Wuthering Heights – Short Summary
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847 and ranks high on the list of major works of English literature. A thrilling tale of passion and vengeance set in the Yorkshire Moors in 1847, the novel has inspired no less than four film versions of modern times. Early critics did not like the work, citing its excess of passion and grossness. The second edition was published in 1850, two years after the death of the author. Sympathetically prefaced by her sister Charlotte, she met with greater success, and the novel has continued to grow in stature ever since.
Short Summary of Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights has a narrative framework: it is a novel in a series of stories. A gentleman named Lockwood told the narrator. Lockwood rents a lovely house and park in Yorkshire called Thrushcross Grange and is slowly learning more and more about two local families’ backgrounds. This is what he learns from a housekeeper, Ellen Dean, who had spent all her life with one of the two families: A gentleman farmer named Earnshaw left his farm in around 1760, Wuthering Heights, on a business trip to Liverpool.
There he saw a little boy who looked like a gipsy who had obviously been abandoned on the streets and brought the child home with him to join his wife’s own family, his son Hindley, his daughter Catherine, a manservant named Joseph, and Ellen, the little maid. He called the boy Heathcliff after his son, who had died. All other household members opposed to introducing the weird boy, except Catherine, who was a little younger than Heathcliff and quickly became friends with him.
In particular, Hindley felt as though Heathcliff had replaced his place, though he was many years older, and the true son and heir. When he could, Hindley bullied Heathcliff and Heathcliff made use of his influence over Earnshaw to get his way. Heathcliff was a strange, silent boy who did not seem to be mindful of the blows he received from Hindley even though he was very vindictive in fact. The wife of Earnshaw perished. In the last effort to turn Hindley into a worthy son and to ease the stresses at home, he was sent away to college.
Earnshaw’s health declined after a few years and he became increasingly alienated from his family: he believed in his peevish old age that everyone disliked Heathcliff because he liked him. He has not liked the sweet and mischievous ways of his daughter Catherine. He died finally and Catherine and Heathcliff were very grieved but consoled each other with heavenly thoughts.
Hindley came back, now around 20 years old. Heathcliff was about 12 years old and Catherine was about 11 years old. He was married to a young woman named Frances at Wuthering Heights, to everyone’s surprise. Hindley used his new power to bring Heathcliff down to a servant’s level, though Heathcliff and Catherine continued to maintain their closeness. Catherine taught Heathcliff a little and would join him in the fields or run away to the moors all day to play, never minding afterwards their punishments.
One day they ran down to the Grange, a more sophisticated house in which the Lintons lived with their children, Edgar (13) and Isabella (11). They abhorred the spoiled, delicate children of Linton, made faces, and shouted at them through the window. The Lintons called for help, and the wilder children escaped, but Catherine was caught by a bulldog and brought in. When the Lintons discovered that the girl was Miss Earnshaw, they took great care of her and threw out Heathcliff.
Catherine lived five weeks at the Grange and came home dressed and behaving like a respectable young lady, to the amusement of Hindley and his wife and to the sorrow of Heathcliff (he felt as though she had gone beyond him). Catherine has struggled over the next few years to maintain a balance between her relationship with Heathcliff and her socialization with the elegant Linton kids.
Frances bore a son, Hareton, and soon died of tuberculosis. Hindley gave into wild despair and alcoholism and the household fell into chaos. Heathcliff had been harshly treated and came increasingly to hate Hindley. Edgar Linton fell in love with Catherine, who was attracted by what he represented though much more seriously she loved Heathcliff. They got engaged and ran away from Heathcliff. After seeking Heathcliff all night in a storm, Catherine fell ill and went to the Grange to get better. The older Lintons grabbed her fever, and she died. They soon got married, Edgar and Catherine.
For nearly a year, they lived together relatively harmoniously, then Heathcliff returned. He had acquired manners, education and some money in a mysterious way. Catherine was overjoyed seeing him and Edgar much less so. Heathcliff stayed at Wuthering Heights where he gradually gained control of finance by paying the gambling debts of Hindley. The relationship between Heathcliff and the Linton household became increasingly strained, as Edgar became extremely unhappy with the situation.
Eventually, there was a violent quarrel: Heathcliff left the Grange to avoid being thrown out by the servants of Edgar, Catherine was angry with both men, and Edgar was exasperated with Heathcliff and displeased with the behaviour of his wife. Several days Catherine shut herself up in her room. Meanwhile, Heathcliff eloped on Edgar by way of revenge with Isabella (who was struck by his romantic appearance). Edgar could not accept the betrayal of him by his son, and he did not attempt to avoid the marriage. Catherine had been severely sick, feverish and delirious. She almost died although she was carefully tended by Edgar once he found out about her situation.
