The Leviathans: Wuthering Heights

The Leviathans is a thriving Prison Reading Group in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. They have very kindly sent us this recommendation for a Book of the Month.

Emily Bronte’s classic story of passion and violence, Wuthering Heights, is a soaring epic covering three generations, entangling the lives of two families living in the harsh, bleak and beautiful Yorkshire moors of the early nineteenth century.

For some, the antiquated style of writing and use of language contemporary to the period in which Brontë lived, may seem too complex for the simple pleasure of reading, and sensibilities may be further assailed by the deeply dark content of scenes depicted, but to ignore the genius of it for those reasons would be to miss the point.

In my view, Wuthering Heights is a tragic story of love’s power to promote obsession, nurture hatred and instil the desire for revenge, whatever the cost. The main protagonist, the foundling Heathcliff, is the centre-spoke of a wheel that exerts motion, often violent and hateful, in the lives of almost every other character, especially Catherine, for whom his focus endures, even by proxy of her daughter of the same name.

The entire history except for the introduction to the tale, and its melancholic finale, is reported by the families’ former housekeeper and nanny, who survives through the turmoil, death and estrangement, reaching back in time, engaging the reader in a world of the late eighteenth century and the childhood origins of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw – a relationship that rides the waves of innocence, interest, budding love, passion, tempestuous jealousy and emotional rage.

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was twelve, then I saw Kate Bush’s interpretation in her music video, in which she floats and glides hauntingly in a misty backlit ‘moor’ whilst agonising over being unable to reach her beloved Heathcliff through his window. I was impressed by the dark romance and deeply sad imagery, but only now, as an adult with life experience, can I translate Emily Brontë’s words into a far richer, much deeper and more visceral tale in which revenge, bitter and spiteful, for a lost love and a future denied, led to the downfall of innocents and, eventually, the designer of it all Heathcliff.

But young Catherine, the daughter of Heathcliff’s object of obsession, is, in my view, the hero of the story. Against all the odds, she gains control of her life and all the material things she stood to lose, without ever having learned of the genesis of it.

In my opinion, this is Emily Brontë’s Frankenstein. A creator, a monster, unknown love and destructive vengeance; all set in an often cold, forbidding environment where escape from destiny seems impossible.

Emily Brontë died young, without having had the breadth of experience one would need to write such a powerful story. It leaves me pondering her sources and the inner emotional turmoils that she may have known herself.

Wuthering Heights requires tenacity, but the concentration required to follow the intricate chronology and familial relationships is well worth the energy.

Thank you to the Leviathans’ group member for recommending this book!

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Photo Credit: Erika Flowers


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