In the late winter months of 1801, a man named Lockwood rents a manor house
called Thrushcross Grange in the isolated moor country of England. Here, he
meets his dour landlord, Heathcliff, a wealthy man who lives in the ancient
manor of Wuthering Heights, four miles away from the Grange. In this wild,
stormy countryside, Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him
the story of Heathcliff and the strange denizens of Wuthering Heights.
Nelly consents, and Lockwood writes down his recollections of her tale in
his diary; these written recollections form the main part of Wuthering
Nelly remembers her childhood. As a young girl, she works as a servant at
Wuthering Heights for the owner of the manor, Mr. Earnshaw, and his family.
One day, Mr. Earnshaw goes to Liverpool and returns home with an orphan boy
whom he will raise with his own children. At first, the Earnshaw children-a
boy named Hindley and his younger sister Catherine-detest the dark-skinned
Heathcliff. But Catherine quickly comes to love him, and the two soon grow
inseparable, spending their days playing on the moors. After his wife’s
death, Mr. Earnshaw grows to prefer Heathcliff to his own son, and when
Hindley continues his cruelty to Heathcliff, Mr. Earnshaw sends Hindley
away to college, keeping Heathcliff nearby.
Three years later, Mr. Earnshaw dies, and Hindley inherits Wuthering
Heights. He returns with a wife, Frances, and immediately seeks revenge on
Heathcliff. Once an orphan, later a pampered and favored son, Heathcliff
now finds himself treated as a common laborer, forced to work in the
fields. Heathcliff continues his close relationship with Catherine,
however. One night they wander to Thrushcross Grange, hoping to tease Edgar
and Isabella Linton, the cowardly, snobbish children who live there.
Catherine is bitten by a dog and is forced to stay at the Grange to
recuperate for five weeks, during which time Mrs. Linton works to make her
a proper young lady. By the time Catherine returns, she has become
infatuated with Edgar, and her relationship with Heathcliff grows more
When Frances dies after giving birth to a baby boy named Hareton, Hindley
descends into the depths of alcoholism, and behaves even more cruelly and
abusively toward Heathcliff. Eventually, Catherine’s desire for social
advancement prompts her to become engaged to Edgar Linton, despite her
overpowering love for Heathcliff. Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering
Heights, staying away for three years, and returning shortly after
Catherine and Edgar’s marriage.
When Heathcliff returns, he immediately sets about seeking revenge on all
who have wronged him. Having come into a vast and mysterious wealth, he
deviously lends money to the drunken Hindley, knowing that Hindley will
increase his debts and fall into deeper despondency. When Hindley dies,
Heathcliff inherits the manor. He also places himself in line to inherit
Thrushcross Grange by marrying Isabella Linton, whom he treats very
cruelly. Catherine becomes ill, gives birth to a daughter, and dies.
Heathcliff begs her spirit to remain on Earth-she may take whatever form
she will, she may haunt him, drive him mad-just as long as she does not
leave him alone. Shortly thereafter, Isabella flees to London and gives
birth to Heathcliff’s son, named Linton after her family. She keeps the boy
with her there.
Thirteen years pass, during which Nelly Dean serves as Catherine’s
daughter’s nursemaid at Thrushcross Grange. Young Catherine is beautiful
and headstrong like her mother, but her temperament is modified by her
father’s gentler influence. Young Catherine grows up at the Grange with no
knowledge of Wuthering Heights; one day, however, wandering through the
moors, she discovers the manor, meets Hareton, and plays together with him.
Soon afterwards, Isabella dies, and Linton comes to live with Heathcliff.
Heathcliff treats his sickly, whining son even more cruelly than he treated
the boy’s mother.
Three years later, Catherine meets Heathcliff on the moors, and makes a
visit to Wuthering Heights to meet Linton. She and Linton begin a secret
romance conducted entirely through letters. When Nelly destroys Catherine’s
collection of letters, the girl begins sneaking out at night to spend time
with her frail young lover, who asks her to come back and nurse him back to
health. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Linton is pursuing
Catherine only because Heathcliff is forcing him to; Heathcliff hopes that
if Catherine marries Linton, his legal claim upon Thrushcross Grange-and
his revenge upon Edgar Linton-will be complete. One day, as Edgar Linton
grows ill and nears death, Heathcliff lures Nelly and Catherine back to
Wuthering Heights, and holds them prisoner until Catherine marries Linton.
