Emily Jane Bronte was born on July 30, 1818 in Thorton, Yorkshire, England.
She was the daughter of Patrick, an Anglican clergyman, and Maria Bronte. Emily lived
with her parents, sisters Charlotte and Anne, and brother Patrick Branwell. Two other
sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, died while Emily was very young. Mrs. Bronte also died
Mr. Bronte and an aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, raised the surviving children. They
were educated at home and spent much of their time reading and writing. Charlotte and
Emily spent a year at the Clergy Daughters’ School in Lancashire. Charlotte received a
job teaching at Miss Wooler’s school in Roe Head in 1835 and Emily went with her as a
student. However, Emily became homesick and returned to the moors of her hometown,
Haworth, after only three months of schooling. In 1838 Emily taught in a school near
Halifax but became exhausted after six months and resigned. Emily and Charlotte planned
to open a girl’s school in Haworth and went to Brussels to learn foreign language and
school management in 1842. Emily’s reserved personality seemed to fit into the style of
city life but she yearned to return to the moors. Her quiet but passionate nature was more
easily understood by the people of Brussels than her sister’s somewhat restrained
temperament. She finally returned to England when her aunt died. In 1845 Charlotte,
Emily, and Anne jointly published a volume of poetry, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton
Bell. The poems by Emily, “Ellis,” received the best reviews.
Emily had finished her only novel, Wuthering Heights, by the summer of 1847. It
was published in December, after the release of Charlotte’s hugely popular Jane Eyre.
Emily’s novel never received the attention that Jane Eyre received. It was considered
hostile, savage, animal like, and poorly developed. Now Wuthering Heights is considered
one of the greatest novels in the English language.
Soon after the publication of the novel Emily became ill, and her health failed
rapidly. She complained of difficulty of breathing. Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis in
Wuthering Heights is a powerful tale of passion, hatred, and revenge. It deals with
two families, the Earnshaws and Lintons, living in the moorlands of England. Mr. and
Mrs. Earnshaw have a son, Hindley, and a daughter, Catherine. One day while in
Liverpool Mr. Earnshaw picks up a homeless boy and brings him home with him, to
Wuthering Heights. The abandoned boy is named Heathcliff. Heathcliff becomes a close
friend of Catherine’s but as he becomes Mr. Earnshaw’s favorite Hindley becomes jealous
Hindley eventually goes to college, leaving Catherine and Heathcliff at Wuthering
Heights. Heathcliff falls deeply in love with Catherine, and she develops feelings towards
him as well. However, one day while the two were visiting the nearby Thrushcross
Grange Catherine was bitten by a dog. Her ankle is injured so badly that she is forced to
spend the next five weeks at the Grange with the Lintons. She spends most of her time
with the Linton’s children, Edgar and Isabella, and becomes more dignified and refined,
much like the Lintons. She returns to Wuthering Heights shortly before Mr. Earnshaw’s
death. Hindley returns with a wife, Frances, and being the closest male relative, inherits
the land. The other possessions are split between Hindley and Catherine.
As Edgar becomes more a part of Catherine’s life she forgets about the unrefined,
uneducated Heathcliff. When Edgar proposes to her Heathcliff is heartbroken. He runs
away and is not seen again for several years.
Hindley and Frances have a son, Hareton, but she dies shortly after his birth.
Edgar and Catherine are married and she moves in with the Lintons. Heathcliff
unexpectedly returns and is surprisingly educated and refined. Isabella falls in love with
the improved Heathcliff and they elope, later returning to live at Wuthering Heights. He
marries her in a scheme to control the property of both the Lintons and the Earnshaws.
Catherine dies giving birth to a daughter, also named Catherine. Her death affects both
Edgar and Heathcliff, who both love her. Both of the men are haunted by thoughts and
Isabella can no longer stand Heathcliff’s mourning and runs off to London, where
she gives birth to their son, Linton Heathcliff. Hindley dies and all of his property is
mortgaged to Heathcliff, instead of being passed down to Hareton. Heathcliff now
controls the Earnshaw estate. When Isabella dies Edgar goes to London to bring back
Linton. Upon his return Heathcliff demands that his son live with him at Wuthering
Heights. Edgar reluctantly agrees and sends the boy away. The young Catherine and
Linton had only been in contact for four hours but they immediately developed a curious
Catherine and Linton meet as frequently as possible over the next few years. They
fall in love and wish to be married, but Edgar and Heathcliff forbid it, out of sheer hatred
for each other. However, Heathcliff realizes that Linton is a weak child and will die soon.
This realization further develops his plot for revenge. In fact, almost every event in the
story is influenced by or is the result of his plans for revenge, the action is “always under
Heathcliff’s malevolent spell.” He knows that when Linton’s Uncle Edgar dies the
nephew will inherit the property. When Linton dies Heathcliff will inherit his property, as
the closest male relative. Edgar’s many late night walks to his wife’s grave in cold, damp
weather begin to take their toll on him, and he becomes ill. One day Catherine and her
nurse, Ellen, are visiting Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff imprisons them, forcing her to
marry Linton or she will never see her dying father again. She agrees and rushes back to
her father at Thrushcross Grange. When he realizes what Heathcliff is planning he sends
for a lawyer so he can alter his will, putting Linton’s inheritance into trusts so Heathcliff
cannot ever control it. However, the lawyer never comes and Edgar dies. Linton dies
soon after marrying Catherine, and Heathcliff’s plan of revenge is complete; he now
controls the old Earnshaw and Linton estates.
