as this is rated high amomgst the Bronte canon I intend working my way up to it from lesser slopes. But I didn’t find this appreciation post any kind of spoiler — much of it seemed familiar from what I’ve read around the novel. A fine overview.

    1. I’ve read all of the Bronte novels and found things to love and admire in each one, but Wuthering Heights has always been my favourite. I’m glad I didn’t spoil the story for you. 🙂

  4. That’s a good reason to join the Classics Club. When I did, I think I put as many old favorites on my list as I did books I hadn’t read before. I have almost finished my first list and have my second one ready.

  5. I love this book! You perfectly summed up my experiences with this book, too. I did go into it expecting a romance because that’s how I’d always heard it described (epic, sweeping romance, yada yada), but of course I quickly realized that this was much more about crazy people, high passions, and revenge. So exciting! I was very pleasantly surprised by this unexpected turn of events.

    I also used to love rereading but then had a long period of time where I didn’t reread. For me, I felt like there were so many books I wanted to read that I felt guilty “wasting” time on books I’ve already read. That’s silly though, since the whole point of why I read is because I enjoy the activity–so what should it matter if I’m spending time on a new book or a reread as long as I’m having fun? I started adding in rereading during shorter bursts of reading, like when I’m drying my hair or cooking dinner. It felt less guilty at first, and now it’s just fun.

    1. I’m glad you loved this book despite it not being what you’d expected. I completely agree that it’s more about passion and revenge rather than romance and those were things that appealed to me more when I first read it as a teenager.

      Having short bursts of rereading sounds like a good idea. I also have that feeling of guilt when I think of all the new books I could be reading instead – and yes, it’s silly as I used to get so much pleasure from my rereads!

  6. As I mentioned on another one of your posts, for some reason I have never read this book. But your review makes me more determined than ever to read it, this year! As far as rereading goes, for many years I avoided doing so because there are so many books I have yet to read. But in the last couple years I have reread some favorite books and found so many treasures as well as the inevitable influence of being older and having read more books, so that I find new meanings in those old favorites.

  7. Perhaps I am in the minority but I really disliked this book. However, I read it as an adult — I’m sure I would have felt differently if I’d read it as an angsty teenager.

    1. I love it but can definitely understand why not everyone does! I wonder if I would have felt differently if I’d read it for the first time as an adult rather than a teenager.

  8. I love this book! I first read it as a young teenager and re-read it a few years ago and I thought then that it was even better than I remembered it. Some parts have stuck in my mind over the years – such as the episode when Lockwood spent the night in Catherine Earnshaw’s bedroom and in his dream he heard a rattle on the window pane. He opened the window and his fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! It sent shivers down my spine then – and it still does.

  9. I was smitten with this book in my early teens, and I was wary of re-reading it again but when I did – quite recently – I loved it. I don’t need to like people I just need to believe in them when the writing is so vivid and the emotions so real.

    1. I’m glad your recent re-read was a success too, Jane. I don’t always need to like the characters to be able to enjoy a book either – as long as they are interesting and believable that’s usually good enough for me.

  10. I really like Wuthering Heights, although it’s years since I re-read it, but Jane Eyre is my favourite. Bronte fans always seem to be split between those two with no-one loving the books equally – according to the women guides at the Bronte Parsonage anyway.

    1. That’s probably true. I do love both, but I definitely prefer Wuthering Heights – and possibly Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as well.

  11. I wasn’t terribly taken with this one. I was probably in my mid-twenties at the time – too old maybe for the purely youthful reaction to it, and too young to look for anything deeper in it. It’s one I’m often tempted to have another go at, to see if my more mature self can see what younger me missed…

    1. Yes, I think the age you are when you read a book for the first time can make a huge difference to the way you react to it. I thought Wuthering Heights was amazing as a teenager, but I suspect I may have felt differently if I’d first come to it when I was older.

  12. I love Wuthering Heights – the perfect wild, passionate, gothic tale! Usually such unlikeable characters would put me off but not in this case at all, although I also have a soft spot for poor Hareton. I really must re-read this soon!

  13. I came to Wuthering Heights late and I was disappointed. Perhaps, as you suggest, Helen, I was expecting a passionate romance. There’s certainly passion: in the characters’ responses and in Charlotte’s writing. I suppose I didn’t expect it to be so grim and the characters to be so unlikeable. But I will read it again one day and I suspect that second time around, with my eyes properly opened, I’ll find a great deal more to admire even if I don’t much like the story. Great review, Helen.

    1. Although this is one of my favourite books I do understand why not everyone loves it as much as I do! It certainly is grim, with unlikeable characters, but neither of those things stop me from enjoying it. I hope you have a better experience second time around if you do decide to read it again!

    1. It’s a shame you’ve never been able to get into it! I love all three Brontes but their writing styles are all quite different, so I suppose liking one doesn’t necessarily mean you would like the others.

  14. I love Wuthering Heights too for the same reasons you mentioned – the darkness and the unpleasant characters. It is often one of my re-reads though I haven’t read it in a while. My copy is a well-loved Dean & Son classic that I’ve had since the 1960s.

    1. I’m glad you love it too, Yvonne, and for the same reasons as I do. Reading this has reminded me of how much I enjoy revisiting favourite classics, so I should be rereading some more soon!

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