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How can I live without my heart? How can I live without my soul?
The only novel written by Emily Bronte (of 'the Brontë sisters'), and an archetypal example of a Gothic Romance. Has been filmed several times, most notably the 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff. Also inspired the 1979 Kate Bush song of the same name ("Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy, I've come home...") as well as an adaptation in Monty Python's Flying Circus. And perhaps we shouldn't forget Genesis' album Wind and Wuthering, which used a quotation from the book's ending for two of its song titles. And let's not also forget that MTV also did an adaptation of their own with Heathcliff as a guitar-strumming song-writer pitted against classic cello-playing Edgar.
It is 1801. The foppish gentleman Mr. Lockwood has moved to Thrushcross Grange, a manor house in the windswept and desolate Yorkshire Moors, where he introduces himself to Heathcliff, his surly, ill-mannered and unwelcoming landlord and master of the nearby Wuthering Heights. Forced to stay at Wuthering Heights overnight, Lockwood suffers a nightmare about the ghost of a young woman desperately pleading to be let back into the house; intrigued, Lockwood asks his housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.
Dean's story is one of a terrible, unchecked, all-consuming passion — that between Heathcliff, an orphaned foundling brought to Wuthering Heights as a child by the then-owner, and Catherine Earnshaw, his spoilt, flighty and wild foster sister, who became inseparable friends as children and later fell in love. Their love, though passionate, was cruelly thwarted, however, both by Hindley, Catherine's brother and Heathcliff's sworn enemy, who resented Heathcliff as an interloper in his father's affections and, upon inheriting the estate, spitefully turned Heathcliff into a downtrodden slave, and by Catherine's own desires for social mobility and class, which saw her marry the decent but seemingly weak Edgar Linton even as she insists that her one true love is and always will be Heathcliff.
Missing Catherine's declaration of eternal love, however, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights in bitterness, only to return several years later having made his fortune elsewhere and determined to crush entirely those who thwarted his one chance at happiness. This includes swindling control of Wuthering Heights away from the now-drunken and embittered Hindley, seducing Edgar's sister Isabella and then treating her in a cruel, abusive fashion once married, and generally scheming to take control of everything that belongs to Edgar and Hindley. Unfortunately, a tragedy occurs not long after that only spurs Heathcliff on to further depths of bitterness, as he determines to extend his vendetta and not only destroy his rivals, but their children...
Provides examples of:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed - the love between Catherine and Heathcliff is passionate, but it is also clearly unhealthy and intensely destructive, leading to nothing but the ruin of the lovers and almost everyone around them. Ditto for Isabella's crush on Heathcliff. Also, see Draco in Leather Pants on the YMMV page.
- Amoral Attorney: A dying Edgar Linton sends for Attorney Green to ensure Heathcliff won't be able to touch his daughter's property. He was five minutes too late; to Edgar's and Nelly's horror, Heathcliff already had him in his pocket.
- Ambiguously Brown: Heathcliff's exact race is never explained; he is referred to as "dark" and a "gipsy."
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Cathy for Heathcliff. Unfortunately she doesn't make it to Heathcliff.
- As the Good Book Says...: Joseph is an abrasive, Bible-thumping Calvinist.
- Badass Bookworm: Edgar Linton, despite coming across as a nerd and a weakling, thrashes Heathcliff the one time they actually fight. Forever after, Heathcliff won't risk confronting him unarmed, even during the many long, solitary walks Edgar takes out on moors.
- Big Fancy House: Thrushcross Grange. Wuthering Heights is more of a large farmhouse than an estate.
- Brain Fever: Catherine Earnshaw.
- Break the Haughty: Happens to Cathy (II) after Mr. Lockwood leaves.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw are Not Blood Siblings but obviously Like Brother and Sister, thus giving their passionate love an additional level of forbidden passion (not to mention slight awkwardness on part of the reader)...
- Incest Is Relative: There are some hints that Heathcliff is Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son: Mr. Earnshaw just happens to find this orphan on the streets. The streets of the town he just happens to visit on a regular basis, leaving the rest of his family squarely at home. And Mrs. Earnshaw just happens to take an instant loathing to Heathcliff the minute he enters their house. YMMV on this, but the 1970 version with Timothy Dalton certainly believed it was no coincidence.
- Byronic Hero: Heathcliff, though he's more a Deconstruction of one.
- The Chessmaster: Heathcliff
- Create Your Own Villain: Edgar and Hindley have no one to blame but themselves for molding Heathcliff into a Complete Monster... not in a Freudian Excuse way, but in a morbidly ironic way.
