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Literature / Wuthering Heights

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Heathcliff, by Fritz Eichenberg
"I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

Wuthering Heights (1847) was the only novel written by Emily Brontë (the middle Brontë sister), and an archetypal example of a Gothic Romance, which 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 meets 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 wherein the ghost of a young woman, named Cathy, desperately pleads to be let back into the house. Intrigued, disturbed, and also bedridden with a cold, Lockwood asks his housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.

Nelly's story is one of a terrible, unchecked, all-consuming passion—that between Heathcliff, a mysterious foundling brought to Wuthering Heights as a child, and Catherine Earnshaw, his spoilt, flighty, and wild-spirited foster sister. The two became inseparable friends and later fell in love. Their love, though passionate, was cruelly thwarted by Hindley Earnshaw, 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 her decent and devoted, 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 those who thwarted his one chance at happiness—as well as all their relations.

As a Public Domain Story, Wuthering Heights can be found on Project Gutenberg here and multiple LibriVox audiobook versions here.

Wuthering Heights provides examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Isabella has a naïve, childish crush on Heathcliff. This is contrasted with Cathy's attraction to him, which is based in a much more realistic assessment of his personality and Birds of a Feather. Cathy tries to Defy it when she warns Isabella about Heathcliff in no uncertain terms:
    Cathy: I'd as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter's day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don't imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He's not a rough diamond—a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man. I never say to him, "Let this or that enemy alone, because it would be ungenerous or cruel to harm them;" I say, "Let them alone, because I should hate them to be wronged:" and he'd crush you like a sparrow's egg, Isabella, if he found you a troublesome charge.
Isabella doesn't head Cathy's warning, and has to learn for herself what he's really like. The crush quickly dies then. Still she marries him, as was standard for the time period, and he destroys her life. Somehow she leaves him and is able to live separated from her brute of a husband with her child.
  • The Alcoholic: Hindley drinks heavily, to the point that it kills him before he's thirty. His beloved wife's death pushed him over the edge.
  • Amoral Attorney: A dying Edgar Linton sends for Attorney Green to ensure Heathcliff won't be able to touch his daughter's property. He is too late; Heathcliff already has him in his pocket.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Heathcliff's race is never clear; he's referred to as "dark" and a "gipsy." He might literally be Romani, but it could equally be that people just don't know what else to call him. At one point Nelly fancifully speculates that he could be the son of the Emperor of China and an Indian queen. At another point in his childhood, Mr. Linton calls him "a little Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway" (Lascar being a term for an Indian sailor). Mr Earnshaw found Heathcliff in Liverpool, which in the 1760s was a huge port city and the slave-trading capital of Britain. While Heathcliff's not, in Nelly's words, "a regular black", he might be black-biracial.
  • Ambiguously Human: Heathcliff, often described as some kind of demon from hell. Towards the end of his life Nelly likens him to a ghoul or a vampire.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Cathy, in her famous "I am Heathcliff!" speech. Unfortunately, it's also a Love Confessor, as she doesn't make it to Heathcliff.
    Cathy: My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. —My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and—
  • 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 threatening her as well.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: During a struggle with Heathcliff, Hindley's curiously constructed 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.
  • Bastard Bastard: Is Heathcliff Mr. Earnshaw's bastard son? Some say this is Implied, while others say it's just a fan theory. Only Emily Brontë herself could say what was intended; all we can say is that this certainly is an interpretation the book has. On one hand, Moses in the Bulrushes is an established trope, so if you take Heathcliff's origin story at face value, while it's a Contrived Coincidence, it's not necessarily that weird as a literary Inciting Incident. On the other hand, the idea that Mr. Earnshaw had a mistress in Liverpool, Heathcliff was their illegitimate son, and after his mother died his father took him home to raise does fit into the story seamlessly. Mr. Earnshaw visits Liverpool on a regular basis, leaving the rest of his family squarely at home. Mr. Earnshaw randomly finds an orphan boy, feels driven to bring the child home to raise, names him after his dead son, and then favors this boy over his other children. Mrs. Earnshaw just happens to take an instant loathing to Heathcliff the minute he enters their house.
  • Bit Character: Lockwood doesn't do a whole lot in the story, despite being the narrator at the beginning and the end.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After having pretty much destroyed the lives of everyone around him, Heathcliff is tired and tormented to madness by Catherine's ghost and anything that reminds him of her, so he lets himself die. So he and Catherine are finally Together in Death as ghosts. Hareton and Catherine (II) are going to get married and they are now rich.
