Emily Brontë was the shyest of the Brontë sisters, and her only published novel, in 1847, is to this day one of the most popular and analyzed books in English culture. Wuthering Heights was initially released as part of a three-volume set that included Anne Brontë‘s Agnes Grey, under the codenames Ellis and Acton Bell. The author’s real name was only released three years later, when the book was already a success.
Emily, like her sisters, was very studious and had a vivid imagination. With Charlotte and Anne, they invented imaginary lands, just as they wrote poetry. Charlotte was the first to achieve some success, with the book Jane Eyre (also published under a male pseudonym), but Emily surpassed both with her single work.
For an inexperienced 30-year-old, the maturity of Wuthering Heights remains impressive even 145 years later. If today the toxic and overtly sexual relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is still uncomfortable, in the Victorian era it came as a shock. Narcissistic, cruel and intense, the two were completely different from anything written at the time, indulging in shameless passions, manipulation and mutual blackmail. To this day, they do not exactly arouse empathy with the reader, who is drawn to accompany them amid incredulity, curiosity and many tears.
The narrative is done in 1st person by the housekeeper Nellie, who witnessed the whole story of love and revenge that took place in the house “of the howling hills”. The name comes from the geographical position of the house, on top of a hill often hit by noisy winds (like Catherine and Heathcliff’s passion).
Detailed, we were able to imagine exactly what he had in mind when he wrote the book and the colloquial language – now normal – was a novelty too. Above all, Wuthering Heights innovated by presenting two anti-heroes as protagonists, making us suffer for the good guys, unable to overcome them. The gothic dash – fashionable at the time – brings out the supernatural side of obsessive souls. The modernity of the work is still clear today, one can only imagine how it was received at the time.
Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!Heathcliff
It is not surprising that renowned psychologists such as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud have studied the book in depth. Parodying Emily, whatever souls are made of, hers and ours are the same. Likewise, such a passionate and intense story soon gained the attention of the cinema, which produced several adaptations. The most famous are the one from 1939, with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, and from 1992, with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. For male actors, Heathcliff is just as challenging as Hamlet and most of the most famous have done their part at some point.
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then!Heathcliff
And if we talk about inspiration, a curiosity. Emily Brontë is said to have been inspired by the stone walls of Thornton Moor, near Haworth, in Yorkshire. The writer lived nearby and enjoyed taking walks around the area. The bet is that the abandoned Top Withins Farm House is the setting on which the writer based to write the house of the Earnshaws.
I have no broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.Catherine
On July 30th, Emily would have turned 204 years old. She died at the age of 30, before the publication of her book. She developed a severe cold at her brother’s funeral (who died of tuberculosis) and ended up with tuberculosis afterwards. Today it is believed that the unsanitary conditions of his home (the water they received was contaminated by runoff from the church cemetery) and the harsh climate contributed to his premature death. On the morning of December 19, 1848, he died at home with his sisters.
Through the power of a timeless and incredible story, here’s a tribute to Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights.