“I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.”― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Life can be and often is long, messy, and emotionally and physically exhausting especially during a pandemic and great social injustice. Remember to take even just five minutes to yourself each day. Do something that brings you a bit of joy. For me, this comes in the form of reading, so after perusing this article you may choose to read Wuthering Heights. If Brontë literature isn’t your thing today then maybe take a look at some resources I have linked at the end! Sending all my love.
We know it as the book Sandra Bullock reads during Christmas time in “The Proposal”, as the inspiration for Stephanie Meyer’s love triangle between Edward, Bella, and Jacob, or as an episode in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” when Sabrina has an English project.
Wuthering Heights is not a novel I blew through. Since I was in early high school, I have had an obsession with reading the book (probably because of the above references). I have tried to read it THREE times! It was not until last week that I finally finished the entire book (almost eight years after I bought my copy)! I’ve read Jane Eyre at least four times now and visited the Brontës’ home, yet I still could not get through Wuthering Heights. So, if you’re someone like me where you can’t seem to get it the first, second, or third time, try for a fourth, you may be surprised :).
Apparently for me, the fourth time is the charm. As Dori says from “Finding Nemo”, “Just keep swimming!” or maybe in my case, just keep reading!
Wuthering Heights was self-published in 1847 by Emily Brontë, under the male pseudonym Ellis Bell. This publication happened after pitching Wuthering Heights to numerous publishers under her legal female name–Emily Brontë–and being rejected each time. Women’s rights were only just largely emerging in England during the mid-nineteenth century; therefore, Brontë’s feminist leaning novel did not take off right away. Sadly, she died from tuberculosis, contracted at her brother’s funeral, only a year after publication. Emily Brontë died believing her novel was a failure :(.
The modern success of the Victorian age novel shows that Brontë’s memory lives on through her indelible characters.
ME, SOBBING: Please, Emily, you can’t give all your 100 characters the same 4 names EMILY BRONTE: *points* That’s Earnshaw Linton. *points* That’s Cathy Heathcliff. *points* Heathcliff Linton. *points* Cathy Cathy. *points* Earnshaw Cathy Jr. *pause* And they’re all GHOSTS.
That’s basically all you need to know about the book. Just kidding 🙂 .
A novel filled with abuse, alcoholism, drama, family bond, love, rage, and more, Wuthering Heights is not an “easy read”. Even if you have not read the novel yet, you probably still know about the infamous love affair between Catherine and Heathcliff. Their love is one that transcends many other fictional tales. The novel follows the life of Heathcliff, from the time he is a child brought to live with Catherine’s family, the Earnshaw’s, to his death. Throughout Heathcliff and Catherine’s childhoods we, the readers, watch as the two fall in love.
Heathcliff has troublesome early years and few allies. After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Catherine’s brother releases years of pent up jealous rage over Heathcliff making his life quite horrible. We see Heathcliff fall even deeper as his true love marries another over him and justifies it in a way that degrades Heathcliff even further :(.
A majority of the book is told by Nelly (the family’s housekeeper) who recounts the tales of her “master’s” lives, to Mr. Lockwood a young man who in the “present” rents out the Grange house from Heathcliff.
From all the names being variations of one another to the intense plot line, I had a hard time getting through the novel. However, now that I have officially finished Wuthering Heights (yay!) I see the beauty and the power in the text and look forward to rereading it with fresh eyes. Maybe, I will even take the advice of Sandra Bullock and read it by a fire during Christmas time.
Why is it a cool feminist text?
We as readers in 2020 need to consider that Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights in the middle of the 1800’s. Feminism was not a popular concept, yes today it’s still pretty rough around the edges, but at least it’s a familiar word to most people. Similar to Louisa May Alcott’s, Little Women, Brontë had to strike a balance between the “normal” of her time and her feminist beliefs. She would not want to be overtly feminist because her book would not sell, let alone, be published. The publishers genuinely did not believe a woman had the knowledge to write Wuthering Heights, which is why Brontë was forced to publish under a male name. Keeping that in mind, we can’t expect “perfect feminist writing”.
Emily Brontë’s female characters are not victims. The average female character created during the Victorian era was helpless and always fell as a victim from love. The Brontë sisters worked as a unit in the upheaval of this stereotypical character.
Catherine, one of the characters in the love triangle, is a free spirited woman who loves passionately, and feels deeply. Her wild nature carries her to speak her mind and fail to hold back when lashing out. One of the unique qualities about Catherine is her anger. Women get angry, but Victorian literature women do not. Female characters in the 19th century were largely flat with emotion; they exhibited grief, longing, and overall composure. If they did not hold these Victorian characteristics, then they grew into them by the end of the novel. Catherine is an exception, her passion remains throughout her life. Her sickness made her weak; however, it was her passion that drove her to her sickness.
SPOILER IN NEXT PARAGRAPH:
On top of having a bold personality, Catherine made a decision that many Victorian literature women would not, she chose wealth over love. She chose to marry Edgar, because she believed his wealth would give her the opportunity to help Heathcliff rise up. Catherine sacrificed her relationship with her true love in order to help him. In reality her decision didn’t help Heathcliff, but I guess it was the thought that counts?
“She was a wild, wicked slip of a girl. She burned too bright for this world.”Emily Brontë
Isabella, Catherine’s sister in law enters an abusive relationship when she marries Heathcliff. She is shut out from the rest of the world and is abused mentally and physically. However, she is a survivor. In a letter to Nelly, Isabella recounts her first night at the heights: Hindley shows her the gun he plans to use to kill Heathcliff; she takes it from him and remarks at how powerful she feels.
“A hideous notion struck me: how powerful I should be possessing such an instrument!”Emily Brontë
Isabella relationship with Heathcliff was very abusive. She wanted violence and passion but all she found was violence. Isabella, while pregnant, did a very brave thing and left her abusive husband; to live in London and raise her son Linton. Anytime any person leaves an abusive relationship, they are being brave.
Nelly, the woman who cared for all the children in this novel, is a beautiful character. She is resilient, protective, and honorable. Her character is similar to Marmee from Little Women. Her caring yet rigid manner guided the young women she raised.
I believe the initiative, bravery, and fiery qualities about Brontë’s female characters are why Wuthering Heights continues to be a memorable and staple novel in the feminist sphere.
Overall, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a complicated novel and I have only read it once, so I have only scratched the surface. I am glad I took the time to finally push myself to read all the way to the end because if I had not, I would have never passed chapter 6. I would not know the depth of Catherine’s love for Heathcliff, the warmth behind Nelly’s stern heart, the power of Isabella’s will for a full life, or the sweet fuzzy feelings of Cathy’s happy ending.
My “analysis” is very surface quality. I simply want to point out to everyone why Emily Brontë’s work is still meaningful and weighty in our current world.
If you are a person who breezed through it and loved it with your whole heart the first time, I applaud you. But, if you’re like me, keep trying.
I hope that when you turn to that blank back cover and take a deep breath as book lovers do at the end of a good novel, you’ll see what all the uproar has been about for the last 170 years or so 🙂
Stay safe, stay healthy, and look out for one another.
Love to all.
P.s. Here are the resources I mentioned above:
Try and do one small thing for yourself today <3.