History of Literature

Emily Bronte


Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte


Emily Brontë

British author
pseudonym Ellis Bell
born July 30, 1818, Thornton, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Dec. 19, 1848, Haworth, Yorkshire

English novelist and poet who produced but one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), a highly imaginative novel of passion and hate set on the Yorkshire moors. Emily was perhaps the greatest of the three Brontë sisters, but the record of her life is extremely meagre, for she was silent and reserved and left no correspondence of interest, and her single novel darkens rather than solves the mystery of her spiritual existence.

Her father, Patrick Brontë (1777–1861), an Irishman, held a number of curacies: Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Yorkshire, was the birthplace of his elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth (who died young), and nearby Thornton that of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, and Anne. In 1820 the father became rector of Haworth, remaining there for the rest of his life.

After the death of their mother in 1821, the children were left very much to themselves in the bleak moorland rectory. The children were educated, during their early life, at home, except for a single year that Charlotte and Emily spent at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. In 1835, when Charlotte secured a teaching position at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, Emily accompanied her as a pupil but suffered from homesickness and remained only three months. In 1838 Emily spent six exhausting months as a teacher in Miss Patchett’s school at Law Hill, near Halifax, and then resigned.

To keep the family together at home, Charlotte planned to keep a school for girls at Haworth. In February 1842 she and Emily went to Brussels to learn foreign languages and school management at the Pension Héger. Although Emily pined for home and for the wild moorlands, it seems that in Brussels she was better appreciated than Charlotte. Her passionate nature was more easily understood than Charlotte’s decorous temperament. In October, however, when her aunt died, Emily returned permanently to Haworth.

In 1845 Charlotte came across some poems by Emily, and this led to the discovery that all three sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—had written verse. A year later they published jointly a volume of verse, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the initials of these pseudonyms being those of the sisters; it contained 21 of Emily’s poems, and a consensus of later criticism has accepted the fact that Emily’s verse alone reveals true poetic genius. The venture cost the sisters about £50 in all, and only two copies were sold.

By midsummer of 1847 Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey had been accepted for joint publication by J. Cautley Newby of London, but publication of the three volumes was delayed until the appearance of their sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, which was immediately and hugely successful. Wuthering Heights, when published in December 1847, did not fare well; critics were hostile, calling it too savage, too animal-like, and clumsy in construction. Only later did it come to be considered one of the finest novels in the English language.

Soon after the publication of her novel, Emily’s health began to fail rapidly. She had been ill for some time, but now her breathing became difficult, and she suffered great pain. She died of tuberculosis in December 1848.

Wuthering Heights.
Emily Brontë’s work on Wuthering Heights cannot be dated, and she may well have spent a long time on this intense, solidly imagined novel. It is distinguished from other novels of the period by its dramatic and poetic presentation, its abstention from all comment by the author, and its unusual structure. It recounts in the retrospective narrative of an onlooker, which in turn includes shorter narratives, the impact of the waif Heathcliff on the two families of Earnshaw and Linton in a remote Yorkshire district at the end of the 18th century. Embittered by abuse and by the marriage of Cathy Earnshaw—who shares his stormy nature and whom he loves—to the gentle and prosperous Edgar Linton, Heathcliff plans a revenge on both families, extending into the second generation. Cathy’s death in childbirth fails to set him free from his love-hate relationship with her, and the obsessive haunting persists until his death; the marriage of the surviving heirs of Earnshaw and Linton restores peace.

Sharing her sisters’ dry humour and Charlotte’s violent imagination, Emily diverges from them in making no use of the events of her own life and showing no preoccupation with a spinster’s state or a governess’s position. Working, like them, within a confined scene and with a small group of characters, she constructs an action, based on profound and primitive energies of love and hate, which proceeds logically and economically, making no use of such coincidences as Charlotte relies on, requiring no rich romantic similes or rhetorical patterns, and confining the superb dialogue to what is immediately relevant to the subject. The sombre power of the book and the elements of brutality in the characters affronted some 19th-century opinion. Its supposed masculine quality was adduced to support the claim, based on the memories of her brother Branwell’s friends long after his death, that he was author or part author of it. While it is not possible to clear up all the minor puzzles, neither the external nor the internal evidence offered is substantial enough to weigh against Charlotte’s plain statement that Emily was the author.

