Wuthering Heights is a story that spans generations. But don’t be fooled. It’s not a story of love so much as it is a story of revenge.
Heathcliff, a gypsy orphan, is adopted by Mr. Earnshaw. He is brought into a family that already has an older son and young daughter.
Earnshaw treats Heathcliff as a second son. There is no question of Heathcliff inheriting the family’s property – because he won’t, but Earnshaw definitely seems to prefer Heathcliff to his son.
Earnshaw’s son, Hindley, hates Heathcliff for usurping his place in his father’s affections (honestly, I never saw that the elder Earnshaw was all that affectionate to his son in the first place, but let’s go with it).
Catherine, Earnshaw’s daughter, develops a strong relationship with Heathcliff, because she sees herself as an outsider – since she is a tomboy who has no interest in how ladies are supposed to behave.
The rift between Hindley and Heathcliff is so strong, that Hindley is eventually sent away for schooling. Hindley returns a few years later, after the death of his father.
Even though Hindley has relegated Heathcliff to the status of a servant, rather than a part of the family, Catherine and Heathcliff continue their friendship. They spend countless hours exploring and enjoying the moors, while sharing secrets and generally falling in love with each other (because they are the only two people of comparable age who aren’t in some way related to each other).
Evrything falls apart when Catherine and Heathcliff decide to spy upon a well-to-do neighboring family, the Lintons. They are caught and Catherine is injured. Heathcliff is sent back to Wuthering Heights and Catherine stays with the Lintons as she recuperates. While she is there, she learns more “lady-like” behaviors and is a different person when she finally returns home. Now, she joins in when people joke and make fun of Heathcliff. You know, because ladies make fun of those they consider to be beneath them.
Edgar Linton, the eldest son of the Linton family, courts Catherine and Catherine decides that it would be best if she marries him, even though she loves Heathcliff. Heathcliff overhears Catherine’s decision, but doesn’t hear that she loves him so, he runs away vowing revenge. That is the kind of crap that always makes me wonder how a movie managed to be made or a book came to be published. Hello? There is a huge gaping hole between the two lovers of this story that could easily be addressed by letting them have an actual conversation. That part is infuriating.
The rest of the story is where I take issue that this was a great romance. You see, once Heathcliff returns as a rich and educated man, he makes it his entire life’s work to make everyone pay. He refuses to hear anything other than what he has played over and over in his mind when it comes to Catherine. He is no longer in love with her. He has become obsessed with making her see him differently, even if that means destroying her and her family.
He wants Catherine to pay because she married Edgar. He wants Edgar to pay because he married Catherine. He wants Hindley (who has become a totally pitiable human being due to the loss of his wife and his alcohol addiction) to pay because Hindley was mean to him when they were kids. Well, Ok, Hindley did relegate Heathcliff to the role of servant when he came back and that was really dick-ish. So, Heathcliff encourages Hindleyto continue drinking and gambling until Hindley loses Wuthering Heights to him.
All of that sits ok with me as a revenge story (Hindley was pretty awful). My problem is that Heathcliff decides to use innocent people to accomplish his ends. He notices that Edgar’s sister, Isabella, has a crush on him and sets out to use her in his scheme.
Heathcliff convinces Isabella to elope; which causes her to be disowned by her family, and then he treats her like garbage because she isn’t Catherine. Isabella is a nonentity to him. She is just a tool to make Catherine jealous and Edgar angry.
Let’s cut to the chase. Isabella has Heathcliff’s son, Catherine has Edgar’s daughter, and Frances (the wife Hindley married while he was away from home) has Hindley’s son. So, the entire relationship dynamic is recreated in a new generation. Only, this time, Heathcliff can see the dynamics from his revenge viewpoint. So, he manipulates what he can so that he can become the owner of both properties and somehow reap his revenge upon people who are no longer relevant to his life.
I won’t tell you the ending, because even though this story was published in 1847, I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t had the chance to read it.
But, I will say that every character in this story is a selfish asshole. Earnshaw adopts Heathcliff out of eccentricity. He also seems to enjoy the rivalry between Heathcliff and Hindley. Hindley wants to get back at Heathcliff for stealing his father’s affections. Catherine, may have actually loved Heathcliff at some point but really only wants him to love her regardless of her choices. Edgar may actually love Catherine, but still sees her as his possession to be won in the pissing match with Heathcliff.
Heathcliff just wants revenge based upon a half of a conversation he heard between Catherine and the housekeeper. He has no qualms about forever living in regret if it means that he made Catherine and her family suffer. But, he still, somehow wants her to love him and mourns his love of her.
The only truly innocent person in that whole fiasco was Isabella. She didn’t know that brooding does not equal romance, and she payed the price for that.
Heathcliff destroys lives and he has no real respect for actual love, as shown by how willing he was to sacrifice his child and Catherine’s child for the sake of revenge. There is nothing romantic about this story.
This is a story of greed and obsession. There is no understanding of another’s grief or the pain of another’s tough decisions. None of the main characters look past themselves to see that it isn’t just about what they want. There is just addiction, remorse, and death.
And call me crazy, but I don’t think that any of those things equate to romance or love.