Wuthering Heights Summary
“Wuthering Heights” is Emily Bronte’s novel written in 1847 and initially published under Ellis Bell, the author’s pen name. The novel tells the story of two landed gentry families living on the moors of West Yorkshire, the Lintons, and Earnshaws, and their troubled relationship with Heathcliff, Earnshaw’s foster son. Gothic fiction and Romanticism influenced the novel’s style and plot. The novel is currently considered an English literature classic but its contemporaneous reviews have largely been polarized. The book was considered controversial for its depiction of physical and mental cruelty, such as domestic harassment, and its apparent challenge to societal, religious, and Victorian morality values. This essay presents the novel’s in-depth summary, focusing on the plot development and the chronology of the many events happening in the course of reading.
Lockwood rents Thrushcross Grange, a manor located in England’s isolated moor country in late winter, 1801. Lockwood meets Heathcliff, his dour landlord and a rich man living in Wuthering Heights, an ancient manor located four miles away from Thrushcross. In this stormy and wild countryside, Lockwood requests Nelly Dean, his housekeeper, to tell him Heathcliff’s story as well as the bizarre denizens of Wuthering Heights. Dean agrees, prompting Lockwood to document his recollections of Dean’s story in a diary. The recollections are a critical part of “Wuthering Heights.”
Nelly recalls her childhood, when as a young girl, she worked as a Wuthering Heights servant for the manor’s owner, Mr. Earnshaw. The master leaves for Liverpool one day and comes back with an orphaned child that he raises among his children. The Earnshaw children, Catherine and her elder brother Hindley, detest Heathcliff, the dark-skinned orphan at the beginning. However, Catherine quickly becomes fond of him, and they form an inseparable bond, spending most of their time on the moors as they play. Mr. Earnshaw also grows his preference for Heathcliff at the expense of his biological son while Hindley grows his cruelty towards Heathcliff. Earnshaw decides to send his son away to college in an attempt to keep Heathcliff nearby.
Mr. Earnshaw dies three years later, allowing Hindley to inherit his premises, particularly, the Wuthering Heights. This time, Hindley comes back with a wife, Frances, quickly seeking revenge on Heathcliff. The latter, once an orphaned boy, then a favored child, finds himself handled as a common worker, forced to labor in the fields. However, he maintains his close bond with Catherine. The two wander to Thrushcross Grange one night, expecting to tease Isabella and Edgar Linton, the snobbish and cowardly children living there. While at the Thrushcross, a dog bites Catherine, where she is compelled to recuperate at a garage for five weeks, at time during which Mrs. Linton works strives to make her a well-mannered young woman. Edgar infatuates Catherine by the time she returns, complicating her relationship with Heathcliff. Hindley goes into the abyss of alcoholism when his wife, Frances, dies after to their first child, Hareton. He also increases his cruelty and abuse for Heathcliff out of the frustration. Catherine’s longing for social class advancement pushes her to be engaged to Edgar, much as she had an overpowering affection for Heathcliff. The latter flees the Wuthering Heights for three years, returning only after Edgar and Catherine are married.
At his return, Heathcliff immediately seeks revenge on everyone who wronged him in the past. Readers note that he Heathcliff has amassed a lot and mysterious wealth, where he deviously issues loans to the drunken Hindley, aware that he would descend into deeper despondency because of ballooning debts. He inherits the manor after Hindley’s death, as he also prepares to inherit the Thrushcross Grange through his marriage to Isabella Linton, whom he treats unfairly. Catherine becomes sick, delivers a baby girl, and dies. It is interesting to note that Heathcliff pleads Catherine’s spirit to remain on Earth—she would assume any form, haunt him, and cause madness—as long as she does not dissert him. Isabella escapes to London, delivers a son, names him Linton, and keeps him with her.
Thirteen years go by, a period during which Nelly acts as Catherine’s daughter’s maid at the Grange. Young Catherine resembles her mother in beauty and stature but her father’s gentler influence modifies her temperament. The baby is raised at the Grange with no awareness and understanding of the Wuthering Heights. However, one day, she discovers the manor one day, as she was wandering through the moors. She also meets Hareton with whom she plays. Later, Isabella dies, forcing Linton to move to and live with Heathcliff, who treats him even more cruelly than he did to Isabella, despite being a sickly and whining little boy.
Young Catherine meets Heathcliff on the moors three years later before visiting the Wuthering Heights, where she meets Linton. The two start a secret affair, conducted entirely through letter writing. The girl starts to sneak to the Heights at night to have time with her lover when Nelly destroys her letters. Linton wants Young Catherine to keep returning to help nurse him back to health. Nonetheless, it turns out that Linton’s affair with Young Catherine was Heathcliff’s making because he thought that a marriage between the two would complete revenge on Edgar alongside his legal claims on the Grange. He lures Young Catherine and Nelly to the Heights one day when Edgar grows critically ill, holding them hostage until Linton and Catherine are married. Edgar dies soon after the marriage, which is soon succeeded by sickly Linton’s demise. Heathcliff is now in control of the Grange and the Heights, where he forces Catherine to live at the latter, as he rents the former to Lockwood.
