Wuthering Heights: by Emily Bronte - Summary

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The Story Developed Through Three Stages

      Wuthering Heights has a well-knit and well-constructed plot. The story is not loose, but compact, and events are well-arranged and inter-connected. It appears that Emily Bronte devoted a good deal of thought to the construction of the story.

      The story develops mainly through three stages. The first stage ends with Heathcliff's sudden disappearance from the Heights on discovering that Catherine has promised Linton to marry him. The second stage presents Catherine's marriage to Linton, Heathcliff's return to the Heights about three years after her marriage, and Catherine's illness ending in her death. To the third stage belong the events after Catherine's death ending in the death of Heathcliff, and engagement of Hareton and the second Catherine. These three stages are very well interconnected so that we imperceptibly glide from the one into the other without any sense of gap or break after each stage. As the story passes from one to the other stage the scene of action also changes. The scene of action in the first stage of the story is almost exclusively the Heights. In the second stage the scene of action changes from the Heights to the Grange. In the third and the final stage, events occur partly at the Heights and partly at the Grange.

Wuthering Heights Summary
Wuthering Heights

The First Stage

      In the first stage of the story, Heathcliff is introduced into the Earnshaw family. Except the master nobody likes the gypsy boy. The master's two children, Hindley and Catherine, have a great aversion for the boy because of his dark complexion and peculiar habits and manners. It is a sort of racial prejudice of the white men against the coloured people. The daughter's aversion for Heathcliff, however, gradually turns into love whose intensity grows with the passage of time. But the son's hatred for the gypsy boy increases instead of decreasing. Hindley ill-treats Heathcliff and often beats him mercilessly. When a complaint is made to Mr. Earnshaw he always takes the side of Heathcliff and punishes his own son. The master's partiality for the gypsy may still further infuriates Hindley and increases his hatred for him. But Catherine is Heathcliff's friend and companion and shares his feelings. Amid this scene of love and hatred, Mr. Earnshaw suddenly dies one night. After his death Hindley, who now is the master of the Heights ill-treats Heathcliff and neglects his sister. One night Heathcliff and Catherine quietly go to the Grange, where the latter is detained by the Lintons. The next morning Mr. Linton visits Hindley and explains to him his duties towards his sister. Hindley realizes his mistake and promises to take better care of his sister. Since Catherine falls ill at the Grange she has to remain there for several weeks. When she returns to the Heights, she is cordially received by her brother Hindley and his wife: Then begin the visits of young Edgar Linton to the Heights. Edgar soon grows intimate with Catherine. Heathcliff, who is reduced by Hindley to the low state of a servant, views their intimacy with suspicion and grows sulky and unhappy. At last, Catherine promises Edgar to be his wife. This views is unbearable to Heathcliff, therefore one night when it is threatening to rain he quietly leaves the house, and no one knows where he has gone. Catherine makes a frantic effort to search him out. She goes out into the rain, and is drenched to the skin. The result is that she falls seriously ill next morning. When she recovers she is married to Linton.

      The first stage of the story reveals the deep attachment between Heathcliff and Catherine. It is an extraordinary love which permanently binds two souls into unity. Not even death can separate them. Though Catherine is married to Linton, spiritually she belongs to Heathcliff to whom she is joined after her death. Wuthering Heights is a story both of love and revenge. The revenge in this story is as peculiar as love. Both are extraordinarily intense. Time cannot abate Heathcliff's intense love for Catherine. Likewise, time cannot abate his hatred for Hindley and Linton and their children. Love and hatred both spring and grow in the first stage of the story. Hindley and Heathcliff both hate each other from the very beginning. This hatred grows as they grow up. After his father's death, Hindley gets the chance of insulting, humiliating and ill-treating Heathcliff, just because he hates the gypsy boy. Hatred breeds hatred, and ill-treatment makes Heathcliff an inveterate enemy of Hindley. He contemplates seriously how to avenge himself on his enemy. "I am trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back," he tells Nelly Dean, and adds: "I hope he will not die before I do!" When Nelly points out that it is for God to punish the wicked people, Heathcliff replies, "No, God won't have the satisfaction that I shall. I only wish I knew the best way! Let me alone, and I'll plan it out. So, this story of intensely deep love and intensely deep hatred and fierce revenge develops in the first stage until Catherine is married to Linton and Heathcliff suddenly disappears from the Heights and nobody knows where he has gone.

