Wuthering Heights revisited

View from Top Withens - by Graham Hogg

View from Top Withins by Graham Hogg

Wild, windswept solitude; a place where the spirit runs free. That, for me, was the original attraction of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I was a young teenager when I first read the book and was gripped from the start. My English teacher had asked that we read just a few chapters at a time so that we could discuss it as we went along. However, I finished the book within a couple of days, apparently no more capable of restraint than some of the characters I was reading about.

Earlier this year, when I was too ill to do much else, I decided to read it again. I could remember almost nothing of it: A vague impression of wild and windy moorland and a ghostly Catherine crying through the window at night was all that I could recall, so I wanted to remind myself of the story and find out whether it still held the same magic as it did nearly forty years ago.

It began well. Emily was a great storyteller, of that there is no doubt. However, the more I read of the story, the more I began to lose sympathy with its characters, continuing to read only out of a somewhat morbid fascination as to how it would all turn out. Whilst I had been dimly aware that there was a darker side to the lives of Catherine and Heathcliff, I was completely unprepared for the depth of ugliness into which the tale descends. For me, it began to read like a nineteenth century version of Twilight in which Edward is rejected by Bella and spends the following years taking long, slow and painful revenge on everyone with whom she is connected.

Perhaps because of this, I found the end a little disappointing at first. Having painted such a remarkable portrait of her anti-hero, it felt almost as if Emily was disposing of him simply in order to set the young people free and hence bring the story to a satisfying close. That such an apparently strong and focused individual should end as he did, didn’t feel entirely believable. As Nellie puts it in the penultimate chapter:

He was neither in danger of losing his senses, nor dying, according to my judgement: he was quite strong and healthy; and, as to his reason, from childhood he had a delight in dwelling on dark things, and entertaining odd fancies. He might have had a monomania on the subject of his departed idol; but on every other point his wits were as sound as mine.

On further reflection, however, it occurred to me that this is exactly how depressive illness can look from the outside. Those looking in often have no idea what is going on in the mind of the person who is ill until the depression overwhelms them.

The book was written at a time when mental illness and suicide were very poorly understood. It wasn’t until 1823, for example, when Emily was five, that those who had taken their own life could be buried in consecrated ground. Even then, it was far from generally accepted that they would ‘rest in peace’ and they were frequently buried, without ceremony, in an out-of-the-way corner of the churchyard where there was little risk of anyone encountering their unquiet souls.

It’s against this kind of background that Emily is using her characters to explore the tensions between true love and the restraints of early Victorian society; between suicidal ideation and popular belief, taboo and superstition. Catherine, for example, does not marry below her station and Heathcliff – an orphan – is shunned. Similarly, Catherine is buried, ‘to the surprise of the villagers’, in a neglected corner of the churchyard. Of Hindley, it is said that, by rights, his body ‘should be buried at a crossroads without ceremony of any kind’ and of Heathcliff that his burial was ‘without ceremony’.

In the light of this, the words of Lockwood in the closing paragraph of the book are worthy of note:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

Ultimately, perhaps, Emily uses Heathcliff’s demise not so much to bring about the redemption of the young people as to provide for the possibility of his own redemption and that of Catherine, Hindley and (by extension) all those who are tempted by suicide? If so, it’s a more powerful book than I ever realised.

‘The soft wind breathing through the grass.’

As I have said, it was the wild, moorland beauty that originally captured my imagination in Wuthering Heights. Some years later, I was to end up living for a short time in the village where Emily Brontë wrote the book. This was not by design. I had no idea that Haworth was the home of the Brontë family before moving there. Nor did I know anything about the area. Yet of all the places I have lived, it remains my favourite. My love for the moors has never died.

Ruins of Forks House - Haworth Moor - by Graham Hogg

Ruins of Forks House by Graham Hogg

A week ago, my youngest daughter graduated from York University. This is a good few hours away from Somerset by car and the unforgiving nature of the ME/CFS meant that there was no way I was going to make it to the graduation without some careful planning. So we elected to spend a week in the Yorkshire Dales – Nidderdale to be precise – and to break the journey both there and back with an overnight stay half way. This worked well. So, after more years than I care to count, we found ourselves back in the Yorkshire Dales. (Some may have noticed my absence from the blogs).

