Ellen's Reviews > Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
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's review
Jul 02, 2008

did not like it

I never expected this book to be as flagrantly, unforgivably bad as it was.

To start, Bronte's technical choice of narrating the story of the primary characters by having the housekeeper explain everything to a tenant 20 years after it happened completely kills suspense and intimacy. The most I can say is that to some extent this functions as a device to help shroud the story and motives from the reader. But really, at the time literary technique hadn't quite always gotten around to accepting that omnipotent 3rd person narrators are allowed, so you'd have to have a multiperspective story told by an omnipotent 3rd person narrator who was actually a character in the story (e.g. the housekeeper Ellen). The layers of perspective make it annoying and sometimes impossible to figure out who is telling what bit of story; and moreover, because so much is related as two characters explaining things between themselves, the result is that we rarely see any action, and instead have the entire book explained in socratic, pedantic exposition.

The sense of place is poorly rendered and almost entirely missing. Great, the moor is gray.

But ultimately, the most damning thing is that the characters are a bunch of immature, insuffrable, narcissistic assholes with very little self respect. This isn't a story of great love and passion. It's the story of how child abuse perpetuates itself through the generations. The characters are either emotionally abused as children or, as in the case of Cathy I, they're spoiled and overindulged with no discipline and can't muster the restraint and self-respect to ditch abusive relationships. I kept waiting for any of the characters to be remotely worth my time, but I found no respite from the brutish abuse of the horribly twisted Heathcliff or from the simpering idiocy of Cathy I and II. Ugh. Not only are there no transformations or growth, but the characters aren't even that likable to begin with. How this book got to be a classic is beyond me.
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02/11/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)

message 1: by lilly (new)

lilly hahahhaaha. I love your review. I had to read Wuthering Heights and I hated it, but I hated it in a world that claims that people like this book.

Hayley Thank you! Your review is completely accurate.
I had to read Wuthering Heights for a summer assignment for school a few years ago. After forcing myself through the terrible thing I had to write an essay and analyze it only to get to the first day of school at which point my teacher said, "I'm not sure what the summer assignment was, so I'm not going to collect it."

I could have shot him.

Kate Wow, you really missed the point. I also don't know how you could have had trouble understanding who was speaking. It was never that complicated and the formatting was easy to follow. Read Heart of Darkness and get back to me about complicated narrators within narrators.

I think maybe you should wait a while and come back to this novel; maybe the time wasn't right for you to read it, but you have clearly missed most of what it was to offer. And that's a lot, there's a reason it's still so widely read.

Stephen dollin Kate wrote: "Wow, you really missed the point. I also don't know how you could have had trouble understanding who was speaking. It was never that complicated and the formatting was easy to follow. Read Heart of..."


Ellen Actually, I read Heart of Darkness in high school about 15 years ago -- I loved it and it's one of my favorite books. I found Joyce's _Ulysses_ more penetrable than this mess, sadly enough. The thing that made the narrative structure insufferable for me was that the characters underlying it were just so... so deeply in need of therapy that I didn't understand why anyone could possibly find them anything but pathetic. Alas.

Shannon Sapolich the narration was one of my favorite aspects of the book

message 7: by Barb (new) - rated it 1 star

Barb Ellen,
I am totally with you on this one.
I SO hated this book.
I would have to vote it top on the list of
'Most Likely to Create Hatred of English Literature'

Meredith I completely agree with this. Convoluted and dry writing. No point in telling almost the whole story in flashback. It's sort of like taking a yellow highlighter and highlighting an entire chapter, right? Less is more. And last by not least, I hated all of the characters. I found no redeeming qualities in any of them. Except perhaps Lockwood, since he barely got a word in edgewise while listening to Nelly blabber on for lord knows how many pages.

I also expected the windswept moors to play a much larger role in the book, like in Return of the Native. I found the moor played a bigger role in the Secret Garden than in Wuthering Heights.

I read Jane Eyre earlier this year, and while I found the two main male characters to be misogynist pricks, at least I sort of liked Jane and the narrative made more sense. Charlotte seems to have been the more talented writer.

message 9: by ♥♥Mari♥♥ (last edited Aug 13, 2010 08:00PM) (new) - added it

 ♥♥Mari♥♥ I will never understand why some (thankfully not all) critics prefer "Wuthering Heights" to "Jane Eyre", lauding it as 'the superior work', or 'the true masterpiece', as compared with Charlotte Bronte's book. Incredible!

I wholeheartedly concur with your assessment of this overly praised piece of dysfunctional narrative.

I can see this book as useful to teach prose style; to be fair, I do love the way Emily Bronte writes -- she's a master through and through in this regard. Another good use for this book is as a textbook source on the dynamics of the dysfunctional family. Perhaps the author should receive some kudos for that. She seems to have been a precursor of the co-dependency and domestic violence movements.

