Literature / Wuthering Heights

"How can I live without my heart? How can I live without my soul?"

Wuthering Heights (1847) was the only novel written by Emily Brontė (of 'the Brontë sisters'), and an archetypal example of a Gothic Romance, and deals primarily with the cycle of abuse across generations.

It is 1801. The foppish gentleman Mr. Lockwood has moved to Thrushcross Grange, a manor house in the windswept and desolate Yorkshire Moors. He introduces himself to Heathcliff, his surly, ill-mannered and unwelcoming landlord and master of the nearby Wuthering Heights. Forced to stay at Wuthering Heights overnight, Lockwood suffers a nightmare about the ghost of a young woman named Cathy desperately pleading to be let back into the house; intrigued, Lockwood asks his housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.

Dean's story is one of a terrible, unchecked, all-consuming passion — that between Heathcliff, an orphaned foundling brought to Wuthering Heights as a child by the then-owner, and Catherine Earnshaw, his spoilt, flighty and wild foster sister. The two became inseparable friends as children and later fell in love. Their love, though passionate, was cruelly thwarted by Hindley, Catherine's brother and Heathcliff's sworn enemy, who resented Heathcliff as an interloper in his father's affections and, upon inheriting the estate, spitefully turned Heathcliff into a downtrodden slave. Catherine's own desires for social mobility and class see her marry the decent but seemingly weak neighbour Edgar Linton even as she insists that her one true love is and always will be Heathcliff. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights in bitterness, only to return several years later, having made his fortune elsewhere and determined to crush entirely those who thwarted his one chance at happiness — as well as all their relations.

Has been filmed several times, most notably the 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, while a younger, pre-James Bond Timothy Dalton played Heathcliff in the 1970 film version. Also inspired the 1979 Kate Bush song of the same name ("Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy, I've come home...") as well as an adaptation in Monty Python's Flying Circus, Genesis' album Wind and Wuthering, which used a quotation from the book's ending for two of its song titles, MTV's adaptation of their own with Heathcliff as a guitar-strumming song-writer pitted against classic cello-playing Edgar. And finally, let's not forget Death Cab for Cutie's "Cath...", which is fairly transparently based on Wuthering Heights, but in their own style.

Provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Mr. Lockwood in the 1970 and 2009 adaptations. The former only tells the first half of the book, while Catherine (II) is told the story by Nelly in the latter.
    • The second half of the novel tends to be left out of earlier adaptations, such as the 1939 adaptation.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed - the love between Catherine and Heathcliff is passionate, but it is also clearly unhealthy and intensely destructive, leading to nothing but the ruin of the lovers and almost everyone around them. Ditto for Isabella's crush on Heathcliff. Also, see Draco in Leather Pants on the YMMV page.
  • The Alcoholic: Hindley, to the point that it kills him before he's thirty.
  • Amoral Attorney: A dying Edgar Linton sends for Attorney Green to ensure Heathcliff won't be able to touch his daughter's property. He was five minutes too late; to Edgar's and Nelly's horror, Heathcliff already had him in his pocket.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Heathcliff's exact race is never explained; he is referred to as "dark" and a "gipsy." All we know is that he's not black-African or white-European - at one point Nelly fancifully speculates that he might be the son of the Emperor of China and an Indian queen.
  • Ambiguously Human: Heathcliff.
  • And Now You Must Marry My Son: Heathcliff forces Catherine (II) to marry his son Linton.
    Heathcliff (2009): By this time tomorrow, I shall be your father. So you had better get used to appeasing me.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Cathy for Heathcliff. Unfortunately she doesn't make it to Heathcliff.
  • As the Good Book Says: Joseph is an abrasive, Bible-thumping Calvinist.
  • Asshole Victim: It's very easy to argue that Heathcliff's successful degradation of his former tormentor Hindley is well-deserved.
