pseudonym Ellis Bell
born July 30, 1818, Thornton, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Dec. 19, 1848, Haworth, Yorkshire
English novelist and poet who produced but one novel, Wuthering Heights
(1847), a highly imaginative novel of passion and hate set on the
Yorkshire moors. Emily was perhaps the greatest of the three Brontë
sisters, but the record of her life is extremely meagre, for she was
silent and reserved and left no correspondence of interest, and her
single novel darkens rather than solves the mystery of her spiritual
Her father, Patrick Brontë (1777–1861), an Irishman, held a number of
curacies: Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Yorkshire, was the birthplace of his
elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth (who died young), and nearby
Thornton that of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, and
Anne. In 1820 the father became rector of Haworth, remaining there for
the rest of his life.
After the death of their mother in 1821, the children were left very
much to themselves in the bleak moorland rectory. The children were
educated, during their early life, at home, except for a single year
that Charlotte and Emily spent at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan
Bridge in Lancashire. In 1835, when Charlotte secured a teaching
position at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, Emily accompanied her as a
pupil but suffered from homesickness and remained only three months. In
1838 Emily spent six exhausting months as a teacher in Miss Patchett’s
school at Law Hill, near Halifax, and then resigned.
To keep the family together at home, Charlotte planned to keep a
school for girls at Haworth. In February 1842 she and Emily went to
Brussels to learn foreign languages and school management at the Pension
Héger. Although Emily pined for home and for the wild moorlands, it
seems that in Brussels she was better appreciated than Charlotte. Her
passionate nature was more easily understood than Charlotte’s decorous
temperament. In October, however, when her aunt died, Emily returned
permanently to Haworth.
In 1845 Charlotte came across some poems by Emily, and this led to
the discovery that all three sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—had
written verse. A year later they published jointly a volume of verse,
Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the initials of these pseudonyms
being those of the sisters; it contained 21 of Emily’s poems, and a
consensus of later criticism has accepted the fact that Emily’s verse
alone reveals true poetic genius. The venture cost the sisters about £50
in all, and only two copies were sold.
By midsummer of 1847 Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey
had been accepted for joint publication by J. Cautley Newby of London,
but publication of the three volumes was delayed until the appearance of
their sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, which was immediately and hugely
successful. Wuthering Heights, when published in December 1847, did not
fare well; critics were hostile, calling it too savage, too animal-like,
and clumsy in construction. Only later did it come to be considered one
of the finest novels in the English language.
Soon after the publication of her novel, Emily’s health began to fail
rapidly. She had been ill for some time, but now her breathing became
difficult, and she suffered great pain. She died of tuberculosis in
Emily Brontë’s work on Wuthering Heights cannot be dated, and she may
well have spent a long time on this intense, solidly imagined novel. It
is distinguished from other novels of the period by its dramatic and
poetic presentation, its abstention from all comment by the author, and
its unusual structure. It recounts in the retrospective narrative of an
onlooker, which in turn includes shorter narratives, the impact of the
waif Heathcliff on the two families of Earnshaw and Linton in a remote
Yorkshire district at the end of the 18th century. Embittered by abuse
and by the marriage of Cathy Earnshaw—who shares his stormy nature and
whom he loves—to the gentle and prosperous Edgar Linton, Heathcliff
plans a revenge on both families, extending into the second generation.
Cathy’s death in childbirth fails to set him free from his love-hate
relationship with her, and the obsessive haunting persists until his
death; the marriage of the surviving heirs of Earnshaw and Linton
Sharing her sisters’ dry humour and Charlotte’s violent imagination,
Emily diverges from them in making no use of the events of her own life
and showing no preoccupation with a spinster’s state or a governess’s
position. Working, like them, within a confined scene and with a small
group of characters, she constructs an action, based on profound and
primitive energies of love and hate, which proceeds logically and
economically, making no use of such coincidences as Charlotte relies on,
requiring no rich romantic similes or rhetorical patterns, and confining
the superb dialogue to what is immediately relevant to the subject. The
sombre power of the book and the elements of brutality in the characters
affronted some 19th-century opinion. Its supposed masculine quality was
adduced to support the claim, based on the memories of her brother
Branwell’s friends long after his death, that he was author or part
author of it. While it is not possible to clear up all the minor
puzzles, neither the external nor the internal evidence offered is
substantial enough to weigh against Charlotte’s plain statement that
Emily was the author.