- Though Hindley probably wouldn't have been so cruel to Heathcliff if his own father hadn't made it repeatedly obvious he preferred him to his son.
- And Edgar is never shown to do anything unpardonably awful to Heathcliff until after his marriage to Cathy, which was justified as Heathcliff was carrying on with both his wife and his sister, Isabella.
- Heathcliff tries to do this to Hareton but fails.
- Dead Guy, Junior: The first Catherine's daughter.
- Death by Childbirth: Hindley's wife and Catherine.
- Domestic Abuse: And the depressing reality is that Heathcliff's appalling treatment of his wife is, as he points out, perfectly within the tolerant limits of the law.
- Driven to Suicide: Heathcliff. What exactly kills him remains a mystery, though.
- Evil Gloating: Heathcliff seems to relish "monologuing" about his Evil Plans to Nelly.
- Exact Eavesdropping: Subverted. Heathcliff does overhear a very important exchange between Catherine and Nelly Dean, but leaves in a rage after only part of the conversation, and misses the more crucial piece of information. This leads to his mysterious disappearance and pretty much drives the entire plot from there out.
- Face Palm: Heathcliff "struck his forehead with rage" after hearing Lockwood's raving account of his nightmares.
- Generation Xerox: Heathcliff Lampshades this about Catherine's daughter Cathy, his and Isabella's son Linton, and Hindley's son Hareton.
- Genre Savvy: Heathcliff, which gives him an advantage over the otherwise completely Genre Blind cast, save Nelly Dean.
- Heroic BSOD: Heathcliff has a very energetic form of this when he learns that Catherine has died in childbirth. Specifically, he takes his anger out on a nearby tree. By smashing his forehead into it repeatedly.
- Holier Than Thou: Joseph
- Ill Boy: Linton Heathcliff
- Jerkass: Linton Heathcliff, again.
- Kissing Cousins: Catherine (II) and Linton, then Catherine (II) and Hareton
- Let Them Die Happy: Catherine (II) lies to her father Edgar upon his deathbed to assure him that she is happy with marrying Heathcliff's son Linton and he will protect her.
- The Lost Lenore: Cathy Earnshaw dies. Heathcliff... fails to get over this.
- Love Dodecahedron: Hindley Earnshaw's sister Catherine is in love with Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton, whose sister Isabella marries Heathcliff, whose son Linton marries Catherne's daughter Cathy, who later falls in love with Hindley's son Hareton...
- Love Makes You Evil: More precisely, rejection makes you crazy. While Heathcliff was not an angel, he was not, to begin with, as bad as he became after Catherine decided to marry Edgar Linton.
- Though Heathcliff being bullied and abused in childhood may have slowly eroded his empathy and sanity. Thinking Catherine (the only one throughout his entire life who ever really loved him) hates him may have been the final straw. Or maybe when Catherine dies.
- Love Redeems: Averted with Heathcliff, but played straight with Hareton.
- Magical Realism: Implied. Heathcliff is sometimes compared to a demon, and there are some... odd coincidences involving ghosts and the weather. Nelly even finds herself thinking Heathcliff may be a demon, but quickly reminds herself he is human with feelings like everyone.
- The Masochism Tango: And HOW.
- The Meadow Run: From the movie, at any rate.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Heathcliff is discovered by the Earnshaws as a homeless youth and comforted as a child by Nelly telling him he is a lost prince. In hindsight, this might not have been such a good idea.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits: Invoked by both Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton; Heathcliff ignores them both.
- Mysterious Past: For all of Heathcliff's life that we do know, he's still made of this trope. We don't know anything about his early years, to age seven or so, or why he couldn't speak English when he first came to the Heights or what his name might have been before that time. The mystery only deepens in the three years he spends away from the Heights and somehow has made himself so rich in that time that he's bought the house from under Hindley's nose.
- Never Learned to Read: Hareton
- Nightmare Sequence: Mr. Lockwood's dreams while sleeping in Cathy's bed.
- Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Heathcliff disappears from Wuthering Heights for three years, and comes back wealthy enough to be considered a gentleman and be able to subvert Hindley's wealth out from under him. Nobody knows how.
- One Steve Limit: Averted, much to the confusion of many a school English student.
- Only One Name: Heathcliff, Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Lockwood, and Joseph.
- Only Sane Man: Nelly Dean; and Mr. Lockwood, to an extent, as he chooses to leave Thrushcross Grange for London because he doesn't want to be involved with such strange people after he hears the story.
Nelly: "I went about my household duties, convinced that the Grange had but one sensible soul in its walls, and that it lodged in my body."
