Book Review – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

First published, 1847

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A windswept, rugged and gothic tale of passion and revenge, Wuthering Heights follows the rebellious, desperate love between proud Catherine Earnshaw and fatherless foundling, Heathcliff.

Taken in by Catherine’s father as a lonely, wandering boy, Heathcliff is thought of as inherently less than by Catherine’s brother, the arrogant bully, Hindley, who regularly beats and abuses the lost lad, with particular ferocity after the family patriarch dies.

With only one friend in the world, his soul-twin Catherine, Heathcliff is devastated upon hearing only half a conversation, in which Catherine supposes herself too good for the likes of him. Thus, our dark hero goes off to make something of himself, to spite them all.

But death is never far away on the Yorkshire moors and, even through a new generation, Heathcliff is just as devoted, wild and furious as ever, despite his apparent success.

The story of Heathcliff, Catherine and their families is told by Nelly, lifelong housekeeper and confidant, to new tenant, Mr Lockwood, and the pair stay up nights to delineate and understand the history of this star-crossed, but ultimately doomed, pair.

You may remember from my review of Dracula a wee while ago that I wasn’t too taken by the use of phonetic writing for the purposes of conveying accent. It’s a personal thing. I find the phonetic harder to read than standard English. Well, there’s loads of it here. Particularly from hard-hearted, rustic, bible-basher and estate keeper, Joseph:

“…’Aw wonder how yah can faishion to stand thear i’ idleness un war, when all on ’ems goan out! Bud yah’re a nowt, and it’s no use talking – yah’ll niver mend o’yer ill ways, but goa raight to t’divil, like yer mother afore ye!'”
4% in, Chapter Two, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Good grief.

Both Joseph and Hareton speak in a similar style so there was a lot of mangled speech to work through. I suppose I credit myself with enough imagination to superimpose the accent without having it spoon-fed to me; maybe that’s why it grated.

That said, one thing that struck me quite profoundly and not until close to the end was Nelly; also working class and every bit as Northern as Hareton and Joseph, she’s telling the majority of the story, but has no written accent at all. Which begs the question: is it the fact that she’s being translated by Mr Lockwood that renders her accentless, or does she fancy herself above a manner of speech complete with dialectic tics?

In any case, there are a good number of beautifully observed characters, not a one of them happy, and a stunning meditation on the tragedy of love encumbered by prejudice.

Also, this novel is a useful reference for those of us who’d want to refute the idea that entitlement is a flaw of the Millennial generation, with whom it clearly began. Read Linton Heathcliffe and tell me entitlement is new.