Nidderdale was beautiful, though not as wild and bleak as Haworth Moor:


Not quite Wuthering Heights revisited, then 😉 However, on the way home, I just couldn’t resist a visit to the village we once called home:




12 thoughts on “Wuthering Heights revisited

  1. beetleypete

    Like you, I was introduced to the book as a teenager. In my case, when it was a GCE ‘O’ Level requirement, around 1966/7
    I didn’t expect to like it, but I was immediately drawn in, and read it over a weekend. I can still recall, 50 years later, thinking about the life portrayed in the book, and how alien it seemed to a young Londoner who could quite happily picture the stories of Charles Dickens, set around many of the places I knew well. The bleakness, the moorland, the almost insane passion, all were new to me then. I have never read it again. I have never felt the need to.
    Nice post, and well-referenced with your return north.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ros Post author

      Thanks, Pete. I appreciate the support. Interesting that you didn’t immediately relate to the wild moors, but that you did to Dickens’ London. I think my experience of the Preseli Hills – not far from where my grandparents lived – gave me an insight into Brontë’s moors. There’s nothing like the real thing, though 😉 Oddly enough, pictures we have of our last visit there, 25 years ago, feature a dog called Ollie!


      1. beetleypete

        I had never been to Yorkshire when I read the book, but many of the locations in Dickens were places I walked around in London. I had been to Dartmoor though, and tried to picture that as I read it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ros Post author

        As I say, interesting. With Dickens, the pictures in my mind were based solely on a combination of his descriptions and imagination. My experiences of London at that age had been too suburban.


  2. depressionistheenemy

    As an English Literature graduate this post immediately grabbed my attention. While I only read parts of Wuthering Heights, I read all of Jane Eyre- it has since become one of my favourite novels. Jane’s internal sense of passion and madness and Bertha representing externally really gripped me throughout the story.

    I actually recently saw a play based on the Bronte family too. It was extremely good and told the story of their lives and their brother very well.

    Thank you for writing this! It’s not often on here that you see a post examining literature from centuries ago 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ros Post author

      Thank you for your support 🙂 It’s almost as long since I read Jane Eyre and, again, I have very little memory of it. Thanks for mentioning it. Perhaps I will add it to my list…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bluebird4UDaily

    Bravo! my dear… what a most delightful post and the last picture was simply put….truly lovely….As I read this post I too remembered back to my school days when this book was on the reading list, and I too have kept a special part in my heart for its characters… Same as you, I must re-read this novel and see if the meanings as well change for me.. Thank you for these pictures, and bringing all the memories back ..

    I do also hope you are all better from your illness, and I did notice a void where you use to be here on Word Press… I just thought you must be on holiday… Stay well my good lady… Take care, Laura 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ros Post author

      Hi Laura 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post. If you do read the book again, you must let me know what you think.

      Unfortunately, ‘all better’ is not on the ME/CFS agenda. However, I am feeling a lot better than I was earlier in the year. I had a long, hard winter and it’s been a very slow journey back up again since. Even in the weeks before I went away, I was needing to be very careful. But the holiday went really well. The travelling was pretty exhausting, but I still coped better with that and with the company of all my girls than I have in nearly a year. So I’m happy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bluebird4UDaily

        Oh my heavens, Ros I had no idea.. I even had to look up ME/CFS… this ailment must be agony for you. Winter does tend to take a lot out of a person, me included.. After a day of heavy snow storms I usually need days to re coup but I have nothing as near as bad as what you are living with.. I’m so happy to hear that your holiday went well and I’m sure you will need time to re adjust and rest up.. Take care dear friend.. I’ll keep good thoughts for you and send them your way.. I believe they can travel there to meet you.. So, when out of no where you begin to smile just know it’s me sending you well wishes and hopefully you’ll feel just a little bit better. hugs my dear…

        Take care, Laura

        Liked by 1 person

  4. balaam

    It made me wonder how a young woman being brought up in a Vicarage could come up with such a dark tale. There are relationships and passion, but what romance there is twisted beyond recognition, The antithesis of Austen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ros Post author

      It does seem strange on the face of it, but when you start to dig a bit deeper, it starts to make sense. Her brother was an alcoholic – and quite likely suicidal. He also had an affair with a married woman. Two of her older sisters died of TB as children and her mother died of cancer. And that’s before we start on the friends and acquaintances of the family. Whilst she was something of a recluse (as authors often are), I can imagine the family knew a fair bit about the goings on in the neighbourhood, with her father being a clergyman. All sorts tend to turn up on the doorsteps of parsonages.



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