Joyce M.S. Tompkins


The Brontë sisters, painted by their brother, Branwell c. 1834.
From left to right, Anne, Emily and Charlotte


Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte


There has been a great obsession with solitude in modern writing, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights must stand as the most violent expression of the products of extreme austerity and isolation ever written. It is an utterly psychotic love story as far removed both from the novels of her two sisters and William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation as imaginable.
Emily Bronte was brought up with great simplicity, encountering only her father, an Irish pastor, and her sisters, with whom she traded stories to pass the time on their remote Yorkshire wasteland. Given her situation she could not possibly have acquired any true experience of love, so how could she possibly have distilled such unaffected beauty and crazed, passionate fury into a novel? Thereisa kind of awful modernity in the story of Catherine and Heathcliff, a model of society at its most efficient, squeezing out the elemental and the innocent freedom of childhood in favor of a calculated reason, and it is this process that plunges the two lovers into disaster. Catherine is able to deny the freedom of her youth for a place in adult society, Heathcliff is driven to a furious retribution that will stop at nothing. Here lies the fascination of Wuthering Heights, in a model of catastrophe as envisaged by a wholly innocent woman, somehow equipped with the ability to express such pure desperation. Doubtless this is the reason that compelled Georges Bataille to judge it "one of the greatest books ever written."


Type of work:
Author: Emily Bronte (1818-1848)
Type of plot: Impressionistic romance
Time of plot: 1757-1803
Locale: The moors of northern England
First published: 1847

Published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, this famous novel was once considered such a risk by its publishers that Emily Bronte had to defray the cost of publication until a sufficient number of copies had been sold. Despite some scenes of romantic exaggeration, Wuthering Heights is an intriguing tale of revenge in which the main figures are controlled by their consuming passions.