Joyce M.S. Tompkins
There has been a great obsession with solitude in modern
writing, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights must stand as the
most violent expression of the products of extreme austerity and
isolation ever written. It is an utterly psychotic love story as
far removed both from the novels of her two sisters and William
Wyler's 1939 film adaptation as imaginable.
Emily Bronte was brought up with great simplicity, encountering
only her father, an Irish pastor, and her sisters, with whom she
traded stories to pass the time on their remote Yorkshire
wasteland. Given her situation she could not possibly have
acquired any true experience of love, so how could she possibly
have distilled such unaffected beauty and crazed, passionate
fury into a novel? Thereisa kind of awful modernity in the story
of Catherine and Heathcliff, a model of society at its most
efficient, squeezing out the elemental and the innocent freedom
of childhood in favor of a calculated reason, and it is this
process that plunges the two lovers into disaster. Catherine is
able to deny the freedom of her youth for a place in adult
society, Heathcliff is driven to a furious retribution that will
stop at nothing. Here lies the fascination of Wuthering Heights,
in a model of catastrophe as envisaged by a wholly innocent
woman, somehow equipped with the ability to express such pure
desperation. Doubtless this is the reason that compelled Georges
Bataille to judge it "one of the greatest books ever written."
Type of work: Novel
Author: Emily Bronte (1818-1848)
Type of plot: Impressionistic romance
Time of plot: 1757-1803
Locale: The moors of northern England
First published: 1847
Published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, this famous novel was
once considered such a risk by its publishers that Emily Bronte had to
defray the cost of publication until a sufficient number of copies had
been sold. Despite some scenes of romantic exaggeration, Wuthering
Heights is an intriguing tale of revenge in which the main figures are
controlled by their consuming passions.
Heathcliff, a dark-visaged, violently passionate, black-natured man. A
foundling brought to the Earnshaw home at an early age, he is subjected
to cruel emotional sufferings during his formative years. His chief
tormentor is Hindley Earnshaw, who is jealous of his father's obvious
partiality toward Heathcliff. These he endures with the sullen patience
of a hardened, ill-treated animal, but just as the years add age his
suffering adds hatred in Heath-cliff's nature and he becomes filled with
an inhuman, almost demonic, desire for vengeance against Hindley. This
ambition coupled with his strange, transcendent relationship with
Catherine, Hindley's sister, encompasses his life until he becomes a
devastatingly wasted human, in fact, hardly human at all. He evaluates
himself as a truly superior person who, possessing great emotional
energies and capabilities, is a creature set apart from the human. Some
regard him as a fiend, full of horrible passions and powers. In the end
he dies empty, his will gone, his fervor exhausted, survived by Cathy
and Hare-ton, the conventionalists, the moralists, the victims of his
Catherine Earnshaw, the sister of Hindley, later the wife of Edgar
Linton and mother of young Cathy Linton. Catherine is spirited as a
girl, selfish, wild, saucy, provoking and sometimes even wicked. But she
can be sweet of eye and smile, and she is often contrite for causing
pain with her insolence. In childhood she and Heathcliff form an
unusually close relationship, but as her friendship with Edgar and
Isabella Linton grows, she becomes haughty and arrogant. In spite of her
devotion to Heathcliff she rejects him for fear marriage to him would
degrade her. Instead, she accepts Edgar Linton's proposal. But her deep
feeling for Heathcliff remains; he is her one unselfishness, and she
insists that Edgar must at least tolerate him so that her marriage will
not alter her friendship with Heathcliff. Her marriage is a tolerably
happy one, possibly because Catherine becomes unspirited after
Heathcliff's departure because of her rejection. Upon his return they
become close friends again, despite his apparent vile character and foul
treatment of her family. In their inhuman passion and fierce, tormented
love they are lost to each other, each possessing the other's spirit as
if it were his own. Her mind broken and anguished, Catherine finally
dies in childbirth.