  • Ax-Crazy: Following his wife's death, Hindley becomes pretty unstable; attempting to murder his newborn son, later raving to Isabella about how he plans to kill Heathcliff and even briefly casually threatening her as well.
  • Badass Bookworm: Edgar Linton, despite coming across as a nerd and a weakling, thrashes Heathcliff the one time they actually fight. Forever after, Heathcliff won't risk confronting him unarmed, even during the many long, solitary walks Edgar takes out on moors.
  • Big Fancy House: Thrushcross Grange. Wuthering Heights is more of a large farmhouse than an estate.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After have destroyed pretty much the lives of anyone around him, he is tired and tormented to madness by Catherine's ghost and anything that reminds him of her so he let himself die. So Heathcliff and Catherine are finally Together in Death as ghosts. Hareton and Catherine (II) are going to get married and they are now rich.
  • Boom, Headshot: Heathcliff in the 2009 version.
  • Brain Fever: Catherine Earnshaw.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to Cathy (II) after Mr. Lockwood leaves.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw are Not Blood Siblings but obviously Like Brother and Sister, thus giving their passionate love an additional level of forbidden passion (not to mention slight awkwardness on part of the reader)... See also Surprise Incest below.
  • Byronic Hero: Heathcliff, though he's more a Deconstruction of one.
  • The Chessmaster: Heathcliff
  • Create Your Own Villain: Edgar and Hindley have no one to blame but themselves for molding Heathcliff into a monster... not in a Freudian Excuse way, but in a morbidly ironic way. Though Hindley probably wouldn't have been so cruel to Heathcliff if his own father hadn't made it repeatedly obvious he preferred him to his son.
    • And Edgar is never shown to do anything unpardonably awful to Heathcliff until after his marriage to Cathy, which was justified as Heathcliff was carrying on with both his wife and his sister, Isabella.
    • Heathcliff tries to do this to Hareton but fails.
  • Creepy Child: The little girl (Cathy as a child) in Lockwood's nightmare.
  • Dead Guy Junior: The first Catherine's daughter.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Cathy (II) finally defrosts herself with a little help from Hareton.
  • Death by Adaptation: Heathcliff is shot and killed by Hindley shortly after Cathy's (I) death in the 1970 adaptation.
  • Death by Childbirth: Hindley's wife. The other servants realized Nelly would end up raising the baby because "the doctor says the missus must go" as soon as he was born. Sure enough, she soon dies of a coughing fit. Hindley's wife was in denial about having a "consumption;" Nelly noticed that even as a new bride, Frances was easily winded and "coughed troublesomely sometimes."
    • Tuberculosis was incurable at that time, and getting pregnant most likely put a strain on her body and made the disease progress faster than if she hasn't gotten pregnant at all.
    • Catherine dies immediately after giving birth to her daughter, but her death is really a suicide by starvation. She has been starving herself out of distress over the acrimonious feud between Heathcliff and Edgar.
  • Dies Wide Open: Heathcliff, much to Nelly's horror.
  • Domestic Abuse: And the depressing reality is that Heathcliff's appalling treatment of his wife is, as he points out, perfectly within the tolerant limits of the law.
  • Driven to Suicide: Heathcliff. What exactly kills him remains a mystery, though.
    • Played straight in the 2009 adaptation, where Heathcliff shoots himself in the head with a pistol (the gun is seen to the upper left corner of the screen).
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Hindley takes up hard drinking after his wife dies for exactly this reason.
  • Elopement: Isabella and Heathcliff run away together to be married.
  • Evil Gloating: Heathcliff seems to relish monologuing about his Evil Plans to Nelly.
  • Evil Orphan: Heathcliff. His Freudian Excuse is relatively strong, but at any rate, he ends up a usurping beast of pure spite, and his intentions are just that.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Subverted. Heathcliff does overhear a very important exchange between Catherine and Nelly Dean, but leaves in a rage after only part of the conversation, and misses the more crucial piece of information. This leads to his mysterious disappearance and pretty much drives the entire plot from there out.