  • Brain Fever: Catherine Linton suffers this due to stress when Edgar and Heathcliff get into a fight. She never fully recovers her sanity.
  • Child by Rape: Though he is conceived within wedlock, due to Heathcliff's relationship with Isabella, Linton was most likely one of these.
  • 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. Edgar is never shown to do anything unpardonably awful to Heathcliff until after his marriage to Cathy, which is justified as Heathcliff was carrying on with both Edgar's wife and his sister, Isabella.
    • Heathcliff tries to make an evil person from Hareton, but he ultimately fails.
  • Dead Guy Junior: The first Catherine's daughter is named after her, since she dies shortly after giving birth. Heathcliff is also named after an Earnshaw son who died, while Hareton Earnshaw is named after his ancestor who built Wuthering Heights in 1500.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Cathy (II) finally defrosts with a little help from Hareton.
  • Death by Childbirth:
    • Hindley's wife, Frances dies of tuberculosis complicated by the birth of her son Hareton. As soon as the baby is born, the other servants inform Nelly that she'll end up raising him because "the doctor says the missus must go." Frances was in denial about having consumption, but Nelly had noticed that, even as a new bride, she was easily winded and "coughed troublesomely sometimes."
    • Catherine dies immediately after giving birth to her daughter. She had already been ill with Brain Fever for some time and had been starving herself out of distress over the acrimonious feud between Heathcliff and Edgar.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Frances dies in her husband Hindley's arms.
  • Disowned Sibling: After Isabella Linton elopes with Heathcliff, her brother Edgar's response is "Trouble me no more about her. Hereafter she is only my sister in name: not because I disown her, but because she has disowned me." Thus Isabella has no one to turn to when her new husband turns abusive. The siblings eventually reconcile through letters after Isabella leaves Heathcliff, however, and twelve years later, Edgar is with her when she dies.
  • Domestic Abuse: The depressing reality is that Heathcliff's appalling treatment of his wife Isabella is, as he points out, perfectly within the tolerant limits of the law.
    Heathcliff: But tell [Edgar], also, to set his fraternal and magisterial heart at ease: that I keep strictly within the limits of the law. I have avoided, up to this period, giving her the slightest right to claim a separation; and, what’s more, she’d thank nobody for dividing us.
  • 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, since Edgar would never have given his consent.
  • 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 an 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, 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 on out.
  • 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.
  • Funetik Aksent: Joseph speaks with an impenetrable Yorkshire accent that no one else shares. One example:
    Joseph: There's nobbut t' missis; and shoo'll not oppen 't an ye mak' yer flaysome dins till neeght.
  • Generation Xerox: Heathcliff lampshades this about Catherine's daughter Cathy, his and Isabella's son Linton, and Hindley's son, Hareton.
  • 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 BSoD: 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 is an abrasive, Bible-thumping Calvinist. In Nelly's opinion, he only stays at Wuthering Heights so he can act sanctimonious in contrast to its inhabitants.
    Nelly: He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Mr. Lockwood thinks Heathcliff is "a capital fellow." Isabella thinks Heathcliff is a good man to marry. Partially Justified by Heathcliff's Byronic personal magnetism, and in Lockwood's case because he sees himself as a misanthopic loner too, so he initially thinks Heathcliff is a kindred spirit.
  • How We Got Here: The story begins with most of the events already taken place. It begins with Lockwood meeting the principle characters, seeing Catherine (I)'s ghost in a nightmare, and then learning the full story from Nelly Dean.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...:
    I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement... "I must stop it, nevertheless!" I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in—let me in!" "Who are you?" I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. "Catherine Linton," it replied, shiveringly... "I'm come home: I'd lost my way on the moor!"
  • Incest Subtext: The fact that Catherine and Heathcliff were raised together as brother and sister adds an element of incest to their love. Going beyond Not Blood Siblings, there's also the possibility Heathcliff is actually Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son and they're biologically half-siblings. (In this era, if a gentleman took in a random foundling, chances were there was nothing random about it. You couldn't actually admit you'd fathered a child out of wedlock in polite society, but if you cared about the child you wouldn't let them to starve on the streets, so you would use the polite fiction that the kid was merely your "ward". Although it's never confirmed, the way Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff home and favors him closely matches this pattern.)