Hindley Earnshaw, the brother of Catherine Earnshaw, husband of Frances,
and father of Hareton. As a child he is intensely jealous of Heathcliff
and treats the boy cruelly. After the death of Frances, Hindley's
character deteriorates rapidly; he drinks heavily and finally dies in
disgrace, debt, and degradation as the result of Heathcliff's scheme of
Edgar Linton, the husband of Catherine and father of Cathy. A polished,
cultured man, he is truly in love with Catherine and makes her happy
until Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights. He is a steady,
unassuming person, patient and indulgent of both his wife and his
Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar and Catherine and wife of Linton
Heathcliff. A bright, spirited affectionate girl, she pities Linton,
becomes his friend, and through the trickery and bribery of Heathcliff
is forced to marry the sickly young man. She becomes sullen and
ill-tempered in Heathcliff's household, but she finds ultimate happiness
with Hareton Earnshaw.
Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley and Frances and the object of
Heathcliff's revenge against Hindley. Under Heathcliff's instruction, or
rather neglect, Hareton grows into a crude, gross, uneducated young man
until Cathy, after Heathcliff's death, takes him under her charge and
begins to improve his mind and manners. The two fall in love and marry.
Linton Heathcliff, the son of Heathcliff and Isabella and the husband of
Cathy Linton. He is a selfish boy indulged and spoiled by his mother.
After her death he returns to live with Heathcliff and at Wuthering
Heights sinks into a weak-willed existence, a victim of his father's
harsh treatment. Sickly since infancy, he dies at an early age, shortly
after his marriage to Cathy Linton.
Isabella Linton, the sister of Edgar, Heathcliff 's wife, and mother of
Linton. A rather reserved, spoiled, often sulking girl, she becomes
infatuated with Heathcliff, and in spite of her family's opposition and
warnings she runs away with him. Later, regretting her foolish action,
she leaves him and lives with her son Linton until her death.
Frances Earnshaw, the wife of Hindley; she dies of consumption.
Mr. Earnshaw, the father of Catherine and Hindley. He brings Heathcliff
to Wuthering Heights after a business trip to Liverpool.
Mrs. Earnshaw, his wife.
Mrs. Ellen Dean, called Nelly, the housekeeper who relates Heathcliff's
history to Mr. Lockwood and thereby serves as one of the books'
narrators. A servant in the household at Wuthering Heights, she goes
with Catherine to Thrushcross Grange when the latter marries Edgar
Linton. Some years later she returns to live at Wuthering Heights as the
housekeeper for Heathcliff. She is a humble, solid character,
conventional, reserved, and patient. Although Hindley's disorderly home
and Heathcliff's evil conduct distress her, often appall her, she does
little to combat these unnatural personalities, perhaps through lack of
imagination but certainly not from lack of will, for in the face of
Heathcliff's merciless vengeance she is stanch and strong.
Mr. Lockwood, the first narrator, a foppish visitor from the city and
Heathcliff's tenant. Interested in his landlord, he hears Mrs. Dean
relate the story of the Earnshaw and Linton families.
Joseph, a servant at Wuthering Heights. He is forever making gloomy
observations and predictions about other people and offering stern
reprimands for their impious behavior.
Zillah, a servant at Wuthering Heights.
Mr. Green and Mr. Kenneth, lawyers in Gimmerton, a neighboring village.