  • External Retcon: There's a sequel to this called simply H, which relates a letter that Heathcliff sent to Catherine; it arrived on her wedding day, but that cruel, meddling Nelly Dean keeps it from its intended recipient. In the end, it relates Heathcliff's true heritage (brace yourself!): He's the son of Edward Rochester and his first wife Bertha! Never mind that no estimation of when Jane Eyre occurs would allow for Rochester and Bertha to have been married in or before 1764, Heathcliff's estimated birth year. Very likely they weren't even born yet themselves.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Played with. Heathcliff's nature is largely blamed on Hindley's bullying, Edgar's class prejudice, and Catherine's seeming rejection of him. However looking back to Nelly's earliest accounts of him, there isn't anything the reader can point to and say he Used to Be a Sweet Kid. It was "hardness, not gentleness" that made him keep silent. And in one of the first recorded conversations between Heathcliff and Hindley, it is Heathcliff bullying Hindley by reminding him which of them is Mr. Earnshaw's favorite. Certainly while Heathcliff might not have turned evil with better treatment, he came into the family less than ideal.
  • Face Palm: Heathcliff "struck his forehead with rage" after hearing Lockwood's raving account of his nightmares.
  • Free-Range Children: Cathy and Heathcliff, particularly after Mr Earnshaw's death. Hindley couldn't care less about where they were and what they were doing. Until they got into trouble, that is.
  • Gender Flipped: The BBC created a modern day adaptation of the book called Sparkhouse in 2002, where the roles of Cathy and Heathcliff are gender flipped to Andrew and Carol, respectively.
  • Generation Xerox: Heathcliff lampshades this about Catherine's daughter Cathy, his and Isabella's son Linton, and Hindley's son Hareton.
  • Genre Deconstruction: of the "poor guy runs away, becomes rich and comes back for revenge" romance genre.
  • Genre Savvy: Heathcliff, which gives him an advantage over the otherwise completely Genre Blind cast, save Nelly Dean.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Heathcliff fought all his life to get even with the cruel, rich Hindley, By the end of it, Heathcliff is now the cruel rich guy oppressing Hindley's son Hareton.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Heathcliff has a very energetic form of this when he learns that Catherine has died in childbirth. Specifically, he takes his anger out on a nearby tree. By smashing his forehead into it repeatedly.
  • Holier Than Thou: Joseph
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Mr. Lockwood, who thinks Heathcliff is "a capital fellow." And Isabella, who thinks Heathcliff is is a good man to marry.
  • How We Got Here: The story typically begins with most of the events already taken place.
    • The 1970 film opens with Catherine (I)'s funeral, as Heatchliff watches from afar.
    • The 2009 film opens first with Heathcliff haunted by Catherine (I) in his sleep, then as Linton is brought to Wuthering Heights by Edgar.
  • Ill Boy: Linton Heathcliff
  • Incest Subtext: While the world may never know if Catherine and Heathcliff actually are both Mr. Earnshaw's children, the fact that they were raised together as brother and sister adds an element of this to their love.
  • The Ingenue: Isabella Linton, who has no idea what she's getting into when she falls in love with the resident bad boy, Heathcliff.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Isabella, who is very innocent of Heathcliff's true nature until she marries him and truly believes he is Troubled, but Cute. Cathy Linton notably doesn't have these eyes while she otherwise takes after her father's side of the family.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Heathcliff (2009) refers to Linton as "it" and his "property".
  • Jerkass: Oh so many: Joseph, Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Catherine, Linton...
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather hang the dog. Heathcliff does this to Isabella's dog out of sheer spite.
  • Kissing Cousins: Catherine (II) and Linton, then Catherine (II) and Hareton.
    • Cathy and Heathcliff are at the very least adopted siblings, and implied to be half siblings.
  • Kubrick Stare: Heathcliff gives one to Catherine (II) when he returns to Wuthering Heights after digging up her mother's grave in the 2009 version. It leads directly into the flashback.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Lockwood is told Heathcliff's story by Nelly.