Emily Bronte

Principal Characters

Heathcliff, a dark-visaged, violently passionate, black-natured man. A foundling brought to the Earnshaw home at an early age, he is subjected to cruel emotional sufferings during his formative years. His chief tormentor is Hindley Earnshaw, who is jealous of his father's obvious partiality toward Heathcliff. These he endures with the sullen patience of a hardened, ill-treated animal, but just as the years add age his suffering adds hatred in Heath-cliff's nature and he becomes filled with an inhuman, almost demonic, desire for vengeance against Hindley. This ambition coupled with his strange, transcendent relationship with Catherine, Hindley's sister, encompasses his life until he becomes a devastatingly wasted human, in fact, hardly human at all. He evaluates himself as a truly superior person who, possessing great emotional energies and capabilities, is a creature set apart from the human. Some regard him as a fiend, full of horrible passions and powers. In the end he dies empty, his will gone, his fervor exhausted, survived by Cathy and Hare-ton, the conventionalists, the moralists, the victims of his vengeful wraths.
Catherine Earnshaw, the sister of Hindley, later the wife of Edgar Linton and mother of young Cathy Linton. Catherine is spirited as a girl, selfish, wild, saucy, provoking and sometimes even wicked. But she can be sweet of eye and smile, and she is often contrite for causing pain with her insolence. In childhood she and Heathcliff form an unusually close relationship, but as her friendship with Edgar and Isabella Linton grows, she becomes haughty and arrogant. In spite of her devotion to Heathcliff she rejects him for fear marriage to him would degrade her. Instead, she accepts Edgar Linton's proposal. But her deep feeling for Heathcliff remains; he is her one unselfishness, and she insists that Edgar must at least tolerate him so that her marriage will not alter her friendship with Heathcliff. Her marriage is a tolerably happy one, possibly because Catherine becomes unspirited after Heathcliff's departure because of her rejection. Upon his return they become close friends again, despite his apparent vile character and foul treatment of her family. In their inhuman passion and fierce, tormented love they are lost to each other, each possessing the other's spirit as if it were his own. Her mind broken and anguished, Catherine finally dies in childbirth.
Hindley Earnshaw, the brother of Catherine Earnshaw, husband of Frances, and father of Hareton. As a child he is intensely jealous of Heathcliff and treats the boy cruelly. After the death of Frances, Hindley's character deteriorates rapidly; he drinks heavily and finally dies in disgrace, debt, and degradation as the result of Heathcliff's scheme of vengeance.
Edgar Linton, the husband of Catherine and father of Cathy. A polished, cultured man, he is truly in love with Catherine and makes her happy until Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights. He is a steady, unassuming person, patient and indulgent of both his wife and his daughter.
Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar and Catherine and wife of Linton Heathcliff. A bright, spirited affectionate girl, she pities Linton, becomes his friend, and through the trickery and bribery of Heathcliff is forced to marry the sickly young man. She becomes sullen and ill-tempered in Heathcliff's household, but she finds ultimate happiness with Hareton Earnshaw.
Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley and Frances and the object of Heathcliff's revenge against Hindley. Under Heathcliff's instruction, or rather neglect, Hareton grows into a crude, gross, uneducated young man until Cathy, after Heathcliff's death, takes him under her charge and begins to improve his mind and manners. The two fall in love and marry.
Linton Heathcliff, the son of Heathcliff and Isabella and the husband of Cathy Linton. He is a selfish boy indulged and spoiled by his mother. After her death he returns to live with Heathcliff and at Wuthering Heights sinks into a weak-willed existence, a victim of his father's harsh treatment. Sickly since infancy, he dies at an early age, shortly after his marriage to Cathy Linton.
Isabella Linton, the sister of Edgar, Heathcliff 's wife, and mother of Linton. A rather reserved, spoiled, often sulking girl, she becomes infatuated with Heathcliff, and in spite of her family's opposition and warnings she runs away with him. Later, regretting her foolish action, she leaves him and lives with her son Linton until her death.
Frances Earnshaw, the wife of Hindley; she dies of consumption.
Mr. Earnshaw, the father of Catherine and Hindley. He brings Heathcliff to Wuthering Heights after a business trip to Liverpool.
Mrs. Earnshaw, his wife.
Mrs. Ellen Dean, called Nelly, the housekeeper who relates Heathcliff's history to Mr. Lockwood and thereby serves as one of the books' narrators. A servant in the household at Wuthering Heights, she goes with Catherine to Thrushcross Grange when the latter marries Edgar Linton. Some years later she returns to live at Wuthering Heights as the housekeeper for Heathcliff. She is a humble, solid character, conventional, reserved, and patient. Although Hindley's disorderly home and Heathcliff's evil conduct distress her, often appall her, she does little to combat these unnatural personalities, perhaps through lack of imagination but certainly not from lack of will, for in the face of Heathcliff's merciless vengeance she is stanch and strong.
Mr. Lockwood, the first narrator, a foppish visitor from the city and Heathcliff's tenant. Interested in his landlord, he hears Mrs. Dean relate the story of the Earnshaw and Linton families.
Joseph, a servant at Wuthering Heights. He is forever making gloomy observations and predictions about other people and offering stern reprimands for their impious behavior.
Zillah, a servant at Wuthering Heights.
Mr. Green and Mr. Kenneth, lawyers in Gimmerton, a neighboring village.

