Study Guide

Wuthering Heights

By Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Introduction

Wuthering Heights Video

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Want more deets? We've also got a complete Online Course about Wuthering Heights, with three weeks worth of readings and activities to make sure you know your stuff.

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You know the sayings: love conquers all. All you need is love. Love is many splendored thing.

How about this one: love is incestuous, psychologically damaging, manipulative, violent, digs up your corpse when you die, and wants to be haunted by your ghost forever and ever?

It may not be the sentiment on most Valentines Day cards, but it sure is the pervasive opinion on l'amour in Wuthering Heights. Does that sound like kind of a horrific idea of love to you? We have bad news for you—you're almost totally alone in thinking that. Wuthering Heights, and its warped idea of true love, is often voted the #1 Greatest Love Story.

Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, revolves around the passionate and destructive love between its two central characters, Emily Brontë's headstrong and beautiful Catherine Earnshaw and her tall, dark, handsome, and brooding hero/devil, Heathcliff.

Forget the romantic candlelit dinners, the wine, and the roses. Catherine and Heathcliff's love exists on an entirely different plane: one that involves ghosts, corpses, the communion (or possession) of souls, and revenge. And, speaking of revenge, Heathcliff—who harbors more than one grudge against his adoptive family, the love of his life, and his neighbors—manages to make every revenge drama look like kids' play.

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). Turns out, 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.

Um. We don't usually agree with critics from the 1850's but they were half right. This book is a downer. Heathcliff is amoral.

But that doesn't keep the love story in Wuthering Heights from being one of the most passionate love stories ever told—or one of the most often-adapted. Sure, its idea of love is psychotic. Sure, it's uber-unhealthy. Sure, it makes "Blank Space" look like a really level-headed approach to eros.

But that's the point. Sometimes "madly in love" means just that: that love has rendered you literally mad. Sometimes it ain't healthy. It's not a good idea. But all-consuming, stay-up-all-night, hurts-worse-than-a-root-canal love is real—and Emily Brontë's novel tells it like it is.

Welcome to Wuthering Heights, where love will tear you apart, follow you every step you take, and come in like a wrecking ball.

What is Wuthering Heights About and Why Should I Care?

Maybe you've seen those flowcharts that lead to only one possible answer. They'll ask a question—for example Is everything okay?—and you'll answer "Yes" or "No" and be led to a single option: Eat more ice cream! or Eat more bacon! or Eat more bacon ice cream!

Well, Shmoopers, we have a yes/ no question for you: do you like romantic stories?

...

Read Wuthering Heights.

Right about now you might be feeling peeved. "Hey," you might be saying, "I know Wuthering Heights is a romantic book. It's often called the most romantic book of all time. And I don't like sappy-pants, swoony love stories.

Like we said—read Wuthering Heights.

This is a love story like Moby Dick is a story about whaling. Yes, love in Wuthering Heights is pervasive. Yes, it's what the story is "about." But this book comes with a huge disclaimer that shouts: "Don't try this at home, kids!"

Because—spoiler alert—the love story in Wuthering Heights doesn't pan out. This novel is not about Catherine + Heathcliff = everlasting love. For one thing, they're siblings. For another, Catherine marries someone else for money and status. Heathcliff goes insane. He seduces another woman and then abuses her. He digs up the corpse of his lady love. He torments children. He dies cold and alone... but not before he makes everyone within a twenty-five mile radius of him insanely unhappy.

This novel is romantic in the same way that Lolita is romantic or Anna Karenina is romantic. Sure, there's love in all these books. But that love is also psychopathic, life-ruining, selfish, and totally twisted.

In fact, this novel is all about things being both very black and very white. Characters are both very good and very bad. Love is both true and a total lie. Class boundaries are both rigid and malleable. The moors are both beautiful and terrifying. Death is both final and... not so final.

So, with that in mind, here's another quiz: do you believe in ghosts?

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Read Wuthering Heights.

  

Wuthering Heights Resources

Websites

VictorianWeb
Emily Brontë's page on the Victorian Web. This site provides some great information on the author, as well as the cultural and historical context of her novel.

The UK's Go-To Website for the Novel
An all things Wuthering Heights site, with lots of links and pictures and a helpful family tree.

Haworth Village
Brontë country—where the novel is set.

Movie or TV Productions

Wuthering Heights, 1939
Hollywood's first version, starring Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, and David Niven. This pre-World War II adaptation won the 1940 Oscar for best cinematography, also receiving nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Screenplay.

Abismos de pasión, 1954
A very campy version directed by Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, in which a stormy Alejandro returns to the hacienda of his foster sister, Catalina. This version, set in the dusty hills of Mexico, is a supreme example of a director taking artistic license.

Wuthering Heights, 1970
Sporting the tagline "The power, the passion, the terror of Emily Brontë's immortal story of young love," this version stars Timothy Dalton, one of the cheesier actors to play James Bond, and Anna Calder-Marshall.

Hurlevent, 1985
France's version of the very English love story.

Wuthering Heights, 1992
With big British and French star power, this interpretation advertised itself as "A passion. An obsession. A love that destroyed everyone it touched." It stars Juliette Binoche as Catherine and Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff.

Arashi ga oka, 2005
Wuthering Heights in the context of medieval Japanese folklore.

Wuthering Heights, 2011
This one stars James Howson as Heathcliff, which is the first time a black actor has portrayed the anti-hero. 

Documents

"Vampire Endorsement Turns Brontë Into a Bestseller"
This article from The Guardian discusses how Emily Brontë’s classic novel recently got a new Twilight-inspired face-lift. Not only that, but Twilight readers have sent Wuthering Heights to the top of the “literary classics” bestseller charts.

E-Book
Google Books provides the full novel for free online.

Romantic Topics: The Byronic Hero
A Norton Anthology of English Literature essay—from the series' online topics—that compares the Satanic and Byronic heroes in Gothic and Romantic literature, among others. A great article to read if you're looking for info on how Heathcliff fits the mold of a Byronic hero.

Video

Kate Bush performs "Wuthering Heights"
The songstress and queen of mawkish tunes has her own take on Brontë's classic tale.

The Death of Emily Brontë
A bit overly sentimental, this is a nonetheless fascinating documentary excerpt that looks at the final years of the literary icon, from the publication of Wuthering Heights to her death at Haworth Parsonage.

Death Cab for Cutie, "Cath"
Not sure what the song has to do with Wuthering Heights, but hey—inspiration is a strange creature.

Audio

Mark Ryan
In fall 2008, Mark Ryan launched a dramatic musical adaptation of the novel.

Wuthering Heights Audiobook
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio.

Images

Emily Brontë
A portrait of the author.

Wondering What the Moors Look Like?
Here's a great picture.

August Holland
A great maritime artist from Illinois created an illustration of Wuthering Heights.