It’s almost inevitable you know, falling over or encountering one of the Brontë sisters or rather their work, when it comes to picking a piece of classic literature. Charlotte (1816 – 1855), Anne (1820 – 1849) and Emily Brontë (1818 – 1848) wrote novels and poetry, and have firmly staked their claim as the authors of quite a few masterpieces of literature.
Emily Brontë only wrote one novel, however it is one that is synonymous with passion, unrequited love and tempestuous relationships. Wuthering Heights is the tragic story of Heathcliff and Cathy.
The tale as old as time with two people from different stations in life drawn together by an uncontrollable need, lust and can I dare say love for each other. Rich girl and poor boy or rich boy and poor girl. Never the twain shall meet.
Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847 under Emily’s pseudonym Ellis Bell. The sisters all published under male pseudonyms (Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell), like many of their contemporary female writers.
The book has inspired many film and television adaptations.The 1939 black and white film starring Merle Oberon. Laurence Olivier and David Niven was my first visual experience of Wuthering Heights. I had read the book previously, and aside from some artistic liberties taken by the powers that be in the film, it was my first understanding of dysfunctional relationships. Oh and my dislike for Cathy. (I thought I’d just throw that in there)
The earliest known film version was made in 1920, a silent film directed by A.V. Bramble, however it counts as a lost film, there are no known surviving copies. There is a Bollywood musical (2009) and film (1966), a radio tales version, Japanese, French, Spanish and Filipino versions, a spoken word album (1979) and a multitude of television adaptations.
I wonder if Emily thought herself less productive than her sisters, and what she would think if she knew how much of an inspiration her novel has been to others. In fact I wonder how the three of them would feel about being such important figures of English Literature.
Yes, Heathcliff is a jerk at times. He is overbearing, dominant and a wee bit stalkerish, but in his defence Cathy does break his heart into tiny little unfixable pieces. The scene where she draws him to his death, which some think is a hopelessly romantic gesture on her part, whereas I believe it is the culmination of her rage and power over him. She commands and controls him until his very last breath. She playeth very well with the puppet on his ragged and withered strings.
Out of all the adaptations I have seen, and boy there are many, the Olivier and Oberon version is the one that hits the tone of the actual book most accurately. There is just something about it that tugs on the heartstrings a wee bit more than the other versions. Perhaps it’s the feeling of old Hollywood glam, the stark black and white contrast, and the combination of high calibre actors.
Wuthering Heights takes place on the Yorkshire Moors. The Brontë sisters lived in Yorkshire,so they often incorporated the landscapes, weather and people they were surrounded by into their writing. Poignant scenes take place between the Heathcliff and Cathy in the countryside and on the moors. There is a particular cliff or set of boulders, which becomes a special place to Cathy and Heathcliff.
Towards the end Cathy’s ghost reaches out to Heathcliff from the grave. He feels as if she is trying to drive him insane or coax him into the dirt beside her.
He muttered detached words also; the only one I could catch was the name of Catherine, coupled with some wild term of endearment or suffering; and spoken as one would speak to a person present; low and earnest, and wrung from the depth of his soul.
She succeeds or perhaps Heathcliff just gives in to her ghost. Throughout the book it is often difficult to discern whether Heathcliff is the silent passionate man with nefarious intent or the tortured, abused soul. Is Cathy the spoilt little rich girl, who thinks nothing of playing with the emotions of any man in her vicinity or is she the victim of Heathcliff’s obsession?
I peeped in. Mr. Heathcliff was there – laid on his back. His eyes met mine so keen and fierce, I started; and then he seemed to smile. I could not think him dead: but his face and throat were washed with rain; the bed-clothes dripped, and he was perfectly still.
The two of them are said to haunt the moors. Scaring men, women and children alike, making them afraid to walk past the apparitions. Inseparable both in life and death. Together for eternity just as they wished.
‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’
When I think of Heathcliff I always remember the scared, dirty, little boy who was treated like an animal by the members of the Earnshaw household. Kicked, spit on, ignored and made to sleep with the animals in the cold barn. Is it any wonder he became a hard man and the type of person others deem cold and vengeful. Is it any surprise that any type of positive emotion and caress by Cathy would have been lapped up by Heathcliff like a whipped dog. She plays with his feelings and uses him for her own gratification, but only when it suits her of course.
You will have to read it yourself to decide whether it is a great story of passion or one of torture, then again you’ll probably find it is both.
Download Wuthering Heights, Shirley, Agnes Grey or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at Feedbooks. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the Internet Archive or alternatively you can listen to Wuthering Heights, Poems by Emily Brontë, Love and Friendship, Works by Charlotte Brontë or Work by Anne Brontë at Librivox.
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