The first time I heard of Wuthering Heights, I was around 10 and watched the 1939 film adaptation (great as it was), depicting a doomed love affair and hauntingly romantic reunion after death of the main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy.
So when I sat down a while after that to read the book, I found myself faced with an entirely different tale that certainly wasn’t a love story! Yet still, despite this, I found myself engrossed with the twisted, dark tale that spilled from the pages.
Since then, my love has only grown upon subsequent re-readings: Wuthering Heights is one of the most beautiful, dark and narratively complex novels I’ve ever read.
Yet over the years, I’ve been surprised at the things I’ve learnt about its origins and the lady who created these tragically complex characters fixated perhaps on the worst concepts of humanity; jealousy, hate, revenge, anger, addiction and cruelty:
- It isn’t a romance…
Despite most of the adaptations for film and TV depicting it as such, Wuthering Heights is definitely NOT a romance novel. At its heart, it’s a story of awful people doing awful things, to each other as well as themselves.
The screen adaptations usually go to great lengths to show the main relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff as a passionate romance, perhaps because it’s more relatable and ‘Romeo & Juliet-like’, rather than portaying what the novel is actually about: a destructive relationship between two people who are obsessed with each other. Catherine’s famous line—“I am Heathcliff!”—is often seen as romantic, but it expresses something that isn’t really about love: she wants to be Heathcliff, to merge with him. After she dies, Heathcliff literally digs into her grave and breaks down the side of her coffin so that, upon his own death, they can be buried next to each other and decompose into a single, shared body. They strive to transcend the boundaries of human subjectivity and physicality—to become something that is other and only them. Their relationship in the novel is intense and fascinating, but it’s not love.
- It was written by ‘Ellis Bell’…
Emily Bronte first published the story under the name ‘Ellis Bell’. Adopting a male pseudonym was common practice for female authors in the 19th century, who feared their writing would not be taken seriously by publishers or readers unless it was presented as the work of a man.
Early in their literary careers, the Bronte sisters wrote as the Bell brothers, choosing male names using their own initial – Currer for Catherine, Acton for Anne and Ellis for Emily.
It was not until three years after its first publication in 1847 that Wuthering Heights was credited to its real author.
- Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only novel.
Unlike her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, who published four and two novels respectively, Wuthering Heights was Emily’s only full-length work to appear in print.
Nonetheless, she was a prolific writer, particularly of poetry. Some of her poems were published in an anthology alongside those of her sisters in 1846, but the then-newcomers failed to attract attention.
Struggling novelists can take heart from the example of Wuthering Heights: publishers so consistently rejected the novel, that Emily Brontë actually paid the substantial sum of £50 to have it published. It met with no popular or critical acclaim, and she died believing it had failed.
- Emily foreshadowed her own death
In Wuthering Heights, three characters, Francis, Edgar, and Linton die of consumption, known today as tuberculosis, and their suffering is described with accurate medical detail in an eerie foreshadowing of Emily’s own death and that of her brother Branwell and her sister Anne.
- Emily’s story depicts illness and addiction with chilling accuracy
The brain fever that afflicts Catherine in Wuthering Heights was recognized by the medical establishment at the time as a real illness; the symptoms were most likely those that today would be diagnosed as caused by meningitis.
The stark and realistic depiction of alcoholism in the character of Hindley Earnshaw mirrored the behavior of Emily’s brother Branwell, an alcoholic. Even years before, Emily had written an essay on the malignancy of alcoholism in a way that shows, yet again, an understanding of issues before her time.
- Emily Bronte shares a coincidental birthday
In a stroke of artistic coincidence, Bronte shares her birthday with Kate Bush, who had a No. 1 hit single in 1978 with Wuthering Heights, an eccentric pop/rock ballad based on characters and events from the novel.
Not only were the pair born exactly 140 years apart but, like her predecessor, Bush was also something of a prodigy, writing her Bronte-inspired hit at the age of 18.
What’s your favourite book?
Keep your eyes peeled for our own edition of this outstanding classic, to be published under our Signature Collection – Coming soon!