If you’re a student of English Literature or a big fan of Emily Bronte, I am sure that a copy of Wuthering Heights must be lying there somewhere in your bookshelf which you must have read 190 times by now. Written between October 1845 and June 1846, it came out in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell” which Bronte adopted to hide her identity as an author given the position of the women writers in those days.
It was the only novel written by Emily and is now widely looked upon as a classic of English Literature, despite the controversial depiction of the mental and physical cruelty and its challenging of various Victorian ideals regarding morality, hypocrisy, social class, gender differences, etc. Even a layman knows that it’s out and out a Gothic love story of Heathcliff and Cathy. But it isn’t just confined to this romantic love affair. It surely has much more to offer due to its unusually interesting and extraordinary plot. Besides this, it also gives us a few details of Bronte herself as an author- her life, childhood, thoughts, etc.
Here are a few things that you may love to know about Wuthering Heights:
1. Wuthering Heights was self-published
Given the condition of female writers in the Victorian Era, and after being rejected by the publishers, both Emily and her sister Anne Bronte paid a sum of about 50 pounds to publish Wuthering Heights along with Agnes Gray (Anne Bronte). However, their sister Charlotte managed to publish Jane Eyre in the same year under a traditional publisher.
2. Heathcliff is not a romantic hero, nor is the novel
As already stated, the book depicts the love between Heathcliff and Cathy. But this love is not the usual, romantic episode that we encounter in romantic novels. In fact, it would be a grave mistake to see Wuthering Heights as a romantic novel, since it has strong elements of Gothicism within it. For instance, the sheer setting of the Moors; Heathcliff - a dark hero who is seen to be starkly cruel in his treatment of Isabella and Hareton and an obsessive abuser; elements of the supernatural (Cathy’s ghost outside the glass window, references to dark art, black magic and witchcraft), etc. All these elements label the novel something more than just a love story.
3. Significant Moorland Setting
The primary setting of the novel is on the Moors where the two important abodes - Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange have been located. One has to go all the way over the moors to reach Thrushcross Grange from Wuthering Heights. There is obviously a personal element involved in Bronte’s setting. In a way it reminds one of her own childhood experiences of growing up on Moors while she was in Yorkshire. Being a nature lover, Bronte admired the wild landscape which completely complements the wild, beastly and untamed spirit of Catherine in the novel.
4. It was not an immediate bestseller
Bronte died thinking that her only novel was a complete failure. One cannot blame her for this due to the fact that the book didn’t become a bestseller as soon it came out. It received so many mixed reviews from various critics. It had an aura of confusion surrounding it which led one of the critics to pen: “Wuthering Heights is a strange sort of book,—baffling all regular criticism; yet, it is impossible to begin and not finish it; and quite as impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it.”
Some admired it for its uniqueness while some hated it outwardly. But today we see that the confusion that once stemmed from reading it has contributed as one of the factors for its immense popularity.
5. Too many adaptations
Sometimes it’s quite interesting to see your favourite literary work being adapted into a film or TV series, giving you the opportunity to see how it plays out onscreen. A work as thrilling, gripping and extraordinary as Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ has found its way through many movie adaptations: MTV made quite a modern adaptation of WH in 2003. It has also been found adapted by various other cultures like the 1966 Bollywood film ‘Dil Diya Dard Liya’ and the 1988 Japanese movie, ‘Arashi Ga Oka.’
Besides movie adaptations, it has also inspired various other artists to create something based from it. For instance, Sylvia Plath wrote the poem ‘Wuthering Heights’ upon visiting Top Withens. The book has also inspired novels like ‘Windward Heights’, paintings, skits and role playing games.
Wuthering Heights as a work surely requires a great deal of understanding. That is why you see most of the critics and readers lashing out at it due to the certain controversial elements and incidents in it. However, from a viewpoint of art and artistic skills, one cannot deny the great amount of expertise that went into penning this only book by Bronte that won her an acclamation which remains strong so many years after her death.
By Fatema Chakkiwala