Wuthering Heights. It’s a love-hate thing.

Thursday was Emily Brontë’s birthday and she would have turned 197. Her pièce de résistance Wuthering Heights was probably the first (and only?) piece of classic literature that I connected to with such visceral, anguished, teenagery love, and now regard with no less admiration, but it’s tempered with a more mature writerly and readerly respect. As a teenager I wrong-loved Heathcliff (why? I wonder now. How misguided!) and hated Cathy for not loving him more/better (now I see her as a girl trying to make a better life for herself), but as an older woman, I am in awe of the structure, themes, scope and ambition of this dark and complicated novel.

Last year I re-read the book once more, and each time I read it I am stunned by the complexity of it, and also how a woman so seemingly isolated and unversed in a romantic or sexual life, could have produced it. A couple of months ago I got out all the movie versions I could find in the local video shop. I couldn’t get through all of them (the 1939 Oberon/Olivier version was hard), but the 1970 Dalton one was ok, and the 1992 Fiennes/Binoche one (which I hadn’t seen) was not too shabby. The 2011 Andrea Arnold version which I’d seen at the cinema and liked, I found tedious and unsatisfying this time. And while there are good elements in most of the versions (sometimes only a small scene or a setting, an exchange of dialogue) none is an ultimate version.

Some of the scenery in the Fiennes/Binoche movie is stunning, especially this paddock of stones:



I would tramp all over Yorkshire to find that bloody paddock.


Here’s an article from a week or so ago, on sage advice to be found in Wuthering Heights.

And here’s one from 1928, which refers to Emily as ‘household drudge’ and the sister ‘whose fame, long overshadowed by Jane Eyre … is now in the ascendant with Wuthering Heights’. It looks at some Brontë biographies and is worth a read, especially considering the date published.

This is a really really interesting and beautifully-written essay by another WH lover, novelist Serje Jones. She also has grown up loving the novel, and affectionately refers to it as Wuthers: Wuthers: The Book that Saved a Life.

Kate Bush shares a birthday with Brontë and has just turned 57. She wrote her song Wuthering Heights probably as a teenager and was nineteen when it topped the charts. I went to school with Marina Prior(as people do) and we were in the same year level, and the same friendship group. I remember Marina being besotted with Kate (while the rest of us were besotted with Marina). She had hair like Kate Bush and a voice like frigging Kate Bush. And a figure. Like Kate Bush. We would be in the locker room, getting ready for sport or class or whatever, and in 1978, when we were in Year 9, Marina would trill out a few lines

Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green

I felt like I was at school with Kate Bush, which to a fifteen-year-old was pretty amazing/agonising.


A few years ago I saw this:

He does it very well.

Here’s the original red dress version:

And the first video, the white dress version:

And then this morning, I found the original, slowed down so that the whole thing is almost 36 minutes. For the dedicated fan:

7 thoughts on “Wuthering Heights. It’s a love-hate thing.

  1. I’d forgotten about that Noel Fielding version – makes me howl with laughter every time – he nails it so perfectly! Would you believe I’ve NEVER seen a film version of WH? I’ve only recently read the book for one of my Lit subjects (don’t know why it slipped off my radar – I’ve read her sisters’ books multiple times). It’s interesting to discuss in our tutes – especially with those who read it when they were younger and idolised Heathcliff. On first read I hated it, but I’m starting to gain an admiration for EB’s style; although not the characters. I pretty much want to smack all of them for being arsehat narcissists – especially that bloody kid of Heathcliff and Isabella’s!

    1. What are you studying? And on the generational and circular ‘replaying’ of WH, do you see any hope? I do, in some ways, but also a kind of relentless ‘nothing ever changes’. It’s fascinating. (Noel Fielding: yes he does it perfectly!)

  2. The novel is complex, improbable, and totally, totally riveting. Every time I read and reread the book, I am shaken to the core when Cathy explodes with passion, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” I am an eighty-five year old retired literary critic, supposedly aloof and dispassionate; but I recently re-read the work, and once again was shattered and yet physically purged by those words of passionate identification. Peter Lock, University of Minnesota, USA.

    1. Yes to all of this, Peter, and thanks so much for your comment. I understand critics are meant to be aloof and dispassionate, but surely not for masterpieces? Or masterpieces of yore? And for me, when I re-read Wuthering Heights, I always manage to forget how much narrative there is after Cathy dies, and how circular and perpetual the characters across the generations.

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