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Wuthering Heights - Study Guide

Plot summary


The events of the novel are mediated through two narrators:Lockwood opens and concludes, and we rely on Nelly Dean for the rest. The novel spans a period of forty years or so, charting the histories of three generations of the Earnshaws and Lintons. The central characters are Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Their frustrated and passionate relationship affects all around them, being the force driving the story forward, and continuing to dominate the lives of others beyond the grave.

Lockwood introduces himself at the beginning as Mr. Heathcliff's new tenant, and we see his relationship with his landlord explored in the first three chapters. Lockwood is unsettled and disturbed during his stay, being at a loss as to how to deal with its inhabitants and experiencing a number of strange and visionary dreams. Attempting to leave, he gets lost in snow and is forced to rest until better. Here the narrative then passes to Nelly, who tells Lockwood of how Heathcliff came to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff enters the Earnshaw family as a foundling, Mr. Earnshaw taking pity on the boy while on a visit to Liverpool. He is given the name of a dead son and treated as such by the father. Cathy and Heathcliff grow up as brother and sister. Their bond swiftly deepens after Cathy's initial resentment, but Hindley Earnshaw, the son of Mr. Earnshaw and Cathy's real brother, never becomes reconciled to the intrusion. He sees Heathcliff's entrance into the family as a usurpation and leaves after being humiliated in a confrontation. The death of Mr. Earnshaw brings the newly married Hindley back to reclaim the Heights. Seeking to degrade Heathcliff now, his desire to weaken their tie is given opportunity when Catherine is forced to spend five weeks at Thrushcross Grange, the house of the Lintons, after being bitten by their guard dog. Hindley is able now to avenge himself upon Heathcliff, insisting that he works as a labourer on his land after refusing him education. The boy's shame is compounded when Catherine returns to the Heights transformed into a lady, her friendship with Edgar and Isabella Linton making him intensely jealous. Her decision to marry Edgar, despite professing to Nelly her deeper love for Heathcliff, causes him to disappear from the Heights for three years. At the same time, Hindley's wife Frances gives birth to a son, Hareton, her death soon after pushing Hindley into a decline of self-destruction. Cathy's marriage to Edgar is markedly more subdued in comparison to her relationship with Heathcliff. Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, moves with her to the Grange, able to chronicle the profound effect of Heathcliff's return later. He has become a man commanding respect and admiration, captivating not only Catherine once more, but also Isabella. Edgar remains unwavering in his hatred of him.

Heathcliff stays at Wuthering Heights, gambling with his former enemy, Hindley. Isabella has now fallen in love with Heathcliff despite being warned of his violent nature by both Cathy and Nelly, and we become aware that Heathcliff sees in her his chance to seek revenge upon Edgar for denying him Cathy. This comes to a head in a violent argument between the two men, making Cathy ill. While she recuperates from this illness, Heathcliff courts and marries Isabella. Edgar disowns her. Nothing is heard of the couple for two months after their elopement until a letter from Isabella to Nelly informs us that they are back at the Heights. Bitterly unhappy, she begs Nelly to visit. The marriage was a reGREttable sham.

The second volume opens with a fierce and moving union between Heathcliff and Cathy, the obvious signs of her imminent death fuelling the desperate expression of their love. She dies that evening, giving birth to a daughter:Catherine. Taking advantage of Heathcliff's weakened and distracted state of mind, Isabella runs away to the South of England where she gives birth a few months later to a son, Linton Heathcliff. At this time, Hindley dies, leaving his son Hareton alone with Heathcliff. Heathcliff exploits this chance to take revenge upon Hindley for the abuses of his childhood, treating the boy as Hindley did him. Isabella's death brings Linton to Thrushcross Grange, briefly meeting his cousin and uncle before being summoned by his father. The younger Catherine's life at the Grange is closely protected, Linton's proximity kept hidden from her. However, on her sixteenth birthday she accidentally meets Heathcliff and Hareton on the moors and returns with them to Wuthering Heights. There, she is amazed to see Linton. Heathcliff sees in Catherine the chance to gain possession of both houses, through the marriage of her and his son. Though sick and irritable, Catherine is fond of her cousin, and feels responsible for his happiness. This is unashamedly exploited by Heathcliff to serve his own ends. However, when Edgar finds out about Catherine's visit to the Heights he forbids her to go back. She transGREsses by writing to her cousin instead, eventually sneaking out to see him undetected once again. Heathcliff's plans to marry the two are still in place, but they are pressurised by the decline of his son. Unable to

Chapter Summaries


Chapter One

Lockwood informs us that he is about to visit his new landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. He is met with suspicion by the other characters and given a hostile reception not only by Heathcliff but also Heathcliff's servant, Joseph, and a female servant. However, this unwelcome reception does not deter our rather pompous narrator:he closes the chapter with an assertion that he will return the next day.