  • The Ingenue: Isabella Linton has no idea what she's getting into when she falls in love with the resident bad boy, Heathcliff. Later there's Cathy Linton, who also doesn't realize what she's getting into when she befriends Heathcliff's son. Both have their innocence taken advantage of by Heathcliff, who proceeds to abuse it out of them.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Isabella, who is 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.
  • Interracial Adoption Struggles: Heathcliff is an Ambiguously Brown foundling—described as a "gypsy," but largely as a convenient shorthand for his dark skin, as we never find out his actual ethnicity. He's adopted by the white English Earnshaw family. Within the family, he's basically a servant. While he's his adoptive father's favorite, and he's thick as thieves with Cathy, this doesn't really change his baseline poition. His outcast status drives him down the path of vindictive villainy as he grows up.
  • I Regret Nothing: To the end of his life, despite all his cruel actions, Heathcliff declares:
    Heathcliff: I've done no injustice, and I repent of nothing.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Heathcliff refers to little Linton as "it" and his "property" when they first meet. In her story, Nelly refers to the young Heathcliff as "it," only switching to "him" after he receives a name.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Cathy's warning to Isabella about Heathcliff does mostly come from a place of jealousy and entitlement, it doesn't change the fact that she's not the least bit wrong that a relationship between someone like Isabella and someone like Heathcliff can only end badly. Isabella too late realises this…
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather, hang the dog. Heathcliff does this to Isabella's dog out of sheer spite, though Nelly is able to rescue it.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Lockwood is told Heathcliff's story by Nelly to pass the time when he's sick.
  • 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: Catherine Earnshaw/Linton (Cathy I) dies young. 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 Catherine's daughter Cathy, who later falls in love with Hindley's son Hareton...
  • Love Makes You Crazy: More precisely, love and rejection make you crazy. While Heathcliff was never 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 in his entire life who ever really loved him) hates him may have been the final straw. After she dies, he becomes even worse.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Catherine's rejection and her marriage to Edgar Linton pushes Heathcliff over the edge. He has never been good, but Cathy I and her love was his only hope to be happy and better. After she accepts him as a friend, all is good, but when she dies, he's lost and does only evil and creates a master plan how to destroy both families.
  • Major Character, Mainstream Accent: Joseph has an impenetrable Yorkshire accent that no one else shares. The Doylist reason is that no reader wants to parse a Funetik Aksent for a whole novel. The Watsonian reason is that it's a lower class accent. Lockwood notes how Nelly — the other major servant character — barely sounds lower class, and she says 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. In addition, Nelly grew up alongside Hindley and Catherine, and likely picked up on their own mannerisms and accents.
  • Mama Bear: Say what you will about Ellen Dean but you will not mess with Cathy (II) or Hareton if she’s got anything to say about it! She takes her role as a Parental Substitute very seriously and will stand up to a drunken Hindley for the latter and a vengeful Heathcliff for the former, in fact the whole reason she tells the story to Lockwood is because she was hoping he would become Cathy's Knight In Shining Armour.
  • Manly Tears: Heathcliff cries during his last meeting with Cathy (I) before her death, and years later, after hearing about Lockwood's dream of her ghost, breaks into uncontrollable tears as he calls out to her through the window.
  • The Masochism Tango:
    • The love between Catherine (1) and Heathcliff is passionate, but it's fundamentally between two selfish people. They can be as cruel to each other as to everyone else around them. This is seen most clearly when Catherine is dying, as she grabs his hair and he bruises her arm while they blame each other for her impending death, yet at the same time desperately hold and kiss each other, and after her death, when Heathcliff wishes torment on her soul.
    • Catherine (II) and Linton, a loveless match that both are manipulated into by Heathcliff, throughout which the sickly Linton verbally bullies and guilt-trips Catherine and lets his father abuse her. She still nurses him on his deathbed when no one else will, though.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There are a couple ghost sightings. Heathcliff is sometimes compared to malevolent supernatural creatures. There are some... odd coincidences involving the weather.
    • It's never made clear if the various sightings of Cathy (I)'s ghost and later Heathcliff's are real or just imagined.
    • Lockwood encounters Cathy's undead form outside his window one night and informs Heathcliff about it. Heathcliff rushes up to the room to invite Cathy in and thereafter spends a lot of time in the room and never lets another in again. His appetite drops completely, causing his housekeeper Nelly to wonder if he is a ghoul or a vampire — implicitly referencing "The Story of Sidi Nouman" and Lord Byron's eating disorder respectively — before she reprimands herself for the thought.