- Oop North: The setting. Most strongly represented by Joseph, a gloomy and sour stereotype with an impenetrable Yorkshire accent that no one else shares. This is mainly due to the accent only being used by the lower classes, since the Lintons are gentry and the Earnshaws of sufficient means to be employing servants. Mr Lockwood notes how Nelly, the other major servant, barely sounds lower class, and she notes that she's "read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood," including every book in the Linton library that isn't in Greek, Latin, or French. Given the mutual hatred between Nelly and Joseph, it wouldn't be surprising if she intentionally tried not to sound like him.
- Operation: Jealousy: Heathcliff uses Hareton to this effect to try to get his son interested in Cathy (II).
- Parental Substitute: Nelly for Hareton and Catherine (II). Later, Heathcliff for Hareton.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: After Heathcliff's rivals have all died and he's ruined his and their children's lives, he finds he has no satisfaction.
- Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Heathcliff directs his revenge against the children of his enemies.
- The Rashomon: The unreliable Nelly Dean tells most of the story to the equally unreliable (not to mention thick-skulled) Lockwood.
- Refusal of the Call: Mr. Lockwood refuses to be Cathy's Knight in Shining Armor, rescue the Distressed Damsel, and live Happily Ever After with her.
- Rescue Romance: Deliberately averted — Nelly hoped Lockwood or some other gallant rich man would save Cathy (II) from Heathcliff by marrying her.
- The Rival: Heathcliff and Hindley, as well as Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Linton Heathcliff and Hareton have some shades of this as well.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Lockwood hightailing it out of Thrushcross Grange as fast as he can once Nelly finishes the story up to that point. He eventually returns to see the Bittersweet Ending.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Hindley and his aristocratic compatriots treat young Heathcliff like scum and a monster. Guess what he grows up to become?
- Self-Made Man: Heathcliff. And we never find out how.
- Shipper on Deck: Heathcliff for Cathy (II) and his son Linton . He succeeds through Blackmail. Nelly also eventually reveals she gave Mr. Lockwood such a meticulously thorough account of Cathy's history partially in hopes that he would affect a Rescue Romance ending for them. He declines, but it turns out Cathy didn't need him anyway.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Slap Slap Kiss: Catherine (II) and Hareton
- Catherine (I) physically slapped Edgar. He proposes soon after. May not be a true example as Catherine was in love with someone else.
- Shadow Archetype: Heathcliff for Edgar Linton
- Start of Darkness: Played with. Heathcliff's nature is largely blamed on Hindley's bullying, Edgar's class prejudice, and Catherine's seeming rejection of him. However looking back to Nelly's earliest accounts of him, there isn't anything the reader can point to and say he Used to Be a Sweet Kid. It was "hardness, not gentleness" that made him keep silent. And in one of the first recorded conversations between Heathcliff and Hindley, it is Heathcliff bullying Hindley by reminding him which of them is Mr. Earnshaw's favorite. Certainly while Heathcliff might not have turned into a Complete Monster with better treatment, he came into the family less than ideal.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Heathcliff brags to Nelly about how successfully he's done this to Hareton.
- Sugar and Ice Guy: Mr. Lockwood. Not to any of the other characters, but he describes himself as a misanthropist, and notes that he has never been able to express his love verbally, and even drove away a woman he loved because of this.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Poor Nelly was fully aware she was eventually the only sane person (possibly literally) left in Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Nelly constantly demonstrates pity as well as contempt for Heathcliff.
- for Catherine (I) as well, though more contempt and less pity in this case.
- Tall, Dark and Snarky: Heathcliff is a Deconstruction, lacking the heart of gold and being "redeemed by the love of a good woman" typically associated with the character.
- Together in Death: The aforementioned Bittersweet Ending implies that Heathcliff and Catherine are reunited as ghosts after death.
- Unreliable Narrator: Nelly is clearly prejudiced and demonstrates a surprising lack of empathy for most of the central characters, this bias being reflected in her account of the events.
- Villain Protagonist: Heathcliff
- Villainous Breakdown: Heathcliff after he notices Cathy (II) and Hareton falling in love.
- Was It Really Worth It?: No matter how complete Heathcliff's revenge is, it can never last beyond his death.
- Weapon of Choice: Hindley carries "a curiously constructed pistol, having a double-edged spring knife attached to the barrel."
- Awesome but Impractical: During a struggle with Heathcliff, the gun goes off and digs the blade into Hindley's wrist, cutting the artery. If it weren't for Heathcliff's quick thinking, he would've bled out.
- Hey, we always knew Shipping was evil!