The Story

In 1801, Mr. Lockwood became a tenant at Thrush-cross Grange, an old farm owned by Mr. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. In the early days of his tenancy, he made two calls on his landlord. On his first visit, he met Heathcliff, an abrupt, unsocial man, surrounded by a pack of snarling, barking dogs. When he went to Wuthering Heights a second time, he met the other members of the strange household: a rude, unkempt but handsome young man named Hareton Earnshaw and a pretty young woman who was the widow of Heathcliff's son.
During his visit, snow began to fall; it covered the moor paths and made travel impossible for a stranger in that bleak countryside. Heathcliff refused to let one of the servants go with him as a guide but said that if he stayed the night he could share Hareton's bed or that of Joseph, a sour, canting old servant. When Mr. Lockwood tried to borrow Joseph's lantern for the homeward journey, the old fellow set the dogs on him, to the amusement of Hareton and Heathcliff. The visitor was finally rescued by Zillah, the cook, who hid him in an unused chamber of the house.
That night, Mr. Lockwood had a strange dream. Thinking that a branch was rattling against the window, he broke the glass in his attempt to unhook the casement. As he reached out to break off the fir branch outside, his fingers closed on a small ice-cold hand, and a weeping voice begged to be let in. The unseen presence said that her name was Catherine Linton, and she tried to force a way through the broken casement; Mr. Lockwood screamed.
Heathcliff appeared in a state of great excitement and savagely ordered Mr. Lockwood out of the room. Then he threw himself upon the bed by the shattered pane and begged the spirit to come in out of the dark and the storm. The voice, however, was heard no more—only the hiss of swirling snow and the wailing of a cold wind that blew out the smoking candle.
Ellen Dean satisfied part of Mr. Lockwood's curiosity about the happenings of that night and the strange household at Wuthering Heights. She was the housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, but she had lived at Wuthering Heights during her childhood.
Her story of the Earnshaws, Lintons, and Heathcliffs began years before, when old Mr. Earnshaw was living at Wuthering Heights with his wife and two children. Hindley and Catherine. Once on a trip to Liverpool, Mr. Earnshaw had found a starving and homeless orphan, a ragged, dirty, urchin, dark as a gypsy, whom he brought back with him to Wuthering Heights and christened Heathcliff—a name that was to serve the fourteen-year-old boy as both a given and a surname. Gradually, the orphan began to usurp the affections of Mr. Earnshaw, whose health was failing. Wuthering Heights became a bedlam of petty jealousies; Hindley was jealous of both Heathcliff and Catherine; old Joseph, the servant, augmented the bickering; and Catherine was much too fond of Heathcliff. At last, Hindley was sent away to school. A short time later, Mr. Earnshaw died.
When Hindley Earnshaw returned home for his father's funeral, he brought a wife with him. As the new master of Wuthering Heights, he revenged himself on Heathcliff by treating him as a servant. Catherine became a wild and undisciplined hoyden who still continued her affection for Heathcliff.
One night, Catherine and Heathcliff tramped through the moors to Thrushcross Grange, where they spied on their neighbors, the Lintons. Attacked by a watchdog, Catherine was taken into the house and stayed there as a guest for five weeks until she was able to walk again. Thus she became intimate with the pleasant family of Thrushcross Grange—Mr. and Mrs. Linton and their two children, Edgar and Isabella. Afterward, the Lintons visited frequently at Wuthering Heights. The combination of ill-treatment on the part of Hindley and arrogance on the part of Edgar and Isabella made Heathcliff jealous and ill-tempered. He vowed revenge on Hindley, whom he hated with all the sullen fury of his savage nature.
