Review: Wuthering Heights

I do not understand the cult-love of Wuthering Heights. I can understand why it is chosen by high school English teachers across the country (globe?). It is solidly written with enough twists and turns to introduce students to early-19th century literature. It is NOT the best writing of the era. It is however possibly more powerful than some of the others.

The characters of Wuthering Heights are generally all horrible people. There is little in the way of redeeming qualities in any of them. Many of them are selfish to the point of disgusting. The fact that Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is romantacized – it’s as bad as Twilight.  I really want to pull out the “signs of abusive relationship” and do a point-by-point of how many dots are on the page. It’s gross. GROSS.

However, unlike Gatsby where I found myself going “why do teachers choose this” I think every teacher should cover Wuthering Heights. I spent about the last ten chapters yelling “This is why women needed laws to establish our rights!”  If I taught this book, I would absolutely ask, “How was Heathcliff able to get away with this behavior? Why wasn’t he arrested?” 

When students understand that women in that time literally were property – not like slavery property, but not far enough away from it – you have a discussion of the suffragette movement starting in the mid-nineteenth century and culminating in some of the laws in the twentieth century. Hell, we had to pass a law to allow women credit cards without their husbands’ signature. 

This book is not a good story. The structure is awkward and stilted. The entire concept of “show don’t tell” is utterly lost. Bronte, unlike Austen (who was just a little earlier in the nineteenth century) tends to have the characters outright tell the reader what’s going on – everyone, not just the protagonist. It reads like an amateur wrote it without an editor (hey, wouldn’t you know it’s Emily’s only novel and she self-published!).

This book is an excellent source for history. Every high school curriculum should include this work – as long as the teacher is willing to do more than just what SparkNote and CliffNotes can come up with for “themes” (omg they are awful.) I seriously think I will write up a set of lesson plans of my own for this book because what the so-called “literary experts” came up with just… I feel like they are ignoring half the book.  I mean, they are. 

They are avoiding the more painful and difficult themes.  They mention “love” but do not define the word- and Heathcliff’s abusive/disgusting “love” without the context of Victorian sensibilities is a criminal negligence of academia. Silence on women’s rights movements (Wuthering Heights was published in 1847. There was an absolutely movement by the 1850’s/1860’s in England/Great Britain). An utter dearth on the global context of this book – the rising of international trade (hell, it’s set 1770’s-1800 ish) and how this could have been impacting the moors and the social mobility possible

This book is set and then published in some interesting times which could be explored if an English teacher was willing to apply some historical context. I know I’m harping on this, but without that context this book is not as strong as something like Count of the Monte Cristo or almost anything Jane Austen. Definitely not as strong as even Jane Eyre (hence my high school English class read CotMC and JE).  That said, I honestly wish my high school teachers had pushed us harder and held up Wuthering Heights as a better glimpse into some of the painful corners of the nineteenth century society and explored both this book and the interesting corners of the mid-nineteenth century (a lot of people think 1800-1860 were boring!).


2 thoughts on “Review: Wuthering Heights”

  1. Barbara, I agree completely with every word you have written. I detested the book when I first read it (about 1954), I detested it in HS, and I still do for all the reasons you list. TY. Robin


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