      "Is he a ghoul or a vampire?" I mused. I had read of such hideous incarnate demons. And then I set myself to reflect how I had tended him in infancy, and watched him grow to youth, and followed him almost through his whole course; and what absurd nonsense it was to yield to that sense of horror.
  • Mix-and-Match Weapon: Hindley carries "a curiously constructed pistol, having a double-edged spring knife attached to the barrel."
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Heathcliff is discovered by old Mr. Earnshaw as a homeless child around the age of 7. He is comforted as a child by Nelly telling him he is a lost prince. In hindsight, this might not have been such a good idea.
    Nelly: You're fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week's income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors and brought to England. Were I in your place, I would frame high notions of my birth; and the thoughts of what I was should give me courage and dignity to support the oppressions of a little farmer!
  • Mrs. Hypothetical: Mr. Lockwood first becomes interested in the story of Heathcliff and Catherine when he finds evidence of this trope in Catherine's old room. He reads her old diary which she kept in some empty pages of a book. Her maiden name was Catherine Earnshaw, and she wrote Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff and Catherine Linton all over some pages. Turns out she was torn between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton.
  • 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.
  • Naïve 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 for not giving in to the common convention.
  • Never Learned to Read: Hareton, or rather no one bothered to teach him.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Mr. Lockwood's dreams while sleeping in Cathy's bed at the Heights.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Heathcliff beats Hindley to a pulp after the latter threatens to shoot him shortly after Catherine's death.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw are raised in the same household from the age of 6. Heathcliff is only seen as a full family member by perhaps Mr. Earnshaw and Cathy—everyone else views his status there as secondary and tenuous. Thus, no one in the story calls them siblings or says that it would be incestuous for them to be together, though it arguably adds an additional level of forbidden passion to their love affair. See also Incest Subtext above.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, much to the confusion of many a high school English student. So many Cathys, Lintons and Heathcliffs!
  • Only One Name: Heathcliff
    They had christened him "Heathcliff": it was the name of a son who died in childhood, and it has served him ever since, both for Christian and surname.
  • Only Sane Man: Edgar Linton and possibly Nelly Dean (depending on your estimate of her as an Unreliable Narrator). Mr. Lockwood might also count, choosing to leave Thrushcross Grange for London rather than get involved with such strange people, but his role in the plot is minor.
    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 book is set in the Yorkshire moors.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Heathcliff uses Hareton to this effect to try to get his son interested in Cathy (II).
  • The Outsider Befriends the Best: Though Lockwood is living in the former home of an aristocratic family and his landlord is a rich adopted heir of another, the person he ends up befriending the most is his servant Nelly, who narrates to him the entire story.
  • 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.
    • Edgar and Isabella lose both their parents one after the other as teenagers.
    • Cathy spends her whole life without a mother after Catherine's death and loses Edgar as a teenager.
    • Linton grows up without a mother after Isabella's death when he's twelve.
    • Hareton is orphaned at a very young age, and even when his father still lived was neglected.
  • Parental Favoritism:
    • Mr. Earnshaw prefers Heathcliff over his own son Hindley.
    • Heathcliff somewhat grudgingly admits that he likes Hareton more than his own son.
  • The Place: Wuthering Heights. It's notable that four houses in Emily's and Anne's novels have "W.H." initials: Wellwood House in Agnes Grey, the eponymous mansion in Wuthering Heights, and Wildfell Hall and Woodford Hall in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. According to Stevie Davies, both sisters used places and characters in their Gondal cycle as a source of inspiration for their fiction.
  • Peerless Love Interest: Around the time they meet the Lintons, young Heathcliff said:
    Heathcliff: I saw [the Lintons] were full of stupid admiration; she is so immeasurably superior to them—to everybody on earth, is she not, Nelly?
  • Pyrrhic Victory: 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 (and rather 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: Subverted. Nelly hopes that gentlemanly Lockwood or some other gallant rich man will save Cathy (II) from Heathcliff by marrying her; Lockwood lampshades the literary quality of this proposed solution and leaves town.
  • Riddle for the Ages: There are two mysterious and unanswered gaps in Heathcliff's life: The first from birth to the time he arrived at Wuthering Heights. The second, three years in his late teens to early adulthood, when he left and made his fortune somehow.
    Nelly: I know all about it: except where he was born, and who were his parents, and how he got his money at first.