The aloof Hareton tries to comfort Catherine after the losses of her father and
husband but she will not have it. She instead takes out her sorrows on him. Catherine
mocks his illiteracy and pronunciation of words. He tries to learn to read, in order to
impress her but when he tries to read to her she just laughs and calls him stupid. He is
embarrassed and storms off, avoiding her as much as possible. In a strange hunting
accident he is injured and forced to spend most of his time recovering in the kitchen at
Wuthering Heights, the room that people spend most of their time in because of its
warmth and comfort. Catherine tries to pass time in her room, in order to avoid him, but
it is too cold. When she realizes that she will be forced to spend her time in the kitchen
with Hareton she decides that it might as well be pleasant. She gives him her favorite
book and offers to teach him how to read it. Hareton accepts her offer, and the two
Heathcliff meanwhile, is still mourning the loss of his original love, Catherine. He
bribes the local gravedigger to move Edgar’s body and bury his own next to hers when he
dies. He persuades his faithful servant Joseph to make sure that these arrangements are
fulfilled. Heathcliff also professes his belief that the dead are never settled and that their
souls wander the earth. He claims to have been visited by Catherine’s ghost many times.
He says that he sees her image in everything, from travelers on the road to the surrounding
landscape. Heathcliff is eager to join her and goes on a hunger strike. Heathcliff becomes
happier the sicker and weaker he gets. He dies and his wish is granted, he is buried
between Catherine and Edgar. Heathcliff’s property is passed on to its rightful owner,
Hareton. He and Catherine are married and live happily together until they die.
Most of the story, up to Linton’s death, is a narrative told by Catherine’s nurse,
Ellen Dean. It is told to a traveler named Mr. Lockwood. Lockwood has moved from a
big city to the rural moorlands and is renting Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff. The
very beginning and end of the story are told by Lockwood. He was disappointed with the
rude way he was treated by Heathcliff upon his arrival at Wuthering Heights and was
tempted to leave a few days later but became ill, and was forced to stay in bed at
Thrushcross Grange. He persuaded Ellen to tell him the history of his landlord and his
mysterious family while he was recovering. She then tells him the story of love and hatred
between the Earnshaws and Lintons. Lockwood observes firsthand everything that
happens after Linton’s death. A very small portion of the novel is also told by a letter from
Isabella to Ellen, describing the tense relationship between Hindley and Heathcliff.
Love sets the stage for conflict in the novel. Catherine’s love for Edgar concerns
with superficial things. It is a love for a young, handsome, wealthy personality. It is a
love formed in a society “where income and status also have a place in the quality of
life.”2 His social and financial position make it easy for her to fall in love with him. Her
love for Heathcliff was not based on material things, at the time she felt love for him he
had nothing to give to her. It looks as much like hate as love. They are violent to each
other. She even pulls out some of Heathcliff’s hair. Ellen remarks that they seem to be
more like animals than humans. It is a relationship that is “concerned with a breaking
through beyond the self.”3 I feel that their love was about discovering themselves and
each other. Heathcliff becomes angry when she chooses Edgar’s love over his own and
runs away, trying to make himself a person that can offer the same qualities as Edgar. The
two men quarrel upon his return, adding to the hatred that they feel for each other.
The men try to pass this hatred down to their children, Catherine and Linton. The
two young cousins do not understand why they were expected to feel this hatred. They
were instead very much interested in each other. As the children grew up they fell in love.
Heathcliff and Edgar would not accept this. They both forbade their children form seeing
each other. This is where the conflict between parents and children develop. Linton, the
weak child, can do nothing to protest Heathcliff’s refusal to let him see Catherine because
he lives in fear of his father. He does not agree with him but lacks courage and strength to
let Heathcliff know how he truly feels. Catherine is much more passionate. She tries to
appeal to her father and begs him to let her visit Linton. When he refuses she sneaks out
of the house to visit her cousin and she also sends him letters, which are secretly delivered
by the dairy boy. When Edgar realizes that he is being deceived he completely cuts off all
contact between the cousins. The two men forbid their children from seeing each other
because of a hatred that developed between them over a woman that they both loved. The
woman died giving birth to Catherine and before Linton was even born so the two young
lovers never even met the person who their fathers were quarreling over.
I do not feel that this conflict would arise in the same fashion today. I feel that
parents today would not keep their children from being friends because of a conflict that
happened between them before their children were born. Parents should discuss in detail
how they feel about other people’s children with their own kids. These parents should not
be able to simply prohibit their children from associating with other people.
Children today have so much more power to reason with their parents than they
did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now we are expected to voice our opinions and
concerns about a particular subject. In those times children were expected to accept
whatever their parents told them, no questions asked.
Today even if parents tried to keep their children away from someone there are so
many things kids can do to bypass their parents’ wishes. We have so many methods of
communication today that the children of Wuthering Heights never had the luxury of
using. Catherine could not call Wuthering Heights from Thrushcross Grange on the
telephone and speak to Linton. She could not send him a private e-mail over the Internet.
We take the privacy of these forms of communicating for granted. Children interact at
school and extracurricular activities everyday. I feel that children would be able to settle a
conflict like this today very easily. It does not take much effort to communicate anymore,
even over long distances. Children would take the matter into their own hands, like
Catherine did, and if they think and act carefully there is not much parents can do to stop
The conflicts that arose between parents and children in Wuthering Heights would
not arise today, mainly because of how different and accepting society is today than it was
during 18th and 19th century England.
?Allott, Miriam, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, London, Macmillan, 1970.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Modern Critical Views: The Brontes, New York, Chelsea House,
Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights, New York, the Penguin Group, 1995.
Gregor, Ian (ed.), The Brontes, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1970.
Kanigel, Robert, Vintage Reading, Baltimore, Bancroft Press, 1998.