Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Waterfall in a forest.

“Wuthering Heights” published in 1847, was Emily Brontë’s only novel and is regarded as a great work of fiction.  Wuthering Heights is a story of both love and revenge over generations.  In this extract, Heathcliff Earnshaw discovers that the woman he has loved from childhood, Catherine, has died ….

‘And–did she ever mention me?’ he asked, hesitating, as if he dreaded the answer to his question would introduce details that he could not bear to hear.

‘Her senses never returned: she recognised nobody from the time you left her,’ I said.  ‘She lies with a sweet smile on her face; and her latest ideas wandered back to pleasant early days.  Her life closed in a gentle dream–may she wake as kindly in the other world!’

‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion.’Why, she’s a liar to the end!  Where is she?  Not there –not in heaven–not perished–where?  Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings!  And I pray one prayer–I repeat it till my tongue stiffens–Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living;you said I killed you — haunt me, then!  The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe.  I know that ghosts have wandered on earth.  Be with me always — take any form — drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh, God! it is unutterable!  I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!’

Some thinking points …

This part of the story is written in the first person, from the point of view of one of the characters, the servant Nelly.  There is a great contrast between the characters of Nelly and Heathcliff as Heathcliff is much less conventional, god-fearing, and dispassionate than Nelly.  Although Heathcliff is experiencing a violent riot of emotion, his response is communicated through Nelly’s account.  Why do you think the writer chose to do this?

Throughout the novel the writer uses a range of different narrators which is a technique less commonly used in literature today than using one narrator.  Why do you think a writer would choose different narrators?  Why might they only choose one?

The writer also chooses to communicate Heathcliff’s emotions through the use of dialogue.  What do we learn about how he feels?  Why do you think the writer chose to use dialogue instead of description or internal monologue (the character’s thoughts)?

Classic inspiration – some ideas for writing based on this extract

  • Write the opening of a story from the point of view of two different characters.
  • Write a dialogue between two characters where one character responds in an unexpected and emotional way.
  • Write a dialogue between two characters where one character has to give the other character news which may be upsetting or disturbing.