An Ode to ‘Wuthering Heights’

I was rummaging through my bookcase on a chilly winter morning when my eyes fell upon a yellow, creased and tattered copy of Wuthering Heights. It’s been a companion for the past nine years and I plan to take it to the grave.

My induction to the works of the Bronte sisters was not Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, when in Class 8, my English teacher suggested I read it the literary masterpiece. I picked it up because I believed it to be a romance novel. When I finished, I was disappointed for it wasn’t the stuff hearts and flowers are made of. I swiftly tossed it to the back of my bookshelf and got back to Nicholas Sparks. The book lay still and resolutely bore the imprints of time until four years later when I picked it up again to distract myself from my impending board exams. I was now wise to not expect romance in every book.

Since that day, there’s been no going back. I know the book like the back of my hand. They say love finds you when you expect it the least and love came to me in the form of a book.

Here’s how the story goes: Mr. Earnshaw, the master of the Wuthering Heights estate, picks up a gypsy boy and raises him alongside his own children, Catherine and Hindley. He names the boy Heathcliff. Heathcliff and Catherine become inseparable until events in their lives tear them apart. They are like the moors they wandered in – wild and unkempt. They want to “grow up to be savages”.

When the two are scooped from the moors and forced to try and fit into society, made to marry and raise families, all hell breaks loose. Catherine married Edgar Linton and robs him of a chance to be with someone who actually loves him. Heathcliff then marries Edgar’s sister Isabella, only to torture her. This completes his transformation from an innocent boy to a monster.

Heathcliff and Catherine are more toxic than an ocean spill, but they do give us some of the most intense quotes about love.

“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!”

“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.”

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The book also makes a huge point about intergenerational abuse. Heathcliff’s actions are contextualised. He shows that violence reaps violence. He mirrors what he saw as a child – Hindley routinely thrashed and humiliated him. He in turn does the same to Hindley’s son Hareton and his own son Linton. Heathcliff doesn’t care much for forgiveness or redemption. He only wants revenge, which he seeks by tormenting the descendants of his dead tormentors. He doesn’t even spare Cathy, the daughter of his beloved Catherine.

Wuthering Heights is seen as a love story more than a story about abuse and trauma probably because Heathcliff and Catherine have no identity beyond each other. Catherine’s quote, “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same”, makes it evident that she thinks he’s a part of her and he deals with her death by digging up her grave.

The setting is grim and gothic right from the architecture to the lonesome and aloof moors with a solitary house in the middle, miles away from town. A nightmare about Catherine’s ghost tapping on the window feels very real. But then again, in Wuthering Heights, it’s hard to differentiate between nightmare and reality.

Amidst the violence, vengeance and everything that says doom in bold red letters, this book also shows that people can change for the better. Hareton too was neglected by his alcoholic father and degraded by Heathcliff. He almost became Heathcliff’s shadow till he met Cathy and realised he could be better. If Heathcliff’s revenge is like the fire that burns all, Hareton and Cathy’s love is like a bud that blossoms amongst thorns. It’s an act of rebellion. They symbolise what Heathcliff and Catherine could have been if only they chose different paths. Hareton and Cathy choose to be better people. This story lays the onus on our actions and not on the lines on our palms.

Emily Bronte wrote only one novel in her short life. I’m sure if she had churned out more, Wuthering Heights would have been eclipsed by something else. I can only imagine the kind of twisted, gut-wrenching and genius pieces she would have conjured if she’d lived to write more.

Sayani Rakshit is pursuing an MA in Mass Communication at Jamia Milia Islamia.

Featured image: Edited by LiveWire