The next summer, Hindley's tubercular wife, Frances, gave birth to a son, Hareton Earnshaw. A short time later, she died. In his grief, Hindley became desperate, ferocious, and degenerate. In the meantime, Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton had become sweethearts. The girl confided to Ellen Dean that she really loved Heathcliff, but she felt it would be degrading for her to marry the penniless orphan. Heathcliff, who overheard this conversation, disappeared the same night and did not return for many years. Edgar and Catherine soon married and took up their abode at Thrushcross Grange with Ellen Dean as their housekeeper. There the pair lived happily until Heathcliff's return caused trouble between them. When he returned to the moors, Heathcliff was greatly improved in manners and appearance. He accepted Hind-ley's invitation to live at Wuthering Heights—an invitation offered by Hindley because he found in Heathcliff a companion at cards and drink, and he hoped to recoup his own dwindling fortune from Heathcliff's pockets.
Isabella Linton began to show a sudden, irresistible attraction to Heathcliff, much to the dismay of Edgar and Catherine. One night, Edgar and Heathcliff had a quarrel. Soon afterward, Heathcliff eloped with Isabella, obviously marrying her only to avenge himself and provoke Edgar. Catherine, an expectant mother, underwent a serious attack of fever. When Isabella and her husband returned to Wuthering Heights, Edgar refused to recognize his sister and forbade Heathcliff to enter his house. Despite this restriction, Heathcliff managed a final tender interview with Catherine. Partly as a result of this meeting, her child, named Catherine Linton, was born prematurely. The mother died a few hours later.
In the meantime, Isabella had found life with Heathcliff unbearable. She left him and went to London, where a few months later her child, Linton, was born. After Hindley's death, Heathcliff the guest became the master of Wuthering Heights, for Hindley had mortgaged everything to him. Hareton, the natural heir, was reduced to dependency on his father's enemy.
Twelve years after leaving Heathcliff, Isabella died, and her brother took the sickly child to live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff soon heard of the child's arrival and demanded that Linton be sent to Wuthering Heights to live with his father. Young Catherine once visited Wuthering Heights and met her cousin Linton. Her father had tried to keep her in ignorance about the tenants of the place, for Heathcliff had been at pains to let it be known that he wished the two children, Cathy and Linton, to be married; and Heathcliff had his way. About the time that Edgar Linton became seriously ill, Heathcliff persuaded Cathy to visit her little cousin, who was also in extremely bad health. Upon her arrival, Cathy was imprisoned for five days at Wuthering Heights and forced to marry her sickly cousin Linton before she was allowed to go home to see her father. Although she was able to return to Thrushcross Grange before her father's death, there was not enough time for Edgar Linton to alter his will. Thus his land and fortune went indirectly to Heathcliff. Weak, sickly Linton Heathcliff died soon after, leaving Cathy a widow and dependent on Heathcliff.
Mr. Lockwood went back to London in the spring without seeing Wuthering Heights or its people again. Traveling in the region the next autumn, he had a fancy to revisit Wuthering Heights. He found Catherine and Hareton now in possession. He heard from Ellen Dean the story of Heathcliff's death three months before. He had died after four days of deliberate starvation, a broken man disturbed by memories of the beautiful young Catherine Earnshaw. His death freed Catherine Heathcliff and Hareton from his tyranny. Catherine was now teaching the ignorant boy to read and to improve his rude manners.
Mr. Lockwood went to see Heathcliff's grave. It was on the other side of Catherine Earnshaw's and her husband's. They lay under their three headstones: Catherine's in the middle, weather-discolored and half-buried, Edgar's partly moss-grown, Heathcliff's still bare. In the surrounding countryside, there was a legend that these people slept uneasily after their stormy, passionate lives. Shepherds and travelers at night claimed that they had seen Catherine and Heathcliff roaming the dark moors as they had done so many years before.

