Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. 3/5 stars Wildly frustrating, melodramatic, and unlikeable characters! I was so sick of everyone! The secondhand first person perspective is also too stagey for me.
3 Stars,  Books

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

👊👊👊 3/5 Blows To The Head – Apparently, I had no idea what this book was actually about! A brutal, melodramatic and surprisingly petty revenge plot.

Format: Audiobook (BorrowBox)
Read: February 2024

Somehow, despite having an English degree and having a “classics” phase in my late teens I never read Wuthering Heights. In fact I think the only Brontë sister book I’ve read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which as a 15/16 year old I remember loving but I suspect I’d find it less “romantic” now twenty years later. That could be an interesting re-read project.

In any case, it turns out I had some misconceptions about Wuthering Heights. I had an idea what this was a romantic love story with Heathcliff being some kind of sexy antihero. There would be heartbroken woman in a nightgown wandering on the Yorkshire Moors wailing “Heathcliffe!” in the wind and rain. I don’t know where got this mental image from, maybe clips from the movie or TV adaptions? Maybe I just made it up, or got it confused with something else!

This is review, if I’m calling it that, is very much down to my own personal reading preferences. I absolutely agree with this book being considered a classic, and I do think it is a masterpiece of writing in many ways, it is just not one that jives with my taste and it didn’t have the elements that truly engage and excite me.

Plot

Though the novel was written during the literary Romantic period, and you could potentially classify it as a Gothic Romance, Wuthering Heights is not at all “romantic” in our modern sense. Any love found at the start very quickly turns obsessive, destructive and tips the line into hate. This book is filled with shocking cruelties, abuse and out-right violence.

Actually the childhood “romance” portion of the book ends with my least favourite romance genre trope – miscommunication! And worst of all, the overheard conversation where the listener leaves half way through a sentence missing the true sentiment. This is the basis for Heathcliff’s supremely petty, decades long “burn it all the fucking ground” revenge plot.

What follows is brutal and punishing for everyone unlucky enough to reside at Wuthering Heights or Thrushcross Grange.

Characters

The characters are all insufferable, but the worst of the lot are Heathcliff and Catherine. Even as children they are described as selfish, defiant, manipulative and moody little terrors, and neither mature in adulthood. They are both self-obsessed and generally awful to everyone around them, including each other. The second generation of Cathy and Linton are just as prone to histrionics as their parents, and Hareton (for all his misfortune) moulded to take after Heathcliff, is no more likeable in his brooding meanness.

The only truly sympathetic character I found was poor Edgar Linton, who was too soft and daft to escape when he could. He probably shouldn’t have kept his daughter so isolated her only choices for husband would be either (or both!) of her first cousins.

These melodramatic lunatics (in seriousness, there are definitely some untreated mental illnesses at play with Heathcliff and Catherine!) and the bizarrely destructive multigenerational revenge of Heathcliff made for a story I wasn’t particularly enthralled by. I just wanted to get away from them!

Structure

I also struggle when the narrative is told with a past first person perspective, and in this case it’s twice removed. We get the story first from new tenant Lockwood, a true outsider, and then from long-time housekeeper Nelly Dean telling him. Everything is filtered through Nelly and her judgements and assumptions, so we never can know the true thoughts and feelings of the subjects. I prefer to be there with the characters, getting a first hand account as they experience things. So this framing made the whole thing feel staged and inauthentic to me, because it is essentially the gossip of an old woman, who is hardly impartial as she has her own role in the story.

It might not be to my personal reading tastes but I can understand why this has stood the test in time. It is a heck of a story, I just think I would probably enjoy it more as a campy movie. It is incredibly atmospheric, and feels both claustrophobic – everything takes place in or on the moors between the houses of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange – and also curiously epic, despite the insular pettiness.

The audiobook version I listened to was entirely performed by Joanne Froggatt and was excellent. She’s a fantastic audiobook narrator, and also of course is from North Yorkshire so can do the authentic accent. In fact the reason I found and borrowed this was because I was searching BorrowBox to see what else she had done after I’d loved her reading The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell.

I still plan to continue my little voyage into the classics of Gothic literature, so soon I will give Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier a go.

Now tell me I am not the only one that didn’t know what the real plot of Wuthering Heights is?

REVIEW SUMMARY

I LIKED

  • I can admire the scope and imagination. The atmosphere is both claustrophobic and epic.
  • Totally understand why other people love this and why it’s a classic!

I DIDN’T LIKE

  • The worst narcissistic characters. Heathcliff and Catherine are both awful to everyone. The second generation are no better! I hated them all.
  • Heathcliff’s petty decades long “burn it all to the ground” revenge is based on mishearing a conversation.
  • Secondhand first person narrative is too gossipy and removed from true emotions.
Spread the love

7 Comments

  • Nic

    I have never read Wuthering Heights. What o knew of it was it is a tragedy of betrayal and revenge. I have heard “Catherine and Heathcliffe” referred to as a romantic couple though.
    From your description, I think I will continue my streak of not reading this. Toxic characters when done well and part of a story that has a particular place for them, is one thing. Toxic characters that we are supposed to see as romantic and/or be rooting for, is something else entirely.
    And isn’t it interesting that the current trend of YA romance and fantasy romance, including those that are marketed as adult but are really YA with older characters and some extra explicit sex and/or violence thrown in, is pretty much inline with what you have described here. I don’t understand what is supposed to be romantic with toxicity.
    Great review. And good job on finishing the book. Sounds like it would have been a DNF for me

    • Alice

      Basically everyone in this story is toxic in one way or another. I’m not sure if you’re intended to feel sorry for Heathcliff in the end, he had a bad childhood but he created his own misery – everyone else’s – after that. Anyone you should perhaps have sympathy I found insufferable in one way or another. They all needed to meet other people and get some perspective!

      Wuthering Heights doesn’t even pretend to be romantic. It’s shockingly brutal! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it.

      If it wasn’t an audiobook it would have been a struggle to plough through tbh, the 19th Century language also takes a bit of adjusting to!

      I avoid anything marketed as “fantasy romance” for that reason! The romance element always seems to be a mess of toxicity.

      I got burned by A Discovery of Witches (thought it would be about Witches.. it was a vampire romance with older characters that acted like YA teens… Still annoyed about that one tbh!).

      • Nic

        Yeah, I avoid fantasy romance too. I have read the All Souls Trilogy though. There were definitely problems in book one but book two and three were much better. And I felt like we were supposed to not like those aspects of the characters – indeed they were criticised and worked upon within the books

      • Nic

        I should add, I didn’t realise All Souls would be so heavy in romance either. But I also had a friend telling me what she loved about the series, which is what I read for, and probably why I enjoyed it.

        • Alice

          I flew through the first one in a couple of days when I was off sick and enjoyed it in a “this is trash” way but it was not at all what I expected from all the glowing reviews!

          I couldn’t get past book 2, though if I recall that one did at least have some witches and magic in it!

    • Alice

      I can understand what other people love about it but it’s all a bit too OTT for my reading taste! Heathcliff and Catherine are the kind of people I’d never want to be around lol

Your Comment Might Make My Day

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.