Chapter Two

Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights for a second time just as snow begins to fall. At first he cannot get in, and receives no help from Joseph. Hareton takes him round the back where he meets Cathy Heathcliff. Heathcliff explains that his wife and son are dead. Cathy is his daughter-in-law. Having been snowed in, Lockwood is forced to stay the night.

Chapter Three

Lockwood is shown to a forbidden room in which he finds the diary of Catherine. He experiences two disturbing dreams and meets the ghost of Catherine. His cries bring an agitated Heathcliff to the door. Lockwood returns to the Grange exhausted.

Chapter Four

Resting in bed, Lockwood asks his housekeeper Nelly Dean to recount the history of the inhabitants of the Heights. She begins with Heathcliff's arrival as a boy, and the impact this had upon the Earnshaw family.

Chapter Five

Nelly charts the development of these relationships as the health of Mr. Earnshaw declines. Hindley, his son, leaves for college. The intense bond between Heathcliff and Cathy is referred to with disapproval by Nelly, and evinced when they comfort each other on finding their father dead.

Chapter Six

A now married Hindley returns to the Heights as master, taking advantage of his power to seek revenge on Heathcliff. Catherine and Haethcliff grow ever more closer and rebellious, but are separated when Catherine is hurt in a scrape on the moors. She stays at the adjacent Thrushcross Grange until recovered.

Chapter Seven

Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights after five weeks. While she has been away, Hindley has further degraded Heathcliff, and coupled with Catherine's transformation into a lady, the boy feels depressed and isolated. H e proclaims his intention to get back at Hindley for his treatment by him. The chapter closes with a short conversation between Nelly and Lockwood which reminds us this story is not being told to us first-hand.

Chapter Eight

Hindley's son Hareton is born, but the death of Frances, his wife, propels him towards violence and self- destruction. Edgar Linton's relationship with Cathy is introduced. Heathcliff is resentful and the tension escalates between the two young men.

Chapter Nine



In the popular imagination, the relationship of Heathcliff and Cathy is seen as one of the GREatest love stories in English literature. It is important to consider why. They never consummate their love, and so could the intensity of their feeling owe as much to frustration as deep feeling?If so, does this matter and is it proof of a deeper bond than those of marriage and sex?It is often overlooked that Heathcliff and Cathy are brought up as siblings. Thus their relationship contravenes nearly all the social and moral boundaries imposed by familial roles. In The English Novel, Form and Function(1953), Dorothy Van Ghent drew attention to the significance of doors and windows throughout the novel, suggesting that they are representative of these boundaries. The symbolism is used to particular effect when Cathy is confined to her room in Volume 1, Chapter 12(the importance of this motif is explored in GREater detail under the theme of'Nature').

Romantic allusions attached to the idea of'union'with another are pushed to the extreme. Heathcliff and Cathy attempt to conquer the separation enforced by death, but in doing so transGREss many taboos. Any sentimentalism invoked by Heathcliff's plans to be buried with Cathy is eroded by his morbid attempts to dig up her corpse for one last embrace. Similarly, Cathy's rejection of heaven and the implications of her ghost, as well as the legend of the lovers'ghosts wandering the moors, stress how the conventional barriers set up between dreams and reality, life and death, are always under threat.

The violence that colours relationships in the novel also characterizes Heathcliff and Cathy's expression of love. Bronte depicts the positive and negative attributes of violent natures, and is not afraid to depict raw emotion. However, paradoxically, the cruelty Heathcliff shows towards others does not diminish our belief in his capacity for love, nor the profundity of their relationship. In fact, it makes him more realistically human and therefore more attractive and sympathetic than the conventional romantic hero(see the charismatic Darcy in Pride and Prejudice).