The Second Stage

      The second stage of the story begins with Heathcliff's return to the Heights. Catherine and Linton are leading a happy married life when Heathcliff suddenly intrudes on their happiness. He returns to the Heights after an absence of three years, and he returns as a rich man. Besides, he has somehow acquired culture and education. One evening slightly before tea time he appears at the Grange. He meets Nelly in the garden outside the house, and prevails on her to carry the news of his arrival to Catherine. Nelly gives the news to Catherine, who comes down to meet Heathcliff. Catherine is beside herself with joy to find that Heathcliff has returned to her. But Heathcliff has returned not only to meet Catherine, but also to be avenged on his enemy Hindley. He also hates Linton, for he has married Catherine, and has thus deprived him of the bliss of his life. But he cannot harm Linton as he harms Hindley During Heathcliff's absence from the Heights, Hindley loses his wife, and grows almost mad with sorrow. In his grief, he becomes a rebel against God and goodness, and takes to evil ways just to defy Heaven. He is drunk almost everyday and finds comfort in gambling. While he is in this state Heathcliff returns to the Heights. He encourages Hindley to pursue his evil ways, and loans him money for wine and gambling. Thus gradually he takes possession of Hindley, his property and his son, Hareton, whom he keeps illiterate and fit only for farm labor. Thus he takes revenge for the wrong Hindley had done to him.

      While all this is going on at the Heights, Heathcliff pays regular visits to Catherine. During his visits to the Grange Heathcliff discovers that Linton's sister, Isabella, has fallen in love with him. In this foolish infatuation of Isabella, he finds his opportunity of harming Linton whom he hates. He pretends to return Isabella's love, though in his heart of hearts, he hates her. Catherine tries to stop him from ruining the girl. While she is talking to him about it Linton enters the room, and orders Heathcliff to leave the Grange immediately. Not only that, he gives Heathcliff a severe blow on his neck. Heathcliff being much stronger than Linton could have crushed him like a worm, but Linton suddenly leaves the room. Catherine is so much overpowered by emotion to see violence offered to Heathcliff that she faints, and when she regains consciousness she confines herself in her room, and refuses to eat anything. Soon she falls dangerously ill. While Catherine is ill Heathcliff elopes with Isabella, marries her and brings her to the Heights, where he is living more as a master than guest. Catherine somewhat recovers from her illness, Heathcliff comes to the Grange almost everyday with a view to meet on Catherine, but he does not gain access to her room. One Sunday when Linton is at church he stealthily enters her room. At the sight of Heathcliff violent emotions rise in her heart, so that she becomes almost mad. Her illness returns, and this time her malady is incurable. She becomes unconscious, in which state she gives birth to a female child and dies. Shortly after his sister's death Hindley, too, joins the majority. With his death and the death of his sister, Catherine, ends the second stage of this story of love and revenge.

      Emotional intensity caused by the presence of Heathcliff in her room at a time when she needed perfect mental and physical rest causes the death of Catherine. In her weak state of health that much of emotion is unbearable to her, and she collapses because of its vehemence. Had Heathcliff kept away from her during her convalescence, she would have gradually recovered and gained strength and would not have collapsed under strong emotions. But in her weak state of health, the intensity of emotion finishes her. This is how the first phase of the love of Heathcliff and Catherine ends. Catherine's death marks only the end of the first phase of their love. For it continues even after her death, and after the death of Heathcliff the lovers are finally united with each other as ghosts. The story of revenge, too, reaches the end of its first phase. Heathcliff succeeds in ruining his enemy Hindley and creating those circumstances in which he meets a miserable and untimely death. He is in full possession of his enemy's property. Hindley's son Hareton is dependent on him, and he decides to employ him as a servant on the farm which rightfully should belong to him. By marrying Isabella and thereafter grossly ill-treating her, he, in his own way, takes revenge on Linton too. But the story of love and revenge does not end here. It continues even after the death of Catherine and Hindley.