A couple of months later Catherine was still very delicate and looked as if she were going to Possibly die. She became pregnant. Heathcliff and Isabella returned to Wuthering Heights, and Isabella wrote to Ellen describing how brutally she was mistreated by her savage husband, and how much she regretted her marriage. Ellen went to see them, to see if she could improve the condition of Isabella. She told them about the situation of Catherine and asked that Heathcliff see her.
Heathcliff came to the Grange a few days later, while Edgar was in church. He had a passionate reunion with Catherine, in which they forgave each other for their mutual betrayals as much as possible. Catherine was weak, Edgar returned and Heathcliff left. That night Catherine died after she gave birth to a daughter. Edgar was dreadfully grieved and Heathcliff desperately begged the ghost of Catherine to visit him. Hindley attempted to kill Heathcliff a few days later, but Heathcliff nearly murdered him instead. Isabella fled from Wuthering Heights and went to live in London, where she gave birth to a son, Linton. After his sister Catherine, Hindley died several months later.
The daughter of Catherine and Edgar, Catherine, grew into a beloved and charming child. She was raised entirely within the Grange ‘s confines and was completely unaware of the existence of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff or her cousin Hareton there. Once she found the farmhouse while exploring the moors and was upset to think that she might be related to such an ignorant rustic as Hareton. Ellen told her she couldn’t go back there.
When Linton was about twelve years old, Isabella died, and Edgar went to fetch him at the Grange. Linton was an effeminate and peevish boy but Catherine was pleased to have a playmate. However, Heathcliff sent Joseph that very day to fetch his son to Wuthering Heights, and her cousin was gone when Catherine woke up the next morning. She soon got over it, though sad at first, and continued her happy childhood.
Catherine and Ellen strayed on to the lands of Heathcliff on her sixteenth birthday and he welcomed them to Wuthering Heights to see Linton. Catherine was delighted to renew her acquaintance, and Heathcliff was willing to cultivate a relationship between the two cousins to protect Edgar ‘s land upon his death. Edgar forbade her to continue visiting there when they returned home and said that Heathcliff was an evil man. Catherine then began a clandestine correspondence with Linton, which became an exchange of letters of devotion. Ellen found it out and put it to a halt.
Edgar got sick. Heathcliff asked Catherine to return to Wuthering Heights because, for her, Linton had broken his heart. She did so, and found that Linton was an invalid bully, but not without charm. Ellen also fell ill and could not stop Catherine from visiting Wuthering Heights every day. She felt obligated to support Linton and hated Hareton for being illiterate and clumsy. When she found out about the visits Ellen told Edgar and he forbade Catherine to go any more.
Edgar was in poor health and did not know about Linton ‘s equally bad health and bad character, so he thought it would be good for Catherine to marry him since Linton and not Catherine would most likely inherit the Grange. There was a system in place in which Linton and Catherine met outside. Linton was getting sick and seemed to be scared of something. His father forced him to court with Catherine. Heathcliff feared that Linton would die before Edgar, so he eventually abducted Catherine and Ellen and told them that Catherine couldn’t go home to see her dying father until she had married Linton. Catherine married Linton and escaped to see Edgar before he died.
After Edgar ‘s funeral (he was buried next to his wife), Heathcliff took Catherine to Wuthering Heights to take care of Linton, who was dying and set the barn free so that he could rent it out (in fact to Lockwood). He told Ellen that he was still obsessed with his beloved Catherine and that he had gone to look at her long-dead body when her coffin was uncovered by the excavation of Edgar ‘s grave.
Catherine had to take care of Linton on her own and, when he died, she maintained an unfriendly attitude to the household: Heathcliff, Hareton (who was in love with her) and Zillah, the housekeeper. As time passed, however, she became lonely enough to seek Hareton ‘s company and started to teach him to read.
It’s around the time of Lockwood at the Grange. He left the area for a couple of months, and when he came back, he discovered that while he was gone:
Heathcliff started to act more and more strangely and became unable to concentrate on the world around him as if Catherine ‘s ghost did not allow him to do so. He all but stopped eating and sleeping, and one morning Ellen found him dead, with an insane smile on his face. He was buried beside Catherine, as he had wished. Hareton grieved for him but was too excited to be inconsolable with the younger Catherine. When the novel comes to an end, they plan to marry and go to the barn.