However, considering the fact that Heathcliff loses all momentum for revenge towards the end of the book(and as he comes nearer to union with Cathy in death), it could be argued that Bronte is showing us that it is necessary for violence– whether channelled through hate or love– to be tempered if you are to achieve lasting happiness in the world. Forgiveness is first brought into the novel through Lockwood's dream at the beginning. The inability of characters to forgive others is shown to be the cause of deep unhappiness. Thus, Heathcliff's inability to forgive Cathy for marrying Edgar indirectly leads to her death;his failure to forgive Hindley for abusing him ricochets misery through subsequent generations. The marriage of Hareton and Catherine, then, can be seen as the resolution of the earlier tempestuous love of Heathcliff and Cathy, the younger lovers being tempered refined versions of the first.


Conventional religious faith is represented by Joseph, who imposes constraint on the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, particularly Heathcliff and Cathy. The fact that he is unsympathetic and cruel has been taken as indication of Bronte's views concerning Christian teachings. Heathcliff's rebellion is marked by allusions to the devil, and the scene depicting him and Cathy looking in on Thrushcross Grange has been interpreted as the devil looking in on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

In line with Bronte's implied criticism of organized religion is the constancy of Heathcliff's love for Cathy. His marriage to Isabella and his efforts towards revenge do not lessen its impact;rather, they emphasize his fallibility and humanity, and this in turn serves only to elevate his love and faithfulness to Cathy's memory. Bronte depicts superior, transcendent emotions in flawed characters. Arguably she is presenting a freer alternative faith more focused on the individual. This idea is particularly intriguing in light of the prominence of nature in the novel.


Sample Questions

1)Discuss the role of Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights.

In a novel the effect of a narrator gives the reader an intimate but subjective account of events. It removes the omniscience of the author and the possibility of objectivity. We can take nothing for granted and must be wary of forming judgements on the basis of what we are told and how we are told it.

Why should Bronte choose Nelly Dean as the narrator of Wuthering Heights?As a respected, educated servant, she is socially mobile. This enables her access to events and conversations. She is both a part of and removed from the action.

However, more importantly, she provides a contrast to the extreme emotions exhibited by Heathcliff and Cathy, making them believable. Remark upon the episode depicting Heathcliff's grief after Cathy's death.“Her life closed in a gentle dream - may she wake as kindly in the other world”is Nelly's word on the death while Heathcliff responds in a“sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion”,“May she wake in torment…Catherine Earnshaw…do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you”. The force of Heathcliff's emotion affects the reader more because of Nelly's sober, startled reaction that is juxtaposed with it. Similar is the role of Nelly when Cathy's declares her love for Edgar and Heathcliff. Catherine speaks in metaphors and with the false certainty originating in passion:“Nelly, I am Heathcliff…so don't speak of our separation again– it is impracticable;and…”. Nelly responds,“If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss…you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying”and so on, in sober guidance. Close attention to the text shows how the pitch of Heathcliff and Cathy's language in relation to Nelly's is more taut and intense. Without her scepticism and baffled reactions, the reader would find it difficult to maintain empathy for and belief in these characters.

By making an'ordinary'woman relate extraordinary scenes, Bronte is also able to comment on conventional expectations of behaviour. Bronte gives herself license to make observations about social behaviour and their often rotten core with an ingenious vagueness and ambiguity. See also Mary Shelley's Frankenstein(1818)for a similar technique of multiple narrative layers used partly to protect the unconventional views of a woman writing novels when women could not openly challenge society and male dominance in writing.

2)What is the significance of location for Wuthering Heights?

What is the effect of the title of the novel?It elevates the importance of location and intimates that this significantly affects the characters and events. Also gives GREater significance to Wuthering Heights and its inhabitants.

Consider the depiction of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The former is representative of nature, the latter of culture and sophistication. Show how this is achieved in the imagery with the use of quotation.

Then detail the implications of location for the characters of the novel:

a)The nature that surrounds each place is echoed in the inhabitants'natures.

b)Location is also a dynamic force, serving to affect and turn characters too:Isabella becomes bolder and less refined when at the Heights;Heathcliff becomes a'gentleman'when away from the raw uncivilized Heights.

Just as the erection of any boundary is undermined, so Bronte stresses the interplay between location and character, and how places serve to affect and feed emotions and behaviour. But this interaction is always under stress, and is epitomized in the title, with the openness and vagueness of the word Wuthering opposing the remoteness implied by Heights.

3)Wuthering Heights has been described as irreligious. Do you aGREe?

Joseph is the voice of conventional, organized religion, but he is portrayed as a pious and cruel man. Therefore this may suggests that Bronte is critical of Christian teaching or at least the men who represent it.



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