Soon after the marriage, Edgar dies, and his death is quickly followed by
the death of the sickly Linton. Heathcliff now controls both Wuthering
Heights and Thrushcross Grange. He forces Catherine to live at Wuthering
Heights and act as a common servant, while he rents Thrushcross Grange to
Nelly’s story ends as she reaches the present. Lockwood, appalled, ends his
tenancy at Thrushcross Grange and returns to London. However, six months
later, he pays a visit to Nelly, and learns of further developments in the
story. Although Catherine originally mocked Hareton’s ignorance and
illiteracy (in an act of retribution, Heathcliff ended Hareton’s education
after Hindley died), Catherine grows to love Hareton as they live together
at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff becomes more and more obsessed with the
memory of the elder Catherine, to the extent that he begins speaking to her
ghost. Everything he sees reminds him of her. Shortly after a night spent
walking on the moors, Heathcliff dies. Hareton and young Catherine inherit
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and they plan to be married on
the next New Year’s Day. After hearing the end of the story, Lockwood goes
to visit the graves of Catherine and Heathcliff.
The story of Wuthering Heights is told through flashbacks recorded in diary
entries, and events are often presented out of chronological order-
Lockwood’s narrative takes place after Nelly’s narrative, for instance, but
is interspersed with Nelly’s story in his journal. Nevertheless, the novel
contains enough clues to enable an approximate reconstruction of its
chronology, which was elaborately designed by Emily Bront. For instance,
Lockwood’s diary entries are recorded in the late months of 1801 and in
September 1802; in 1801, Nelly tells Lockwood that she has lived at
Thrushcross Grange for eighteen years, since Catherine’s marriage to Edgar,
which must then have occurred in 1783. We know that Catherine was engaged
to Edgar for three years, and that Nelly was twenty-two when they were
engaged, so the engagement must have taken place in 1780, and Nelly must
have been born in 1758. Since Nelly is a few years older than Catherine,
and since Lockwood comments that Heathcliff is about forty years old in
1801, it stands to reason that Heathcliff and Catherine were born around
1761, three years after Nelly. There are several other clues like this in
the novel (such as Hareton’s birth, which occurs in June, 1778). The
following chronology is based on those clues, and should closely
approximate the timing of the novel’s important events. A “~” before a date
indicates that it cannot be precisely determined from the evidence in the
novel, but only closely estimated.
The stone above the front door of Wuthering Heights, bearing the name of
Hareton Earnshaw, is inscribed, possibly to mark the completion of the
Nelly is born.
Heathcliff and Catherine are born.
Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff to live at Wuthering Heights.
Mr. Earnshaw sends Hindley away to college.
Mr. Earnshaw dies; Hindley and Frances take possession of Wuthering
Heights; Catherine first visits Thrushcross Grange around Christmastime.
Hareton is born in June; Frances dies; Hindley begins his slide into
Catherine becomes engaged to Edgar Linton; Heathcliff leaves Wuthering
Catherine and Edgar are married; Heathcliff arrives at Thrushcross Grange
Heathcliff and Isabella elope in the early part of the year; Catherine
becomes ill with brain fever; young Catherine is born late in the year;
Early in the year, Isabella flees Wuthering Heights and settles in London;
Linton is born.
Hindley dies; Heathcliff inherits Wuthering Heights.
Young Catherine meets Hareton and visits Wuthering Heights for the first
time; Linton comes from London after Isabella dies (in late 1797 or early
Young Catherine stages her romance with Linton in the winter.
Early in the year, young Catherine is imprisoned by Heathcliff and forced
to marry Linton; Edgar Linton dies; Linton dies; Heathcliff assumes control
of Thrushcross Grange. Late in the year, Lockwood rents the Grange from
Heathcliff and begins his tenancy. In a winter storm, Lockwood takes ill
and begins conversing with Nelly Dean.
During the winter, Nelly narrates her story for Lockwood.