The Third Stage

      Catherine died after giving birth to a female child, who, is also called Catherine. Likewise, Isabella gives birth to a son, called Linton. She dies when her son is just twelve years old. The story of love and revenge now passes on to these young persons, the generation which succeeds Hindley, Catherine and Isabella. Heathcliff's wrath now descends on their children, and he does all that he possibly can to ruin them. He hates not only Hindley's son and Catherine’s daughter, but also his own son, because he has in his veins the blood of the Lintons, whom he hates. The third and the final part of the story presents the cruelties he practices on these children. He does not allow any education and mental improvement to Hareton, Hindley's son. Isabella while dying leaves her son Linton under the care and protection for her brother. Linton has a frail and weak body and needs careful attendance lest his bad health should decline still further. But no sooner does his uncle bring him to the Grange than he sends a servant to demand that the boy be sent immediately to his father. Accordingly, Linton has to be sent to the Heights. Edgar's daughter Catherine, who is of young Linton's age, is all love and pity for the poor boy, and she insists on visiting him at the Heights. When her father forbids her to do so, she pays him clandestine visits. Heathcliff sees in these visits his opportunity of furthering his revenge on Edgar's child. He is not satisfied with harming Edgar Linton; he must harm his daughter also so he makes a plan that his son, Linton, and Edgar Linton's daughter, Catherine, be married. Since Edgar has no son, his property after his death would belong to his son Linton, if he marries Catherine. So he applies all his cunningness to the fulfillment of his plan. He makes Linton write love letters to Catherine, so that her tender feelings for the boy may develop into deep love. Edgar Linton falls ill, becomes invalid and is confined to his room. In this state of health he has little control over the movement of his daughter, and entrusts her to the care and company of her nurse, Ellen Dean. To him it appears that he would not live long. He is, therefore, anxious that Linton and Catherine be married during his lifetime. But he does not know that Linton is consumptive and: is fast proceeding towards his death. Heathcliff knows that his son would die soon, and that Edgar Linton would not live long. That is why he is anxious that Linton and Catherine be married, so that when Linton and Edgar die, he may possess the entire property of the latter.

      Hence to fulfill his evil desire he arranges the meeting of Catherine and his son Linton at the Heights and on the moor. Catherine, who by nature is compassionate, is full of pity for the neglected and ill-treated Linton, and desires to give him as much of her company as possible. She is too young and honest to understand the tricks and plans of Heathcliff, and allows herself one afternoon to be enticed into the Heights along with Nelly Dean. Heathcliff keeps them virtually as prisoners in the house until Catherine is forcibly married to Linton. While they are prisoners at the Heights, Edgar Linton's condition grows worse, and it is evident that he is about to die. His daughter's sudden separation from him hastens his death. But after Catherine is married to Heathcliff's son Linton, she, is allowed to visit her dying father. She reaches the Grange while he is yet alive.

      After her father's death Heathcliff takes Catherine to the Heights, where she is ill-treated and frequently beaten by her father-in-law. Soon after young Linton dies, and poor Catherine is rendered a widow. Heathcliff's revenge on his enemies and their children now; reaches its climax. Catherine, who is rendered penniless after her husband's death, is a helpless dependent on him, and has to bear his cruelties. Hareton, the son of Hindley, is virtually a servant in his house. The story at this point reaches its climax from where it begins to turn in a new direction. Catherine is not destined to languish in widowhood for the rest of her life. So, the remaining part of the story shows the growth and development of love between her and Hareton. The latter improves under the influence of her love and begins to take interest in books and knowledge. His boorish manners wear off soon, and he becomes a decent young gentleman. While all this is happening, Heathcliff advances still further in seclusion and private thoughts. He wanders about for whole nights on the moors, avoids all company and food. His eyes appear to be fixed on something mysterious, and he has a strange expression of hilarity on his face. But he does not continue long in this state of unnatural excitement. Overpowered by fatigue and fasting he at last is confined to his bed, and is found dead one morning. After his death, Catherine and Hareton are married.