As a masterpiece of so-called love and passion....please! Far from it! There's more of that in any Harlequin novel!!

message 10: by Nina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nina But this book is not supposed to be about "love and passion". It's about hate, revenge, cruelty, torture, etc. The little love found in this book is mostly a selfish, destructive love. I completely understand why so many people hate the novel but it is not "fair" to criticise it for not being a "masterpiece of so-called love and passion" since that is not what Emily intended it to be about. That's a label movie-makers have put on the story.

Tracey this is to Nina, mainly :)

I gave it three stars; might have been 3.5 if Goodreads allowed, but even knowing WH is supposed to be about obsession and vengeance (and not love), I still don't think EB pulled it off well (except the final "closure" scene). I found the characters' attributes so over-the-top that the characters were either completely unsympathetic, or psychotic/schizophrenic. (Well, with all the "ghosts" and things, I suppose the schizophrenic part could hold water... damn, but I'm not reading it again! LOL!)

I give EB mad props for 'drawing us in' to her world; hell, I felt COLD re-reading this. And she ends the story (and if you hate it, that in itself earns it a star!). But at the end of the day, she might as well have been writing about Martians or bug people; the characters didn't seem human. At all.

I struggle over 3 stars because I gave Heinlein's FRIDAY 3 stars and I like that better than Wuthering Heights. (I wonder if some of my stars aren't acknowledgement that it's a classic and many people love it?)

message 12: by Nina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nina I agree that her characters are very unsympathetic and OTT, and I LOVE that:) When I first read WH I had no idea what it was about and I thought it was a fairly conventional "boy meets girl" love story, and I loved the fact that it was not.

I like your "they might as well have been Martians". I guess I agree with that, actually.

But WH is all about obsession and vengeance for me, and all the darker emotions in human nature. All the shallowness and cruelty and I find WH to be one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. I don't know why - I hate almost all the characters, it is bleak and dark, yet it is the only book I have ever read twice in a week.

It's been a while since I've read this book, but I feel a re-read coming on:)

message 13: by Sue (new) - rated it 1 star

Sue This is probably one of the best descriptions of this book I've ever read. I read this book because of how it's often toted as one of the best books ever written. Well, it's a well written book, unfortunately it's also called one of the best love stories of all time. I went into it with that expectation. And I was sorely disappointed.

Delaney The funny thing is, that you're supposed to hate the characters! You're supposed to think they're all narcisistic and weak-willed with no self-control, because they ARE :) They don't grow, and that's why they're so memorable. Heathcliff and Cathy are perfect for each other because they're so imperfect, but don't end up together because their imperfections ruin it! I think the sense of place is supposed to be missing, except for the descriptions of the houses, which are fantastic. You're supposed to feel like the characters are confined to these two houses, and subsequently are stagnant in their characters. The whole story is twisted, which could also explain why the story-telling is so twisted and complicated. At first, I totally agreed with you and hated the book, but when you notice a pattern of why you hate the people and why the author doesn't change that, you realize that it's a perfect description of a dystopian universe where negativity is the NORM. That realization really made me look at this book in a different way, and that's why I think it's considered a brilliant piece of writing, because it is so different and unique in it's awfulness.

message 15: by Maia (new) - rated it 1 star

Maia B. I LOVE your review! It is absolutely spot-on.

message 16: by Martha (new)

Martha I agree with what you said about the characters, if not the narration. However, I loved this book because I *do* love melodrama. Also, it probably helps that I first read it as a pre-teen.

message 17: by Martha (new)

Martha Also, I think Delaney's absolutely right.

Ana-alicia Fierro Well said.

message 19: by Abi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Abi Fear Totally agree with you. The characters drove me nuts!

message 20: by Laura (new) - rated it 1 star

Laura It's beyond me as well how it got to be a classic.

message 21: by Gail (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail I'm with Delaney on this one. I do love the actual prose, and yes, the characters are horrible people, and we are not supposed to like them.

message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

There is a hidden passion that is hiding inside the pages. The passion that arises when Heathcliff and Catherine are together. From childhood, they can't be separated. They understand each other and love only each other. The world is nothing and was nothing until they found each other.

"so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same" This quote explains the feelings she can't express to the man she loves (wasn't it illegal to marry the person you were brought up with), so instead, she rots from inside. She rots because because she is not a full person. Heathcliff rots because he is not a full person. They are both split and cannot seem find a way to attach back together, like how they were attached when they were children.