Nelly concludes her story as she reaches the present, an event that causes Lockwood to terminate his tenancy at the Grange and return to London. Nonetheless, he visits Nelly six months later and learns further developments to the tale. Much as Catherine had once mocked Hareton’s illiteracy and ignorance—Heathcliff terminated his education following Hindley’s death—she continues loving him as they stay at the Heights. Heathcliff increases his obsession for older Catherine’s memories to the level that he starts to speak to her ghost. Everything he sees and touches serves as a reminder of her presence. He dies one day, shortly after spending a night walking on the moors, allowing young Catherine and Hareton to inherit the Grange and the Heights, planning to be married on the first day of the next year. Lockwood moves to see Heathcliff and Catherine’s graves after hearing the story.
The Chronology of Events in “Wuthering Heights”
The tale in “Wuthering Heights” is told using flashbacks stored in diary entries. Notably, the events it contains are mostly presented out of their chronology. Precisely, Lockwood tells his narrative after Nelly’s, for example, but he is interspersed with the Nelly Dean’s narrative noted in his journal. However, readers note that the novel has sufficient clues to allow approximate reconstructions of its chronological order, which Emily Bronte elaborately designed. For instance, the entries in Lockwood’s diary were recorded in the later months of 1801 and in September 1802. Nelly Dean informs Lockwood that she had been living at the Grange for eighteen years since Edgar and Catherine were married when he first records the events in his diary in 1801. This record, therefore, suggests that Nelly must have moved to the Grange in 1783.
Readers are now aware that Edgar and Catherine were engaged for three years. By then, as they further know, Nelly was only twenty-two years old. It follows that the engagement must have happened in 1780, and that Nelly must have been born in 1758. Considering that Catherine is a few years younger than Nelly, and that Lockwood observes in 1801 that Heathcliff was about forty years old, it becomes plausible to guess that both Catherine and Heathcliff were born in 1761 when Nelly was about three years old. The novel has several other clues, including Hareton’s birth that must have occurred in June 1778. After a careful reading, one may establish a chronology based on the clues, which help to closely approximate the period of the novel’s most important events, as described subsequently.
The first event in the story must have occurred in 1500 when the stone over the door to the Wuthering Heights is inscribed bearing the name Hareton Earnshaw and marking the completion of the residence. The second event is Nelly’s birth, which must have occurred in 1758, followed by Catherine and Heathcliff’s births some in 1761. Next, it can be reconstructed from the novel that Mr. Earnshaw must have brought Heathcliff to the Wuthering Heights in 1767 and sent Hindley to collage in 1774. The year 1777 must have witnessed many events, beginning with Earnshaw’s death, Frances and Hindley taking charge of the Wuthering Heights, and ended with a Christmas time visit to the Thrushcross Grange by Catherine. Hareton must have been born in June 1778, the same period his mother died and his father began sinking into the abyss of alcoholism. Edgar and Catherine must have been engaged in 1780, prompting Heathcliff to leave the same year.
Isabella must have eloped with Heathcliff in early 1784 before Catherine was taken ill with brain fever, delivered her baby, Young Catherine, later that year, and died. Isabella must have left the Wuthering Heights early 1785 and settled in London, the same year her son, Linton, was born. Hindley must also have died in 1785, leaving Heathcliff to inherit the Heights. Further reconstruction of the events in the novel also reveal that Young Catherine must have met Hareton and visited the Heights for the first time in 1797, the same year Linton returns from London after his mother’s death (between the late 1797 and early 1798). Linton and Young Catherine must have staged their love for each other in the winter of 1800.
Heathcliff must have held and forced Catherine to be married to Linton at the start of 1801. Edgar Linton, Linton’s father, died in the same year as his son, allowing Heathcliff to take control of the Grange. Lockwood rents the Thrushcross Grange later that year from Heathcliff and starts his occupancy as a tenant. Lockwood also starts his conversations with Nelly in a winter storm that year, events that happen between 1801 and 1802. Lockwood goes back to London in the spring of 1802, leaving as Hareton and Catherine find affection for each other. The same years sees Heathcliff’s death before Lockwood returns to the Wuthering Heights in September to learn the end to Nelly’s narration. Lastly, Hareton and Young Catherine plan to marry on New Year’s Day, 1803.
“Wuthering Heights” is a significant contemporary time reading for two major reasons. First, the novel is an accurate and honest depiction of life in an early period, providing glimpses of history. Second, the novel possesses of and in itself allows the text to move a step beyond the entertainment category and rank itself as high-quality literature. The novelist’s depiction of class, society, and women is a witness to the time, which is foreign to modern readers. Still, much as society is currently different than it was at the author’s time, people have not changed, allowing present-day readers to connect to the central characters’ emotions and feelings, particularly Catherine and Heathcliff. Considering that Bronte uses real characters, it turns out that they are humans with emotions. In this case, one may find it plausible to argue that “Wuthering Heights” extends beyond the standards of a sentimental romance work. Rather, as a reader may notice while reading the novel, Bronte presents life as it unfolds, composes an essay about love, and offers a glimpse of relationships. A great number of critics may find it irresistible to praise some of the author’s mastery of literature and its meaning to the intended audience. For example, they want to think of her word choice, imagery, style, and plot as literary masterpieces that make her writing more of a work of poetry presented in prose.