A Story of Strange Love and Strange Revenge

      This story of strange love and equally strange revenge ends at last happily with the ringing of the marriage bells. The end is undoubtedly conventional. Still, it is different from the other Victorian novels. For one thing, there is no attempt made in this novel to portray Victorian life and society. Secondly, the intensity of passion and the element of mysticism mark this novel off from the other novels of the Victorian Age. Through the medium of a love story, the Victorian novel offers to our view a picture of life and society. No such attempt is made in this novel. The typical triangular love with a hero, a heroine and a villain is not presented in it. Besides, love does not end with the death of the hero and the heroine, but continues even beyond their physical deaths. Likewise, revenge does not end with the death of the enemy, but passes on after his death to his child. It is a story affecting not one but three generations. Wuthering Heights is a novel written by a mystic, whose vision is confined not to this life, but passes beyond it to the life to come, to eternity. Hers is a vision of life in which the physical turns into spiritual and the finite into the infinite. She obliterates the distinction between time and timelessness; the one flows, into the other. The story is an embodiment of a mystic s vision of life. Such a story in spite of a few conventional features is unconventional, and belongs to a class by itself.

      It has been pointed out above that the story develops through three distinct stages. In the first stage the theme of love and revenge grows and develops during the early youth of the principal characters - Heathcliff, Hindley, Catherine and Linton. In the second stage this theme grows still further during the married life of, Edgar Linton and Catherine. After Catherine's death and in the third stage of the story Heathcliff's revenge descends on his enemies: children, whom he tortures, and subjects to humiliation until he himself dies.

The Psychology of the Characters

      This peculiar story of love and revenge is rooted in the equally peculiar psychology of its characters. Heathcliff and Catherine both are persons of very strong passions. They love each other with a passion the like of which is seldom known on earth. Love makes the one an inseparable part of the other. The depth and intensity of their love turns into a sort of consuming fury which at last kills Catherine. Love, which is a source of life and strength to her at last becomes a cause of her death. Equally strong, violent and tempestuous is hatred developing into revenge. By nature, Heathcliff is unforgiving and intensely revengeful. He is extremely dangerous as an enemy and extremely loyal as a friend. Time has no effect whatsoever either on his love or hatred. Their intensity is not abated with the passage of time. He is not a man so much as a force equally beneficent and malevolent. Frustration in love turns his great powers wholly malevolent, so that in the novel he appears as a dangerous animal prowling about and harming innocent and timid persons. It is from the psychology of such persons that this story of love and revenge springs, the story of destructive love and destructive revenge. Change the psychology of these strange creatures, and the story would be entirely different. The love story of men like Edgar Linton and his sister Isabella would be like any other love story, for they are like other persons without anything remarkable about them. Their revenge also would be weak and short-lived. Wuthering Heights is a story of violent love and violent revenge, because it is a story of persons of violent and tempestuous passions.

The Atmosphere

      Lastly, there is a close consonance and harmony between the tempestuous storms blowing outside and equally tempestuous passions of men. Most of the scenes (and they are of violent nature) occur at Wuthering Heights where violent winds are perpetually howling. There are only a few calm scenes in the novel, and they occur at the Grange where nature is mild. But even their calmness is disturbed by Heathcliff. Edgar Linton and his wife Catherine lead a calm and happy married life until Heathcliff returns to the Heights. Had he not returned they would have lived and loved happily. He not only returns, but brings with him a love which is a violent fury, and which ultimately destroys the very object of love. The violent fury of love and hatred has its counterpart in the physical world in the shape of tempestuous storms.

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