    • Where exactly did Heathcliff come from before Mr. Earnshaw brought him to Wuthering Heights at age six? What's his actual birthdate? What was his ethnicity? When he first arrives he is unable to tell anyone who might ask due to a language barrier, but even after he learns English he never discloses that information to anyone (or at least no one Nelly ever talks to). And even if he is Mr. Earnshaw's bastard son (see Bastard Bastard) that still leaves a lot of other questions about his background unanswered.
    • Healthcliff leaves Wuthering Heights for three years, and returns wealthy and ready to get revenge. What did he do in the interim time? The only hint we get is "His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army."
      Lockwood: Did he finish his education on the Continent, and come back a gentleman? or did he get a sizar's place at college, or escape to America, and earn honours by drawing blood from his foster-country? or make a fortune more promptly on the English highways?
      Nelly: He may have done a little in all these vocations, Mr. Lockwood; but I couldn't give my word for any. I stated before that I didn't know how he gained his money; neither am I aware of the means he took to raise his mind from the savage ignorance into which it was sunk.
  • Say My Name: Heathcliff calls Catherine's name when he begs her ghost to appear to him after being 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 a monster. Guess what he grows up to become?
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend:
    • At the beginning Mr. Lockwood mistakes Cathy (II) for Heathcliff's young wife. Heathcliff is quite amused and explains she's actually his daughter-in-law.
    • Then, thinking Hareton is Heathcliff's son, he wrongly assumes that Cathy must be his wife. Hareton blushes and is not at all amused.
  • Shipper with an Agenda: Heathcliff for Cathy (II) and his son Linton. 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.
  • 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, as part of a Break the Haughty process for Cathy and a makeover for Hareton.
    • Catherine (I) physically slapped Edgar. He proposed soon after. May be only a one-sided example, as Catherine was in love with someone else.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Heathcliff, amongst his various other endearing qualities could be considered this. The reason he catches the first part of Cathy's Anguished Declaration of Love was because he had been eavesdropping and later after she’s married Edgar he spends many nights at Thrushcross Grange watching Cathy through the windows. There’s also that little matter of digging up her dead body! Though Cathy being Cathy, she doesn’t seem to mind all that much…
  • Sugar-and-Ice Guy: Mr. Lockwood. Not to any of the other characters, but he describes himself as a misanthrope and notes that he has never been able to express his love verbally, and even drove away a woman he loved because of this.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Poor Nelly was fully aware she was eventually the only sane person (possibly literally) left at 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), though more contempt and less pity in her 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, nobody in this book ever marries or has a relationship with someone outside of the already existing characters, leading to Kissing Cousins, Not Blood Siblings, and weirdness abound.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Catherine Earnshaw and Isabella Linton both have children in their late teens, though they're both married and this was not uncommon at the time.
  • Together in Death: The 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. Lockwood is just as unreliable with his obviously poor judgment of character, both of the people he meets and even of himself (he claims to be a solitude-loving misanthrope, but becomes wholly absorbed in the people of Wuthering Heights and in the story of their lives).
  • Uptown Girl: Brutally deconstructed. Catherine is hopelessly in love with the grungy Heathcliff, who has been turned into a manservant by her older brother Hindley, but she also receives a marriage proposal from the more prim and wealthy Edgar. Hindley would never accept Catherine marrying Heathcliff, but instead of doing the "romantic" thing and eloping with him and severing ties with her prejudiced household, Catherine instead concocts a scheme to marry Edgar to gain access to the Linton family fortune, and then split the pot with her true love Heathcliff. Heathcliff only hears the part about Catherine not wanting to marry him before running away to plot his revenge. Irony sets in when Heathcliff returns a wealthy man despite his self-imposed exile from Wuthering Heights, meaning if Catherine had just chosen Heathcliff to begin with, she never would have had to worry about money after all.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Heathcliff after he notices Cathy (II) and Hareton falling in love.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: No matter how complete Heathcliff's revenge is, it can never last beyond his death.
  • Wealthy Ever After: After all the mess they've been through, with Heathcliff's death Catherine (II) and Hareton inherit Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, get married, and settle in the former, the nicer of the two.
  • 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, as does the timespan of Cathy I's pregnancy.
  • Wild Child:
    • Heathcliff and Catherine (at least before she meets the Lintons and cleans up).
      Cathy: I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed? why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills.
    • Hareton becomes one after being left without a reasonable Parental Substitute.