    • In the 2009 version, Catherine (II) is told the story by Nelly while the two are trapped by Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Catherine (II) lies to her father Edgar upon his deathbed to assure him that she is happy with marrying Heathcliff's son Linton and he will protect her.
  • The Lost Lenore: Cathy Earnshaw dies. Heathcliff... fails to get over this.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Hindley Earnshaw's sister Catherine is in love with Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton, whose sister Isabella marries Heathcliff, whose son Linton marries Catherne's daughter Cathy, who later falls in love with Hindley's son Hareton...
  • Love Makes You Evil: More precisely, rejection makes you crazy. While Heathcliff was not an angel, he was not, to begin with, as bad as he became after Catherine decided to marry Edgar Linton.
    • Though Heathcliff being bullied and abused in childhood may have slowly eroded his empathy and sanity. Thinking Catherine (the only one throughout his entire life who ever really loved him) hates him may have been the final straw. Or maybe when Catherine dies.
  • Love Redeems: Averted with Heathcliff, but played straight with Hareton.
  • Magical Realism: Implied. Heathcliff is sometimes compared to a demon, and there are some... odd coincidences involving ghosts and the weather. Nelly even finds herself thinking Heathcliff may be a demon, but quickly reminds herself he is human with feelings like everyone.
  • The Masochism Tango: Catherine (I) and Heathcliff, Catherine (II) and Linton.
  • The Meadow Run: From the movie, at any rate.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Heathcliff is discovered by the Earnshaws as a homeless youth and comforted as a child by Nelly telling him he is a lost prince. In hindsight, this might not have been such a good idea.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Invoked by both Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton; Heathcliff ignores them both.
  • Mysterious Past: For all of Heathcliff's life that we do know, he's still made of this trope. We don't know anything about his early years, to age seven or so, or why he couldn't speak English when he first came to the Heights or what his name might have been before that time. The mystery only deepens in the three years he spends away from the Heights and somehow has made himself so rich in that time that he's bought the house from under Hindley's nose.
  • Naļve Newcomer: Mr. Lockwood, who is merely the Butt Monkey at Wuthering Heights.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Averts this trope, which was so unusual at the time that an introduction written by Charlotte Brontë specifically praises Emily Brontë for not giving in to the common convention.
  • Never Learned to Read: Hareton
  • Nightmare Sequence: Mr. Lockwood's dreams while sleeping in Cathy's bed.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Heathcliff dishes one out to Hindley in the 2009 adaptation, when the latter states that Heathcliff's love for Cathy is pretend, slamming him against the floor and throttling him.
    Heathcliff: DON'T SAY HER NAME!
    • Catherine (II) dishes one out to Linton in the 2009 adaptation when he reveals Heathcliff's plan to have them married.
    Catherine: You THINK I would ever love you before my father?!
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Heathcliff and Edgar are brothers in law and despise each other. Catherine(II) is Heathcliff's daughter in law and they despise each other. Wow.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Heathcliff disappears from Wuthering Heights for three years, and comes back wealthy enough to be considered a gentleman and be able to subvert Hindley's wealth out from under him. Nobody knows how.
  • Oh Crap!: Cathy (II) in the 2009 version when she finds that all of the doors are locked and Linton reveals Heathcliff's plan.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, much to the confusion of many a school English student.
  • Only One Name: Heathcliff, Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Lockwood, and Joseph.
  • Only Sane Man: Nelly Dean; and Mr. Lockwood, to an extent, as he chooses to leave Thrushcross Grange for London because he doesn't want to be involved with such strange people after he hears the story.
    Nelly: "I went about my household duties, convinced that the Grange had but one sensible soul in its walls, and that it lodged in my body."
