This one is a dark read, its memories haunting me all the way from my teenage years.
Modern teachings of writings discourage the use of extensive flashbacks, which have a tendency to lose reader interest. Hence, it was surprising for me that Wuthering Heights is primarily in flashback and still works admirably. I would say this is because of the fantastic initial introduction of the current household of the landlord Heathcliffe, a strange mix of violent dogs, two strange adopted children (a beautiful girl and an unusally uncouth guy): an atmosphere of abject cruelty and apathy thick in the cold forbidding air. The tenant is terrified first by the lack of even a pretence of basic courtesy and the flippant attitude to his life, first in the face of the cruel dogs, and later when he requests for help in navigating the forbidding pathway from Withering Heights to his rented home.
Despite angry protests from the members of the household, the tenant is allowed to spend the night, on the particular insistence of a housemaid who seems kinder of the lot. Although, this kindness too is disputable, because the tenant is led to a room that is wrought with unearthly spirits, with much window-banging and screaming. The scene that triggers reader curiosity enough for a flashback is haunting, with the tenant, now rescued by Heathcliffe and just on his way as far away as possible, overhears Heathcliffe, begging the unearthly spirit to return to him for but one glimpse.
With such a splendid backdrop, the tenant (and the reader) cannot but run to his house help, an old hand and familiar of the landlord’s house, and beg for a bit of insight into this sorry home.
The character of Heathcliffe is introduced as a child, an orphan, and a tale is woven so dark and base, that you cannot trust your own instincts as a reader. The characters that you begin to sympathise with will turn dark enough to ruin your reader love, and the ones you begin to hate, assume an almost strange angelic pallor as you proceed. It destroys all sense of justice that we are traditionally led to expect.
The man of the house takes strangely to the orphan Heathcliffe after a dark stormy night. Heathcliffe, dark-skinned and unattractive is hence integrated into the house as an adopted child, adding to the existing two children (Catherine and Brother). The father cannot stand even a minor mistreatment of his adopted child by his actual children, or the house keep. This state of affairs brings in a strange complexity to the matters, with the son developing an evil and cruel streak, maddened by his father’s special love to an orphan, while the daughter Catherine begins to be enamoured by the uncouth, uneducated Heathcliffe, setting off the stirrings of this strange and wild romance.
Matters worsen for Healthcliffe when the father dies, and the cruelty withheld so far is unleashed on the boy unsparingly. As Heathcliffe recedes into a mental space so within himself to survive, he also turns bitter and harsh even to Catherine, Catherine, emotionally abandoned by her childhood friend Heathcliffe, now turns to another man for love, and eventually marriage, swearing to herself that she would love Heathcliffe above even her own husband anyway. The part of the narrative concludes with the young Heathcliffe overhearing and mishearing her, misinterpreting that she cannot love his uncouth and harsh ways, and runs away, leaving Catherine heartbroken and eventually marrying her paramour.
What begins as a jarring narrative that fills us with sympathy for Heathcliffe, is closed with a warning and a strange hook, that warns the reader that Heathcliffe was not one to forgive the cruelty that befell him during his child.
Now you are ready to learn that this is no tale of justice. If you believe that an orphan who has been given fresh lease of life will be thankful to his benefactors, or may retain some level of decency or human goodness, then you will be proved wrong. If you believe that love is pure and wins every time, then you will see a twisted vile nature in it. The novel’s theme is revenge, set to the maximum, revenge of a man so hurt and pained, that he begins to exact revenge by precision and planning. Heathcliffe returns later a grown and cultured man, and establishes himself at Withering Heights, where Catherine’s brother lives. The brother is a widower now, and heartbroken by the death of his wife, he has steeps himself in drink. His condition is ugly, and worse, there is a son that he has no capacity to care for. Heathcliffe loans the man money, and little by little, takes away the ownership of the entire home. The revenge of Healthcliffe is not targetted merely on his originally tormentors (and perceived wrong-doers), but their spawns, who are the current occupants of his home, his wards. These include, the son of the Catherine’s brother (who is denied an education by Heathcliffe, and in a strange twist of fate, becomes almost similar to the original younger simpler Heathcliffe, a boy that Heathcliffe comes to begrudgingly love), his own son (who Heathcliffe cannot stand with his whiteness, and spoiltness, reminding him of his own adopted siblings and tormentors). The girl and daughter of Catherine, who Heathcliffe sees merely as a tool for revenge and harbours no special love being the daughter of his own love (though from a man he despised and blamed for Catherine’s death).
The story returns back to the present, with the tenant developing a minor crush on the daughter of Catherine, and