Friday, February 27, 2009

Wuthering Heights Summary

Another piece of classic literature this time by Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights.

After moving into Thrushcross Grange and meeting his landlord, Heathcliff, who lives in Wuthering Heights, a man named Lockwood asks his house keeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him Heathcliff's story.

The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and two narrators—Mr. Lockwood and Ellen "Nelly" Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange, a grand house on the Yorkshire moors he is renting from the surly Heathcliff, who lives at nearby Wuthering Heights. Lockwood is treated rudely and coldly by the brooding, unsociable Heathcliff, and is forced to stay at Wuthering Heights for a night when one of the savage dogs of the Heights attacks him and the weather turns against him. The housekeeper cautiously takes him to a chamber to sleep through the night and warns him to not speak to Heathcliff about where he is sleeping.

During the night, Lockwood finds a book of the experiences of a girl named Catherine Earnshaw, in which he discovers that she and Heathcliff were extremely close as children. As he dozes off, Lockwood has a terrifying dream of Catherine's ghost appearing at his window, deathly pale and frightening, begging him to let her in to the home, and then attempting to force her way in through the broken window; horrified, Lockwood finds himself driving her away by seizing her wrist and forcing it down on the broken glass in the windowframe. Heathcliff, awakened as Lockwood shouts in fear, comes running. Heathcliff's mood changes dramatically when Lockwood tells him of Catherine's ghost. Heathcliff asks Mr. Lockwood to leave the room and Lockwood hears him sobbing outside the door saying, "Oh Cathy, please come in." The following morning, Lockwood sets off to Thrushcross Grange where he asks the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell the story of Heathcliff, Catherine, and Wuthering Heights as he recovers from a cold.

Nelly takes over the narration and begins her story thirty years earlier, when Heathcliff, a foundling living on the streets of Liverpool, is brought to Wuthering Heights by the then-owner, the kind Mr. Earnshaw, and raised as his own. Ellen comments that Heathcliff perhaps might have been descended from American origins. He is often described as "dark" or "gypsy". Earnshaw's daughter Catherine becomes Heathcliff's inseparable friend. Her brother Hindley, however, resents Heathcliff, seeing him as an interloper and rival. When Mr. Earnshaw dies three years later, Hindley (who has married a woman named Frances) takes over the estate. He brutalises Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Catherine becomes friends with a neighbouring family, the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange, who mellow her initially wild personality. She is especially attached to the refined and mild young Edgar Linton, whom Heathcliff instantly dislikes.

A year later, Hindley's wife dies, apparently of consumption, shortly after giving birth to a son, Hareton. Hindley takes to drinking. Some two years after that, Catherine agrees to marry Edgar. Nelly knows that this will crush Heathcliff, and Heathcliff overhears Catherine's explanation that it would be "degrading" to marry him. Heathcliff storms out and leaves Wuthering Heights, not hearing Catherine's continuing declarations that "she is Heathcliff" and that her love for him is immovable like the rocks. After realizing that Heathcliff has left her, Catherine becomes desperate and is struck down by a fever. Edgar's attentions slowly return Catherine back to health, and some years later she marries him. She lives in apparent happiness for a few months, until Heathcliff returns, intent on destroying those who prevent him from being with Catherine. He has, mysteriously, become very wealthy. Through loans he has made to the drunken and dissipated Hindley that Hindley cannot repay, Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights upon Hindley's death. Intent on ruining Edgar, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella, which places him in a position to inherit Thrushcross Grange upon Edgar's death.

Catherine is initially very happy at seeing Heathcliff again, but then becomes very ill after a harsh argument with Heathcliff regarding Isabella. They reconcile a few hours before her death, however, reaffirming their feelings for one another for the last time. Catherine dies after giving birth to a daughter also named Catherine, or Cathy. Heathcliff becomes only more bitter and vengeful towards everybody around him. Isabella flees her abusive marriage a month later and subsequently gives birth to a boy, Linton. At around the same time, Hindley dies. Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights and vows to raise Hindley's son Hareton with as much neglect as he had suffered at Hindley's hands years earlier. Later on, Heathcliff tells Nelly that he despises his own son, Linton, who reminds him of Edgar and Isabella, and favours Hareton as a son, recognising an element of Catherine in him (it having already been established that both Catherine and Heathcliff considered themselves one and the same person), and therefore himself. Yet, Heathcliff chooses to ignore these paternal emotions so that he might continue to degrade Hareton as Hindley degraded Heathcliff: thereby achieving his revenge on his hated foster-brother.

Twelve years later, the dying Isabella asks Edgar to raise her and Heathcliff's son, Linton. However, Heathcliff finds out about this and takes the sickly, spoiled child to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff has nothing but contempt for his son, but delights in the idea of him ruling the property of his enemies. To that end, a few years later, Heathcliff attempts to persuade young Cathy to marry Linton. With Linton's health diminishing swiftly, Heathcliff kidnaps Cathy and forces the two to marry. Soon after, Edgar Linton dies, followed shortly by Linton Heathcliff. This leaves Cathy a widow and a virtual prisoner at Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff has gained complete control of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It is at this point in the narrative that Lockwood arrives, renting Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff, and hearing Nelly Dean's story. Shocked, Lockwood leaves for London.

During his absence from the area, however, events reach a climax that Nelly describes when he returns a year later. Cathy gradually softens toward her rough, uneducated cousin Hareton, just as her mother was tender towards Heathcliff. When Heathcliff is confronted by Cathy and Hareton's love, notably Hareton's determination to protect the defiant Cathy from Heathcliff's attacks, he seems to suffer a mental break from reality and begins to see Catherine's ghost. He abandons his life-long vendetta and soon dies, smiling at having achieved his life-long dream of joining Catherine in the afterlife. Nelly describes Heathcliff's corpse. It is lying on the bed stiff. The window is open and rain is pouring in through it soaking Heathcliff's body. His hand is outstretched as if reaching for somebody's hand (possibly the ghost of Catherine as seen by Lockwood). He is buried next to Catherine, and several villagers swear that they have seen their ghosts wandering together through the moors. The story concludes with Lockwood visiting their graves, noting how restful the spot seems.

From Wikipedia.

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