Alfred A. Knopf, 1907
Original publication in 1847
Introduction to the selection for Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
By Saanya Papar
Published in 1847 under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë’s first and only novel. While the novel isn’t autobiographical, many similarities can be found between Brontë’s own experiences and those of the heroine in the novel; Catherine Earnshaw. When she was seventeen, Brontë was forced to attend a school called Roe Head, where she missed her home and the moors so terribly that in her position of powerlessness, resorted to several hunger strikes. She ultimately dies at the age of thirty, due to both tuberculosis and self starvation. Throughout the novel, the kitchen is one of the most important spaces in the house, with several key events occurring in it. Additionally, ultimately both Catherine and Heathcliff die of self-starvation as a result of their unrequited love.
The novel is centered around two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Both of these houses are portrayed as opposites, where Wuthering Heights is situated in the desolate moors, exposed to extreme weather, surrounded by broken hedges and stunted vegetation, and is essentially a metaphor for the people living in it. At the same time, the “Grange” is located in the valley, four miles away from Wuthering Heights, and is grand, lush and civilized. It is Wuthering Heights, that houses the “children of the storm”, where Catherine grows wild and savage, whereas she becomes a lady and is accepted into society at Thrushcross Grange. The houses not only serve as a metaphor for the characters within, but also are central to the revenge plot executed by Heathcliff in the novel. The first excerpt is the opening few pages of the novel, and is an outsider’s first take and impression on his visit to Wuthering Heights and its inhabitants.
Another recurring theme in the novel is the notion of thresholds through windows and doors. The windows in Wuthering Heights are always firmly shut, where the only window that opens is located in Catherine’s room. Catherine’s chamber is considered her sanctuary, the oak-paneled bed which is so large it almost becomes a closet, and her volumes of diaries stashed underneath it. It is through this window in her chamber, where the narrator Lockwood is plagued by her spirit, where Catherine gazes longingly at the landscape of the moors, and where Heathcliff eventually dies. The second excerpt follows Lockwood through the house, into Catherine’s chamber where he begins to read Catherine’s doodles engraved on the window ledge. The final excerpt consists of the last few pages of the book, and describes Heathcliff’s death. He dies in Catherine’s chamber, and is an example of how Brontë uses the window, the furniture and the landscape to dramatize a key event.
1801.–I have just returned from a visit to my landlord–the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.
‘Mr. Heathcliff?’ I said.
A nod was the answer.
‘Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir. I do myself the honour of calling as soon as possible after my arrival, to express the hope that I have not inconvenienced you by my perseverance in soliciting the occupation of Thrushcross Grange: I heard yesterday you had had some thoughts–‘
‘Thrushcross Grange is my own, sir,’ he interrupted, wincing. ‘I should not allow any one to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it–walk in!’
The ‘walk in’ was uttered with closed teeth, and expressed the sentiment, ‘Go to the Deuce:’ even the gate over which he leant manifested no sympathising movement to the words; and I think that circumstance determined me to accept the invitation: I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself.
When he saw my horse’s breast fairly pushing the barrier, he did put out his hand to unchain it, and then sullenly preceded me up the causeway, calling, as we entered the court,–‘Joseph, take Mr. Lockwood’s horse; and bring up some wine.’
‘Here we have the whole establishment of domestics, I suppose,’ was the reflection suggested by this compound order. ‘No wonder the grass grows up between the flags, and cattle are the only hedge-cutters.’
Joseph was an elderly, nay, an old man: very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy. ‘The Lord help us!’ he soliloquised in an undertone of peevish displeasure, while relieving me of my horse: looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner, and his pious ejaculation had no reference to my unexpected advent.
Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.
Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date ‘1500,’ and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw.’ I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.
One stop brought us into the family sitting-room, without any introductory lobby or passage: they call it here ‘the house’ pre-eminently. It includes kitchen and parlour, generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter: at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues, and a clatter of culinary utensils, deep within; and I observed no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fireplace; nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof. The latter had never been under-drawn: its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, except where a frame of wood laden with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton, and ham, concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and, by way of ornament, three gaudily-painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floor was of smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade. In an arch under the dresser reposed a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer, surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.
The apartment and furniture would have been nothing extraordinary as belonging to a homely, northern farmer, with a stubborn countenance, and stalwart limbs set out to advantage in knee-breeches and gaiters. Such an individual seated in his arm-chair, his mug of ale frothing on the round table before him, is to be seen in any circuit of five or six miles among these hills, if you go at the right time after dinner. But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling–to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again. No, I’m running on too fast: I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him. Mr. Heathcliff may have entirely dissimilar reasons for keeping his hand out of the way when he meets a would-be acquaintance, to those which actuate me. Let me hope my constitution is almost peculiar: my dear mother used to say I should never have a comfortable home; and only last summer I proved myself perfectly unworthy of one.
While leading the way upstairs, she recommended that I should hide the candle, and not make a noise; for her master had an odd notion about the chamber she would put me in, and never let anybody lodge there willingly. I asked the reason. She did not know, she answered: she had only lived there a year or two; and they had so many queer goings on, she could not begin to be curious.
Too stupefied to be curious myself, I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of old-fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself. In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table. I slid back the panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and every one else.
The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small, “Catherine Earnshaw”, here and there varied to “Catherine Heathcliff”, and then again to “Catherine Linton”.