  • Oop North: The setting. Most strongly represented by Joseph, a gloomy and sour stereotype with an impenetrable Yorkshire accent that no one else shares. This is mainly due to the accent only being used by the lower classes, since the Lintons are gentry and the Earnshaws of sufficient means to be employing servants. Mr Lockwood notes how Nelly, the other major servant, barely sounds lower class, and she notes that she's "read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood," including every book in the Linton library that isn't in Greek, Latin, or French. Given the mutual hatred between Nelly and Joseph, it wouldn't be surprising if she intentionally tried not to sound like him.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Heathcliff uses Hareton to this effect to try to get his son interested in Cathy (II).
  • Parental Abandonment: Most characters don't have the luck of being raised by both parents and have either a Disappeared Dad or a Missing Mom. Or both.
    • Heathcliff is an orphan Mr. Earnshaw finds in Liverpool.
    • Catherine and Hindley lose their mother when they are children, and their father a few years later when Catherine is still very young.
    • Cathy grows up without a mother after Catherine's death.
    • Linton grows up without a mother after Isabella's death.
    • Hareton is orphaned at a very young age.
  • Parental Favoritism: Mr. Earnshaw prefers Heathcliff over his own son.
    • A grudging Heathcliff somewhat admits that he likes Hareton more than his own son.
  • Parental Substitute: Nelly for Hareton and Catherine (II). Later, Heathcliff for Hareton.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: After Heathcliff's rivals have all died and he's ruined his and their children's lives, he finds he has no satisfaction. What's more, when Catherine (II) and Hareton begin to break free from his restraint and fall in love with each other, he goes into a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Heathcliff directs his revenge against the children of his enemies.
  • The Rashomon: The unreliable Nelly Dean tells most of the story to the equally unreliable (not to mention thick-skulled) Lockwood.
  • Refusal of the Call: Mr. Lockwood refuses to be Cathy's Knight in Shining Armor, rescue the Damsel in Distress, and live Happily Ever After with her.
  • Rescue Romance: Deliberately averted — Nelly hoped Lockwood or some other gallant rich man would save Cathy (II) from Heathcliff by marrying her.
  • The Rival: Heathcliff and Hindley, as well as Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Linton Heathcliff and Hareton have some shades of this as well.
  • Say My Name: Heathcliff calls Catherine's name when he begs her ghost to appear to him when he was told by Mr Lockwood that she haunted him.
    Heathcliff: Come in! come in! Cathy, do come. Oh, do — once more! Oh! my heart's darling! hear me this time, Catherine, at last!
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Lockwood hightailing it out of Thrushcross Grange as fast as he can once Nelly finishes the story up to that point. He eventually returns to see the Bittersweet Ending.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Hindley and his aristocratic compatriots treat young Heathcliff like scum and a monster. Guess what he grows up to become?
  • Self-Made Man: Heathcliff. And we never find out how.
  • She Is Not My Wife: At the beginning Mr. Lockwood mistakes Mrs. Catherine Heathcliff for his wife. Heathcliff is quite amused and explains she's actually his daughter-in-law.
  • Shipper on Deck: Heathcliff for Cathy (II) and his son Lintonnote . He succeeds through Blackmail. Nelly also eventually reveals she gave Mr. Lockwood such a meticulously thorough account of Cathy's history partially in hopes that he would affect a Rescue Romance ending for them. He declines, but it turns out Cathy didn't need him anyway.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Shout-Out: Emily Brontë was well read and alludes to a number of different works in her novel. Most notable might be "Beauty and the Beast," where a father returns home after a long trip bearing a gift for his children, only that gift brings sorrow to the family.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss:
    • Catherine (II) and Hareton, not after a Break the Haughty process for a Cathy and a makeover for Hareton.
    • Catherine (I) physically slapped Edgar. He proposes soon after. May not be a true example as Catherine was in love with someone else.
  • Shadow Archetype: Heathcliff for Edgar Linton
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Isabella in the 1939 adaptation, she's still around when Mr. Lockwood comes to Thrushcross Grange.
    • Hindley in the 1970 adaptation. He even gets to kill Heathcliff.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Heathcliff brags to Nelly about how successfully he's done this to Hareton.