Now, I know she and Heathcliff were horrible and not likable, but that is the point. I felt like this was a message to the readers. Here are two people who are supposed to go through life together, as lovers, but the cruelty of the world separated them and now they will have to live even though they are dead inside. How can you be alive when a vital organ is missing? It's like going through life with half a heart. You cannot function like a normal person. It's impossible. That is why they were horrible, they were broken.

You know that feeling that something is missing in your heart? Something or someone is not by your side and you start feeling like you are not whole. ...and you start getting agitated and Impatient....like waiting for someone that won't come....ever!

This novel shows how unfair life can be, how good people turn into bad peopl by child abuse, how people become bitter and cold by jealousy and revenge. How people start to really act like they don't have full hearts because they really don't.....

Some might roll their eyes at this and say melodrama! But I find this novel to be true to every person's broken heart.

Not being able to touch and feel the person you most love in this world can destroy you. From inside out.

I think Emliy Bronte wrote a novel that desribes the hidden depth of the human emotion. I respect her. I respect this novel. I think she was a brilliant writer and observer.

message 23: by Kate (new) - rated it 1 star

Kate why would you want to read a book about twisted people? what possible enjoyment can be gained from this?

message 24: by Donna (new)

Donna Kay Kate wrote: "why would you want to read a book about twisted people? what possible enjoyment can be gained from this?"

The enjoyment is the passion and darkness that comes with complex relationships, also this novel is extremely well written and some people enjoy well written novels.

message 25: by Kate (new) - rated it 1 star

Kate i have to like the characters to enjoy the passion, i havnt actually read this because of being put off by some reveiws and in the 1998 film heathcliff and cathy revolted me, which isn't what i want from entertainment.

message 26: by Donna (new)

Donna Kay Kate wrote: "i have to like the characters to enjoy the passion, i havnt actually read this because of being put off by some reveiws and in the 1998 film heathcliff and cathy revolted me, which isn't what i wan..."

I also watched that movie and hated it, the movie (which in my opinion was a horrible represenation of the novel) was not enjoyable for me but the novel was and it has been enjoyable for people for centuries.

Yes, likable characters are important but a trashy book can have likable characters and still be a trashy and horrible book. A great novel is not great because the characters are very nice.

If you really want your characters to be likable, then do not read this novel (you will hate it)but if you are up to reading this novel with an open mind, then maybe you will like it because I really understood this novel in my own way.

Kermit Someone was an Isabella rather than a Catherine to someone weren't they?

message 28: by Luke (new) - added it

Luke I completely agree with everything you have said, i found it pretty tedious and intolerable to say the least!

message 29: by Julia (new) - rated it 1 star

Julia I disagree a little - they go through some transformations, but they are so sudden and misplaced, it's like...ugh
"I fucking hate your guts" to "I'll teach you to read, please be my friend"
Seriously???! gtfo

message 30: by Luke (new) - added it

Luke Julia wrote: "I disagree a little - they go through some transformations, but they are so sudden and misplaced, it's like...ugh
"I fucking hate your guts" to "I'll teach you to read, please be my friend"

Haha, i agree with you on that :)

Sylvia111 It is a master piece.

Stephen dollin It is, without a doubt an extremely well written book. Much of what is being said here is how bleak and twisted the characters and plot is. Further these (accurate) observations are being used as reasons to hate the book. Much of what we admire in life is the bleak, the bad and the ugly. This book is, for sure, miserable on the whole, but it is also a masterpiece.

So much so that it has no middle ground in critique. It is either hated or loved with a passion. Much like all that happens within.

I call this a win for literature.

message 33: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Curcione Just one point- I didn't mind Cathy 2. I thought she had some admirable qualities. What say ye?

message 34: by Jean (new) - rated it 1 star

Jean Having just written my own damning review I was immensely pleased to find your very erudite one. I had begun to despair of finding anyone who shared my views on this work.

message 35: by Martha (new)

Martha Armes I read Wuthering Heights before I was 13; I'll have to take another look at it. When I was 10 I read Jane Eyre (which I pronounced "eerie" and loved it. I guess I carried that romantic notion to WH.

Pamela Nina, I totally agree with your post, it is annoying that so many people read this book with completely the wrong expectations Wuthering Heights is a tragedy not a romance.