In 1801, Mr. Lockwood became a tenant at Thrush-cross Grange, an old
farm owned by Mr. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. In the early days of
his tenancy, he made two calls on his landlord. On his first visit, he
met Heathcliff, an abrupt, unsocial man, surrounded by a pack of
snarling, barking dogs. When he went to Wuthering Heights a second time,
he met the other members of the strange household: a rude, unkempt but
handsome young man named Hareton Earnshaw and a pretty young woman who
was the widow of Heathcliff's son.
During his visit, snow began to fall; it covered the moor paths and made
travel impossible for a stranger in that bleak countryside. Heathcliff
refused to let one of the servants go with him as a guide but said that
if he stayed the night he could share Hareton's bed or that of Joseph, a
sour, canting old servant. When Mr. Lockwood tried to borrow Joseph's
lantern for the homeward journey, the old fellow set the dogs on him, to
the amusement of Hareton and Heathcliff. The visitor was finally rescued
by Zillah, the cook, who hid him in an unused chamber of the house.
That night, Mr. Lockwood had a strange dream. Thinking that a branch was
rattling against the window, he broke the glass in his attempt to unhook
the casement. As he reached out to break off the fir branch outside, his
fingers closed on a small ice-cold hand, and a weeping voice begged to
be let in. The unseen presence said that her name was Catherine Linton,
and she tried to force a way through the broken casement; Mr. Lockwood
Heathcliff appeared in a state of great excitement and savagely ordered
Mr. Lockwood out of the room. Then he threw himself upon the bed by the
shattered pane and begged the spirit to come in out of the dark and the
storm. The voice, however, was heard no more—only the hiss of swirling
snow and the wailing of a cold wind that blew out the smoking candle.
Ellen Dean satisfied part of Mr. Lockwood's curiosity about the
happenings of that night and the strange household at Wuthering Heights.
She was the housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, but she had lived at
Wuthering Heights during her childhood.
Her story of the Earnshaws, Lintons, and Heathcliffs began years before,
when old Mr. Earnshaw was living at Wuthering Heights with his wife and
two children. Hindley and Catherine. Once on a trip to Liverpool, Mr.
Earnshaw had found a starving and homeless orphan, a ragged, dirty,
urchin, dark as a gypsy, whom he brought back with him to Wuthering
Heights and christened Heathcliff—a name that was to serve the
fourteen-year-old boy as both a given and a surname. Gradually, the
orphan began to usurp the affections of Mr. Earnshaw, whose health was
failing. Wuthering Heights became a bedlam of petty jealousies; Hindley
was jealous of both Heathcliff and Catherine; old Joseph, the servant,
augmented the bickering; and Catherine was much too fond of Heathcliff.
At last, Hindley was sent away to school. A short time later, Mr.
When Hindley Earnshaw returned home for his father's funeral, he brought
a wife with him. As the new master of Wuthering Heights, he revenged
himself on Heathcliff by treating him as a servant. Catherine became a
wild and undisciplined hoyden who still continued her affection for
One night, Catherine and Heathcliff tramped through the moors to
Thrushcross Grange, where they spied on their neighbors, the Lintons.
Attacked by a watchdog, Catherine was taken into the house and stayed
there as a guest for five weeks until she was able to walk again. Thus
she became intimate with the pleasant family of Thrushcross Grange—Mr.
and Mrs. Linton and their two children, Edgar and Isabella. Afterward,
the Lintons visited frequently at Wuthering Heights. The combination of
ill-treatment on the part of Hindley and arrogance on the part of Edgar
and Isabella made Heathcliff jealous and ill-tempered. He vowed revenge
on Hindley, whom he hated with all the sullen fury of his savage nature.
The next summer, Hindley's tubercular wife, Frances, gave birth to a
son, Hareton Earnshaw. A short time later, she died. In his grief,
Hindley became desperate, ferocious, and degenerate. In the meantime,
Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton had become sweethearts. The girl
confided to Ellen Dean that she really loved Heathcliff, but she felt it
would be degrading for her to marry the penniless orphan. Heathcliff,
who overheard this conversation, disappeared the same night and did not
return for many years. Edgar and Catherine soon married and took up
their abode at Thrushcross Grange with Ellen Dean as their housekeeper.