  • Sugar And Ice Guy: Mr. Lockwood. Not to any of the other characters, but he describes himself as a misanthropist, and notes that he has never been able to express his love verbally, and even drove away a woman he loved because of this.
  • Surprise Incest: Implied with Catherine (I) and Heathcliff, at least for some readers. There are hints that Heathcliff might be Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son: Mr. Earnshaw just happens to find this orphan on the streets. The streets of the town he just happens to visit on a regular basis, leaving the rest of his family squarely at home. And Mrs. Earnshaw just happens to take an instant loathing to Heathcliff the minute he enters their house. The 1970 version with Timothy Dalton certainly believed it was no coincidence.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Poor Nelly was fully aware she was eventually the only sane person (possibly literally) left in Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
  • Sympathy for the Devil:
    • Nelly constantly demonstrates pity as well as contempt for Heathcliff.
    • The same goes for Catherine (I) as well, though more contempt and less pity in this case.
  • Tall, Dark and Snarky: Heathcliff is a Deconstruction, lacking the heart of gold and being "redeemed by the love of a good woman" typically associated with the character.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Save for Hindley, who married Flat Character Frances, no one in this book never marries or has relationship outside of the already existing characters, leading to Kissing Cousins, Not Blood Siblings and weirdness alike.
  • Together in Death: The aforementioned Bittersweet Ending implies that Heathcliff and Catherine are reunited as ghosts after death.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Nelly is clearly prejudiced and demonstrates a surprising lack of empathy for most of the central characters, this bias being reflected in her account of the events.
  • Villain Protagonist: Heathcliff. At the end of the day, this is his story.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Heathcliff after he notices Cathy (II) and Hareton falling in love.
    • From the 2009 version:
    Heathcliff: What are you two doing in here?!
    Catherine(II): I wanted to feel close to what is left of my family. I'm the only person to blame, Hareton stayed with me at my insistence.
    Heathcliff(speaking to Hareton): And who the devil gave you the leave to set one foot in HERE?! And WHO ordered you to obey her?
    Catherine (II): You shouldn't grudge me one room when you have taken everything from me!
    Heathcliff(practically hissing): You insolent slut! You never had anything.
    Catherine (II)(glaring up at Heathcliff): If you strike me, Hareton will strike you!
    Heathcliff: And if Hareton doesn't turn you out of this room, I will strike him back to Hell!
    (at this point, Hareton puts himself between Catherine (II) and Heathcliff)
    Heathcliff(after glancing at Catherine's portrait): Take her, Hareton. Take her and leave me. All of you leave me now.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: No matter how complete Heathcliff's revenge is, it can never last beyond his death.
  • Weapon of Choice: Hindley carries "a curiously constructed pistol, having a double-edged spring knife attached to the barrel."
    • Awesome, but Impractical: During a struggle with Heathcliff, the gun goes off and digs the blade into Hindley's wrist, cutting the artery. If it weren't for Heathcliff's quick thinking, he would've bled out.
  • Wealthy Ever After: After all the mess they've been through, with Heathcliff's death Catherine (II) and Hareton inherit respectively Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights and are getting married and settling in the former, the wealthiest of the two.
  • Wham Line: Early in the 2009 version, Cathy (II) finds a portrait of her mother at Wuthering Heights and asks Linton about it.
    Cathy (II): Why would Mr. Heathcliff keep a portrait of my mother? Why? Why would he do that?
    Linton: Because he loved her. Because he loved her before your father did. And she loved him too.
  • Wild Child: Heathcliff and Catherine (at least before she meets the Lintons and cleans up). Hareton becomes one after being left without a reasonable Parental Substitute.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Some readers have debated whether or not Catherine Linton is in fact the biological child of Heathcliff and Catherine, due to the close timing of his return to the Heights and her conception. However the book mentions the strong resemblance between Cathy II and Edgar, making this unlikely.
    • The bigger question: Is Heathcliff the first Mr. Earnshaw's son?