Wuthering Heights — A Dark Tale of Vengeance

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights occupies as lofty a perch in literature as does Jane Eyre. For example, they rank 13th and 12th, respectively, in The Guardian's list of the 100 best novels written in English (ironically just ahead of Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, an acquaintance of and major inspiration for Charlotte).

Before I read it in 2017, my impression of Wuthering Heights — formed by various allusions across which I'd stumbled — was that it was a great love story set amid tempestuous geographic environments and equally tempestuous emotional ones.

Well, I now view it very differently. (In case you require it, here is a "spoiler alert" informing you that I am about to discuss plot points of the book.)

The story revolves largely around Heathcliff, a foundling discovered in London and adopted by the Earnshaw family, who dwell in the country manor for which the book is named. Heathcliff's mistreatment there, and his love/obsession for his foster sister Cathy, cause him to treat savagely anyone he feels might harm her or loosen his bonds with her. He is repeatedly shown acting barbarously, speaking viciously, and generally advancing his own interests in ways calculated to cause maximal grief to the people he dislikes — a category that includes virtually everyone else he knows. Meanwhile, many lesser characters while away the time by insulting and threatening each other. After Cathy's early death, Heathcliff raises his level of brutality, seeking to punish anyone she was close to.

I didn't find this to be a love story in any meaningful or redemptive sense. I found it to be the biography of a vengeful sociopath who operated in a society of common cruelty and rare kindness. It reminded me of a play I regretted attending decades ago, in which the characters did little more than argue. That grew tiresome — and so did Wuthering Heights (despite the Brontë-quality prose stylings).

Maybe I depend too much on books to cast light, to inspire, and to offer a reprieve from the troubles of modern society. In purely literary terms, I suppose Wuthering Heights is a great achievement. On a personal level, though, it is definitely not my cup of tea.