Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights was the only novel Emily Brontë published, and she died the year after it came out. It is the story of Heathcliff, a dark outsider who falls in love with the feisty Catherine and rages and revenges against every obstacle that prevents him from being with her.
Wuthering Heights is violent even by today's standards and is not only full of references to demons, imps of Satan, and ghouls, but also depicts some pretty disturbing scenes of domestic violence. The supernatural plays a large part: ghosts appear, and Heathcliff, characterized more than once as a vampire, refers to drinking blood, haunting, and all manner of paranormal acts. All of this drama means that the book has recently become very popular again with interest in the Twilight saga, whose characters refer to the novel (and are, in some ways, quite similar the characters found in Brontë's novel).
Though Wuthering Heights is considered a classic, the book wasn't always so popular. In fact, when it first came out there was all sorts of confusion about the author, because Brontë published the book under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Readers thought the book was by the same author who wrote Jane Eyre – which was more immediately embraced by the public because the characters are a lot more likable. Actually Emily's sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell.
To set the record straight, Charlotte wrote the preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights and also took the opportunity to address some of the bad press the book had received. Critics basically thought the book was a downer, and some even characterized it as immoral (oh my!). One reviewer wrote that, "Wuthering Heights casts a gloom over the mind not easily to be dispelled." (Read this review and other early reviews of Brontë's novel here.) In other words, with all of its spirits and gripping obsessions, Wuthering Heights ends up possessing the reader, too. So be careful!
Numerous movie adaptations have been made of the book. The one in 1939 starring Lawrence Olivier was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It has also inspired several creative adaptations such as operas, musicals, theatrical adaptations, and even a song by Death Cab for Cutie ("Cath"). Artists love of all the novel's Gothic elements, and the scholarly interpretations are endless. Wuthering Heights appeared after England's craze for Gothic novels had ended, and the book changes all of the rules, taking your standard haunted house performance and turning it into a sinister psychological thriller.
Why Should I Care?
Concerned that you won't like Wuthering Heights? Think you'll get bored reading a book that's over 150 years old? Before you give up on Emily Brontë's one and only novel, ask yourself a couple questions:
- Do you like creepy stories about haunted houses?
- How about stories with elaborate revenge schemes?
- Are you a fan of Edward Cullen, from Twilight? (Because before there was Edward, there was Heathcliff.)
- Do you believe in soul mates?
- Are you sick of reading stories where the girl ends up with a Prince Charming or a Romeo?