Esdaile I do not think I have ever read anything so arrogant written about a classic in my life and that is saying something. If it is beyond you how this book is a classic, then show some humility please and accept that there may be aspects to the book that you fail to grasp or are too emotionally limited to be ever able to grasp. It may be so. Certainly the characters are immensely flawed, that is the sense of the book very much, that we are dealing with tragically flawed persons. However, the dismissal of the characters as "spoiled and over-indulged with no discipline" is more a pretty accurate description of the impression your own views convey than of those of the book who are rather warped and stunted, like the trees on the blasted and almost abrren heath which surrounds them. The very concept of "abusive relationship" which you throw in (poor Emiyl Bronte could not have done much with the expression, not having the beenfit of a mdoern progressive education like you:)) is extremely modern. Relationships at that time were thwart with abuse so an intelligent approach would have been to analyse the manner in which personal relationships were thwarted at that time by social or economic circumstances. That would have been a potentially constructive critique. What you have written is itself unmitigated abuse of the writer. The technique of the novel is remarkable but it is unconvincing to claim that it kills intimacy considering how many thousands what am I saying tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, have found this novel to be suffocatingly, overwhelmingly intimate! It is very much the intensely lived experience of real people then and now, whether you like it or not.

message 38: by Mart (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mart Esdaile wrote: "I do not think I have ever read anything so arrogant written about a classic in my life and that is saying something. If it is beyond you how this book is a classic, then show some humility please ..."
Guess that Joseph was your favorite character..

Cemre Haa really funny Mart! I'm dying from laughing !

Cemre I think you must be respectful to 170 years old classics. There are classics ı don't like but ı wouldn't dare to write such reviews about them . Narrative technique is originality by the way .

Cemre Jane Austen wrote 30 years before Emily Bronte , and she used 3rd person narrative , using peripherial narrator was a new thing .

message 42: by Marie (last edited Apr 14, 2014 04:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marie I just started this book, and I'm thinking the exact same things as you are writing here. I don't even know if I can muster to finish it, but it's a CLASSIC so I feel as if I'm totally missing a big point or something for not liking it, or not even thinking it's worth my time ...
Well, I'll finish it, and hope that some of the characters soon become a little bit more likable at least.

Edit: Finished the book, and I'm glad I stuck with it. I like it a lot better now. Yeah, the characters are flawed, but their story was one I got caught up in. I understand how people don't like it though :-)

Dennis Ritchie This is a literary work of art from the 1800s. You're really an obtuse one, aren't you? Why would anyone want your judgments of this classic? You despise the novel because you were most likely a jaded post modern teen who despised the world when told to read it by a teacher with a bad tie and a penchant for knowing the slackers in class. I bet you didn't even read it entirely because her astounding vocabulary leaves you wondering how the English language ever regressed to this point.

This enduring classic was written by a teenager from her imagination 200 years ago when all the little luxuries you enjoy DID NOT exist. She is a marvel. Her creation is a marvel. The characters in her novel are fictional but also tell us a great deal about life in her age. Pull your head from your sphincter and realize what you are reading. Respect (you mention often in your comment) is knowing quality and also realizing how rare and fortunate we are this QUALITY survives and will always live on even in the face of such postmodern obtuseness.

Moreover, to all of you agreeing with her you must have all failed grade 9 English and are as bitter as Heathcliff about it.

message 44: by Åsa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Åsa Firth I have a few pages left and I can't wait for it to end. Your review echoes my impressions exactly. How this can be so loved and so respected is beyond me.

Louise Even Charlotte Bronte's lesser known stuff is better than this garbage.

Stephen dollin Dennis wrote: "This is a literary work of art from the 1800s. You're really an obtuse one, aren't you? Why would anyone want your judgments of this classic? You despise the novel because you were most likely a ja..."

It is a brilliant, brilliant book. I'm baffled by all the discord and suspicion here whilst laughing a little at the irony - much of the slaying here is as heavy and cruel as the opus itself. For all its gaunt and grey chapters- I love it. It takes a lot out of the reader, it demands tolerance and it gives so much back. The syrup is thick and not for everyone but it is without any doubt or question that this book is brilliant written, perfectly timed and brave to the end.

message 47: by Danie (new) - rated it 1 star

Danie There should be a list of books that doesn't deserve to be in the classical books to read! This one would deserve the first place! But hey I guess when it was written it was one of the first of that type or books like twilight began a all kind of teen supernatural drama wave of whatever. The book still sucks but many hysterical brain damaged teens read them (I did to hahah) and loved them (I didn't really)

Srutarshi Ghosh that's exactly what I intended to write. But you've already spoken whatever I was thinking.
This is just some crummy vintage Chicklit. And crummier than the more recent ones. If anyone asks me the most overrated novel I've read it's GOT to be this. gosh I'm surprised I could make my way out of some 400+ pages filled with pure horseshit

Tristan I loved the book and completely agree with your analysis of the characters. They are hateful; that's the point. It's not about love; it's about what happens to you when you allow something, anything, to consume you completely. I love the setting, but "the moor is gray" as you put it is really all you need; it's all about the bleakness. As for the narrative device, I know why you are frustrated by the roundabout double frame, but it adds an element of unreliability that deepens the work and it raises interesting questions about class and agency (Nelly is a servant, and arguably the most powerful character).

KaleneMia Your summation is wonderfully stated

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