In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw–Heathcliff–Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres–the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle-wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin. I snuffed it off, and, very ill at ease under the influence of cold and lingering nausea, sat up and spread open the injured tome on my knee. It was a Testament, in lean type, and smelling dreadfully musty: a fly-leaf bore the inscription–‘Catherine Earnshaw, her book,’ and a date some quarter of a century back. I shut it, and took up another and another, till I had examined all. Catherine’s library was select, and its state of dilapidation proved it to have been well used, though not altogether for a legitimate purpose: scarcely one chapter had escaped, a pen-and-ink commentary–at least the appearance of one–covering every morsel of blank that the printer had left. Some were detached sentences; other parts took the form of a regular diary, scrawled in an unformed, childish hand. At the top of an extra page (quite a treasure, probably, when first lighted on) I was greatly amused to behold an excellent caricature of my friend Joseph,–rudely, yet powerfully sketched. An immediate interest kindled within me for the unknown Catherine, and I began forthwith to decipher her faded hieroglyphics.
He solicited the society of no one more. At dusk he went into his chamber. Through the whole night, and far into the morning, we heard him groaning and murmuring to himself. Hareton was anxious to enter; but I bid him fetch Mr. Kenneth, and he should go in and see him. When he came, and I requested admittance and tried to open the door, I found it locked; and Heathcliff bid us be damned. He was better, and would be left alone; so the doctor went away.
The following evening was very wet: indeed, it poured down till day-dawn; and, as I took my morning walk round the house, I observed the master’s window swinging open, and the rain driving straight in. He cannot be in bed, I thought: those showers would drench him through. He must either be up or out. But I’ll make no more ado, I’ll go boldly and look.’
Having succeeded in obtaining entrance with another key, I ran to unclose the panels, for the chamber was vacant; quickly pushing them aside, I peeped in. Mr. Heathcliff was there–laid on his back. His eyes met mine so keen and fierce, I started; and then he seemed to smile. I could not think him dead: but his face and throat were washed with rain; the bed-clothes dripped, and he was perfectly still. The lattice, flapping to and fro, had grazed one hand that rested on the sill; no blood trickled from the broken skin, and when I put my fingers to it, I could doubt no more: he was dead and stark!
I hasped the window; I combed his black long hair from his forehead; I tried to close his eyes: to extinguish, if possible, that frightful, life-like gaze of exultation before any one else beheld it. They would not shut: they seemed to sneer at my attempts; and his parted lips and sharp white teeth sneered too! Taken with another fit of cowardice, I cried out for Joseph. Joseph shuffled up and made a noise, but resolutely refused to meddle with him.
‘Th’ divil’s harried off his soul,’ he cried, ‘and he may hev’ his carcass into t’ bargin, for aught I care! Ech! what a wicked ‘un he looks, girning at death!’ and the old sinner grinned in mockery. I thought he intended to cut a caper round the bed; but suddenly composing himself, he fell on his knees, and raised his hands, and returned thanks that the lawful master and the ancient stock were restored to their rights.
I felt stunned by the awful event; and my memory unavoidably recurred to former times with a sort of oppressive sadness. But poor Hareton, the most wronged, was the only one who really suffered much. He sat by the corpse all night, weeping in bitter earnest. He pressed its hand, and kissed the sarcastic, savage face that every one else shrank from contemplating; and bemoaned him with that strong grief which springs naturally from a generous heart, though it be tough as tempered steel.
Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause.
We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds–and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he _walks_: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death:–and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange one evening–a dark evening, threatening thunder–and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.
‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.
‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’
I darnut pass ’em.’
I saw nothing; but neither the sheep nor he would go on so I bid him take the road lower down. He probably raised the phantoms from thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat. Yet, still, I don’t like being out in the dark now; and I don’t like being left by myself in this grim house: I cannot help it; I shall be glad when they leave it, and shift to the Grange.
‘They are going to the Grange, then?’ I said.
‘Yes,’ answered Mrs. Dean, ‘as soon as they are married, and that will be on New Year’s Day.’
‘And who will live here then?’
“Why, Joseph will take care of the house, and, perhaps, a lad to keep him company. They will live in the kitchen, and the rest will be shut up.’
‘For the use of such ghosts as choose to inhabit it?’ I observed.
‘No, Mr. Lockwood,’ said Nelly, shaking her head. ‘I believe the dead are at peace: but it is not right to speak of them with levity.’
At that moment the garden gate swung to; the ramblers were returning.
‘They are afraid of nothing,’ I grumbled, watching their approach through the window. ‘Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.’
As they stepped on to the door-stones, and halted to take a last look at the moon–or, more correctly, at each other by her light–I felt irresistibly impelled to escape them again; and, pressing a remembrance into the hand of Mrs. Dean, and disregarding her expostulations at my rudeness, I vanished through the kitchen as they opened the house-door; and so should have confirmed Joseph in his opinion of his fellow-servant’s gay indiscretions, had he not fortunately recognised me for a respectable character by the sweet ring of a sovereign at his feet.
My walk home was lengthened by a diversion in the direction of the kirk. When beneath its walls, I perceived decay had made progress, even in seven months: many a window showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates jutted off here and there, beyond the right line of the roof, to be gradually worked off in coming autumn storms.
I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.