Critical Evaluation

Published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was considered such a risk by its publishers that Emily Bronte had to defray the cost of publication until a sufficient number of copies had been sold. The combination of lurid and violent scenes in this novel must have been somewhat shocking to mid-nineteenth century
taste. Despite its exaggerated touches, Wuthering Heights is an intriguing tale of revenge, and the main figures exist in a more than lifesize vitality of their own consuming passions. Bronte chose a suitable title for her novel: The word wuthering is a provincial adjective used to describe the atmospheric tumult of stormy weather.
In his influential critical study The Great Tradition (1948), F. R. Leavis calls Wuthering Heights a "sport." He cannot find a clear place for the book in his historical scheme of the English novel's development. The novel has eluded classification since its publication, and its characters and ideas continue to perplex and fascinate. The source of its energy lies in the powerful tension between its plot and its characters, between its organization and its themes. Dorothy Van Ghent (The English Novel, 1953) observes that in plot and design the book has rigorous "limitation," although its characters are passionately immoderate; as a result, the story is constantly explosive. Time and space force their restrictions on spirits straining to be free.
After an initial reading, the reader tends only to remember the most violent or emotional scenes and thinks back on the organization of the novel as merely a string of fiery events: Lockwood's dream, Cathy and Heathcliff fighting off the dogs of Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff at Cathy's deathbed, or countless moments of cruelty and ecstasy involving all the characters. On closer analysis, the reader discovers the intricate interweaving of the novel's four parts into the core-story of Catherine and Heathcliff. The scheme can be summarized as follows: the establishment of the violently passionate relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff; Catherine's rejection of marriage with Heathcliff and her marriage to Edgar Linton and death in childbirth; Heathcliff's revenge; and Heathcliff's disintegration and death.
In addition to this four-part design, with its intricate changes in time and relationships among secondary characters, the novel is prescribed by the spatial and social polarity of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Without all of these defining and prescriptive forms, the metaphysical revolt that underlies the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff would not have a sufficient antagonist; that is, the pressures designed to crush them help to make their haunting and demonic challenge to experience credible.
How do Catherine and Heathcliff do it? How does Bronte' empower her protagonists to overcome time, space, and society? She makes their minds independent of empirical reality. Catherine confides to Ellen Dean that "dreams . . . have stayed with me . . . and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind." Unlike Lockwood, who is terribly frightened by his nightmare, Catherine associates her dreaming with self-definition. In Catherine's dream, the angels in Heaven are so offended by her "weeping to come back to earth . . . that they flung" her out "into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights," where she wakes "sobbing for joy." Long before she dies physically, Catherine resurrects herself in her imagination; the irony of this religious vision is that it reverses traditional priorities: earth becomes a paradise to Heaven's misery. A "vision" of Nature replaces the phenomenal world of time and space.
Gods are realized in the minds of their worshipers. Catherine has only one worshiper, Heathcliff, but he is powerful enough to substitute for the multitudes. Heathcliff is Catherine's Faith because their souls are interchangeable ("Nelly, I am Heathcliff"); powerless to resist her intensity, Heathcliff is sanctified by her identification with him. The terms are diabolical: "you have treated me infernally," complains Heathcliff to Catherine after his return to Wuthering Heights. In response to Catherine's plea that he refrain from marrying Isabella Linton, Heathcliff lashes back: "The tyrant [and he means Catherine] grinds down his slaves and they don't turn against him, they crush those beneath them." The terms may be diabolical, but the actuality is seraphic. Bronte is similar to William Blake in the way she reverses the values of Heaven and Hell in order to dramatize and release a spiritually revolutionary moral energy.
When Heathcliff learns of Catherine's illness, he tells Ellen Dean that "existence after losing her would be hell." Indeed, the love Heathcliff and Catherine share is a new kind of emotional paradise, despite its pain and destiny of frustration; therefore, when Catherine lies ill on what will be her deathbed, Heathcliff is witness to a desacralized crucifixion. Racked by his profound emotions of both absolute love for Catherine and fury at her for dying, Heathcliff exclaims, "Kiss me again; and don't let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer—but vours'. How can I?" When Ellen tells him shortly afterward of Catherine's death, Heathcliff demands that she haunt him to his dying day since life without her is inconceivable. Just as Catherine preferred Nature with Heathcliff to Heaven without him in her dreams, Heathcliff spends the rest of his life rejecting earthly possibilities and directs his spiritual and mental energies toward reunion with Catherine: "I cannot live without my soul!" When the time comes, he prepares for his death as if it were salvation: "Last night, I was on the threshold of hell. Today, I am within sight of my heaven."
These two lovers inhabit a psychic and emotional world entirely their own. Ellen Dean seems an honest observer, but her conventional imagination makes her finally a spiritual stranger to all the facts she so carefully relates. Lockwood is awed by the lovers' story, but he "sees" it at a great distance because of limitations of feeling and perception. Three generations of Lintons and Earnshaws together with the conflicts of class and religious differences embodied in the juxtaposition of "Heights" and "Grange" seem merely an insignificant background to the classless, timeless, and eerily universal passion of these two children of the moor.


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