There the pair lived happily until Heathcliff's return caused trouble
between them. When he returned to the moors, Heathcliff was greatly
improved in manners and appearance. He accepted Hind-ley's invitation to
live at Wuthering Heights—an invitation offered by Hindley because he
found in Heathcliff a companion at cards and drink, and he hoped to
recoup his own dwindling fortune from Heathcliff's pockets.
Isabella Linton began to show a sudden, irresistible attraction to
Heathcliff, much to the dismay of Edgar and Catherine. One night, Edgar
and Heathcliff had a quarrel. Soon afterward, Heathcliff eloped with
Isabella, obviously marrying her only to avenge himself and provoke
Edgar. Catherine, an expectant mother, underwent a serious attack of
fever. When Isabella and her husband returned to Wuthering Heights,
Edgar refused to recognize his sister and forbade Heathcliff to enter
his house. Despite this restriction, Heathcliff managed a final tender
interview with Catherine. Partly as a result of this meeting, her child,
named Catherine Linton, was born prematurely. The mother died a few
In the meantime, Isabella had found life with Heathcliff unbearable. She
left him and went to London, where a few months later her child, Linton,
was born. After Hindley's death, Heathcliff the guest became the master
of Wuthering Heights, for Hindley had mortgaged everything to him.
Hareton, the natural heir, was reduced to dependency on his father's
Twelve years after leaving Heathcliff, Isabella died, and her brother
took the sickly child to live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff soon
heard of the child's arrival and demanded that Linton be sent to
Wuthering Heights to live with his father. Young Catherine once visited
Wuthering Heights and met her cousin Linton. Her father had tried to
keep her in ignorance about the tenants of the place, for Heathcliff had
been at pains to let it be known that he wished the two children, Cathy
and Linton, to be married; and Heathcliff had his way. About the time
that Edgar Linton became seriously ill, Heathcliff persuaded Cathy to
visit her little cousin, who was also in extremely bad health. Upon her
arrival, Cathy was imprisoned for five days at Wuthering Heights and
forced to marry her sickly cousin Linton before she was allowed to go
home to see her father. Although she was able to return to Thrushcross
Grange before her father's death, there was not enough time for Edgar
Linton to alter his will. Thus his land and fortune went indirectly to
Heathcliff. Weak, sickly Linton Heathcliff died soon after, leaving
Cathy a widow and dependent on Heathcliff.
Mr. Lockwood went back to London in the spring without seeing Wuthering
Heights or its people again. Traveling in the region the next autumn, he
had a fancy to revisit Wuthering Heights. He found Catherine and Hareton
now in possession. He heard from Ellen Dean the story of Heathcliff's
death three months before. He had died after four days of deliberate
starvation, a broken man disturbed by memories of the beautiful young
Catherine Earnshaw. His death freed Catherine Heathcliff and Hareton
from his tyranny. Catherine was now teaching the ignorant boy to read
and to improve his rude manners.
Mr. Lockwood went to see Heathcliff's grave. It was on the other side of
Catherine Earnshaw's and her husband's. They lay under their three
headstones: Catherine's in the middle, weather-discolored and
half-buried, Edgar's partly moss-grown, Heathcliff's still bare. In the
surrounding countryside, there was a legend that these people slept
uneasily after their stormy, passionate lives. Shepherds and travelers
at night claimed that they had seen Catherine and Heathcliff roaming the
dark moors as they had done so many years before.
Published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was
considered such a risk by its publishers that Emily Bronte had to defray
the cost of publication until a sufficient number of copies had been
sold. The combination of lurid and violent scenes in this novel must
have been somewhat shocking to mid-nineteenth century
taste. Despite its exaggerated touches, Wuthering Heights is an
intriguing tale of revenge, and the main figures exist in a more than
lifesize vitality of their own consuming passions. Bronte chose a
suitable title for her novel: The word wuthering is a provincial
adjective used to describe the atmospheric tumult of stormy weather.