In spring, Lockwood returns to London; Catherine and Hareton fall in love;
Heathcliff dies; Lockwood returns in September and hears the end of the
story from Nelly.
On New Year’s Day, young Catherine and Hareton plan to be married.
1. But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of
living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a
gentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather
slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he
has an erect and handsome figure-and rather morose. Possibly, some people
might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic
chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct,
his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling-to
manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate, equally under
cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again-
No, I’m running on too fast-I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on
This passage, from the first chapter and spoken in the voice of Lockwood,
constitutes the first of many attempts in the book to explain the
mysterious figure of Heathcliff, his character and motivations. Outside of
the novel, when critics and readers discuss Wuthering Heights, the same
question arises repeatedly. How is Heathcliff best understood? We see here
that the question of his social position-is he a gentleman or a gypsy?-
causes particular confusion.
The situation of the reader, just beginning to enter into Wuthering Heights
as a novel, parallels the situation of Lockwood, just beginning to enter
into Wuthering Heights as a house. Like Lockwood, readers of the novel
confront all sorts of strange scenes and characters-Heathcliff the
strangest of all-and must venture interpretations of them. Later
illuminations of Heathcliff’s personality show this first interpretation to
be a laughable failure, indicating little beyond Lockwood’s vanity.
Lockwood, in claiming to recognize in Heathcliff a kindred soul, whom he
can understand “by instinct,” makes assumptions that appear absurd once
Heathcliff’s history is revealed. Lockwood, while he rather proudly styles
himself a great misanthrope and hermit, in fact resembles Heathcliff very
little. In the many misjudgments and blunders Lockwood makes in his early
visits to Wuthering Heights, we see how easy it is to misinterpret
Heathcliff’s complex character, and the similarity between our own position
and Lockwood’s becomes a warning to us as readers. We, too, should question
2. The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up
in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This
writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of
characters, large and small-Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to
Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapid
listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling
over Catherine Earnshaw-Heathcliff-Linton, till my eyes closed; but they
had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the
dark, as vivid as spectres-the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing
myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining
on one of the antique volumes, and perfum-ing the place with an odour of
In this passage from Chapter III, Lockwood relates the first of the
troubling dreams he has in Catherine’s old bed. The quotation testifies to
Lockwood’s role as a reader within the novel, representing the external
reader-the perplexed outsider determined to discover the secrets of
Wuthering Heights. Upon Lockwood’s first arrival at the house, no one
answers his knocks on the door, and he cries, “I don’t care-I will get in!”
The same blend of frustration and determination has marked the responses of
many readers and critics when facing the enigmas of Wuthering Heights.
The connection between Lockwood and readers is particularly clear in this
passage. Catherine first appears to Lockwood, as she does to readers, as a
written word-her name, scratched into the paint. When Lockwood reads over
the scraped letters, they seem to take on a ghostly power-the simile Bront
uses is that they are “as vivid as spectres.” Ghosts, of course, constitute
a key image throughout the novel. In this instance, it is crucial to note
that what comes back, in this first dream, is not a dead person but a name,
and that what brings the name back is the act of reading it. We see that
Bront, by using Lockwood as a stand-in for her readers, indicates how she
wants her readers to react to her book; she wants her words to come vividly
before them, to haunt them.
In this passage, one also can see an active example of Wuthering Heights’s
ambiguous genre. The work is often compared to the Gothic novels popular in
the late eighteenth century, which dealt in ghosts and gloom, demonic
heroes with dark glints in their eyes, and so on. But Bront wrote her book
in the 1840s, when the fashion for the Gothic novel was past and that genre
was quickly being replaced as the dominant form by the socially conscious
realistic novel, as represented by the work of Dickens and Thackeray.
Wuthering Heights often seems to straddle the two genres, containing many
Gothic elements but also obeying most of the conventions of Victorian
realism. The question of genre comes to a head in the appearances of ghosts
in the novel. Readers cannot be sure whether they are meant to understand
the ghosts as nightmares, to explain them in terms of the psychology of the
characters who claim to see them, or to take them, as in a Gothic novel, as
no less substantial than the other characters. Bront establishes this
ambiguity carefully. The “spectres” here are introduced within a simile,
and in a context that would support their interpretation as a nightmare.
Similarly subtle ambiguities lace Lockwood’s account, a few pages later, of
his encounter with the ghost of Catherine.
3. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how
I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s
more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the
same, and Edgar’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost
Catherine’s speech to Nelly about her acceptance of Edgar’s proposal, in
Chapter IX, forms the turning-point of the plot. It is at this point that
Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights, after he has overheard Catherine say
that it would “degrade” her to marry him. Although the action of Wuthering
Heights takes place so far from the bustle of society, where most of
Bront’s contemporaries set their scenes, social ambition motivates many of
the actions of these characters, however isolated among the moors.
Catherine’s decision to marry Edgar Linton out of a desire to be “the
greatest woman of the neighbourhood” exemplifies the effect of social
considerations on the characters’ actions.
In Catherine’s paradoxical statement that Heathcliff is “more myself than I
am,” readers can see how the relation between Catherine and Heathcliff
often transcends a dynamic of desire and becomes one of unity. Heterosexual
love is often, in literature, described in terms of complementary opposites-
like moonbeam and lightning, or frost and fire-but the love between
Catherine and Heathcliff opposes this convention. Catherine says not, “I
love Heathcliff,” but, “I am Heathcliff.” In following the relationship
through to its painful end, the novel ultimately may attest to the
destructiveness of a love that denies difference.
4. “. . . I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the
earth off her coffin lid, and I opened it. I thought, once, I would have
stayed there, when I saw her face again-it is hers yet-he had hard work to
stir me; but he said it would change, if the air blew on it, and so I
struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up-not Linton’s side,
damn him! I wish he’d been soldered in lead-and I bribed the sexton to pull
it away, when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too. I’ll have it made so,
and then, by the time Linton gets to us, he’ll not know which is which!”
“You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!” I exclaimed; “were you not ashamed
to disturb the dead?”
When Heathcliff narrates this ghoulish scene to Nelly in Chapter XXIX, the
book enters into one of its most Gothic moments. Heathcliff, trying to
recapture Catherine herself, constantly comes upon mere reminders of her.
However, far from satisfying him, these reminders only lead him to further
attempts. Heathcliff’s desire to rejoin Catherine might indeed explain the
majority of Heathcliff’s actions, from his acquisition of Thrushcross
Grange and Wuthering Heights, to his seizure of power over everyone
associated with Catherine.
He tries to break through what reminds him of his beloved to his beloved
herself by destroying the reminder, the intermediary. Readers can see, in
the language he uses here, this difference between the objects that refer
to Catherine and Catherine herself. When he opens her coffin, he does not
say that he sees her again. Instead, he says, “I saw her face again,”
showing that her corpse, like her daughter or her portrait, is a thing she
possessed, a thing that refers to her, but not the woman herself. It seems
that, in this extreme scene, he realizes at last that he will never get
through to her real presence by acquiring and ruining the people and
possessions associated with her. This understanding brings Heathcliff a new
tranquility, and from this point on he begins to lose interest in
5. That, however, which you may suppose the most potent to arrest my
imagination, is actually the least, for what is not connected with her to
me? and what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her
features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree-filling the
air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am
surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women-my own
features-mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful
collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!
In this passage from Chapter XXXIII, Heathcliff confesses to Nelly his
inner state. What Nelly calls Heathcliff’s “monomania on the subject of his
departed idol” has now reached its final stage of development. In the
passage in which Heathcliff describes his excavation of Catherine’s grave,
the reader gains insight into Heathcliff’s frustration regarding the double
nature of all of Catherine’s “memoranda.” While Catherine’s corpse recalls
her presence, it fails to substitute fully for it, and thus recalls her
absence. Heathcliff’s perception of this doubling comes through in his
language. The many signs of Catherine show that “she did exist” but that “I
have lost her.” In the end, because his whole being is bound up with
Catherine, Heathcliff’s total set of perceptions of the world is permeated
by her presence. Consequently, he finds signs of Catherine in “the entire
world,” and not just in localized figures such as her daughter or a
portrait of Catherine.