In his influential critical study The Great Tradition (1948), F. R.
Leavis calls Wuthering Heights a "sport." He cannot find a clear place
for the book in his historical scheme of the English novel's
development. The novel has eluded classification since its publication,
and its characters and ideas continue to perplex and fascinate. The
source of its energy lies in the powerful tension between its plot and
its characters, between its organization and its themes. Dorothy Van
Ghent (The English Novel, 1953) observes that in plot and design the
book has rigorous "limitation," although its characters are passionately
immoderate; as a result, the story is constantly explosive. Time and
space force their restrictions on spirits straining to be free.
After an initial reading, the reader tends only to remember the most
violent or emotional scenes and thinks back on the organization of the
novel as merely a string of fiery events: Lockwood's dream, Cathy and
Heathcliff fighting off the dogs of Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff at
Cathy's deathbed, or countless moments of cruelty and ecstasy involving
all the characters. On closer analysis, the reader discovers the
intricate interweaving of the novel's four parts into the core-story of
Catherine and Heathcliff. The scheme can be summarized as follows: the
establishment of the violently passionate relationship between Catherine
and Heathcliff; Catherine's rejection of marriage with Heathcliff and
her marriage to Edgar Linton and death in childbirth; Heathcliff's
revenge; and Heathcliff's disintegration and death.
In addition to this four-part design, with its intricate changes in time
and relationships among secondary characters, the novel is prescribed by
the spatial and social polarity of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross
Grange. Without all of these defining and prescriptive forms, the
metaphysical revolt that underlies the relationship between Catherine
and Heathcliff would not have a sufficient antagonist; that is, the
pressures designed to crush them help to make their haunting and demonic
challenge to experience credible.
How do Catherine and Heathcliff do it? How does Bronte' empower her
protagonists to overcome time, space, and society? She makes their minds
independent of empirical reality. Catherine confides to Ellen Dean that
"dreams . . . have stayed with me . . . and changed my ideas; they've
gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the
colour of my mind." Unlike Lockwood, who is terribly frightened by his
nightmare, Catherine associates her dreaming with self-definition. In
Catherine's dream, the angels in Heaven are so offended by her "weeping
to come back to earth . . . that they flung" her out "into the middle of
the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights," where she wakes "sobbing for
joy." Long before she dies physically, Catherine resurrects herself in
her imagination; the irony of this religious vision is that it reverses
traditional priorities: earth becomes a paradise to Heaven's misery. A
"vision" of Nature replaces the phenomenal world of time and space.
Gods are realized in the minds of their worshipers. Catherine has only
one worshiper, Heathcliff, but he is powerful enough to substitute for
the multitudes. Heathcliff is Catherine's Faith because their souls are
interchangeable ("Nelly, I am Heathcliff"); powerless to resist her
intensity, Heathcliff is sanctified by her identification with him. The
terms are diabolical: "you have treated me infernally," complains
Heathcliff to Catherine after his return to Wuthering Heights. In
response to Catherine's plea that he refrain from marrying Isabella
Linton, Heathcliff lashes back: "The tyrant [and he means Catherine]
grinds down his slaves and they don't turn against him, they crush those
beneath them." The terms may be diabolical, but the actuality is
seraphic. Bronte is similar to William Blake in the way she reverses the
values of Heaven and Hell in order to dramatize and release a
spiritually revolutionary moral energy.
When Heathcliff learns of Catherine's illness, he tells Ellen Dean that
"existence after losing her would be hell." Indeed, the love Heathcliff
and Catherine share is a new kind of emotional paradise, despite its
pain and destiny of frustration; therefore, when Catherine lies ill on
what will be her deathbed, Heathcliff is witness to a desacralized
crucifixion. Racked by his profound emotions of both absolute love for
Catherine and fury at her for dying, Heathcliff exclaims, "Kiss me
again; and don't let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to
me. I love my murderer—but vours'. How can I?" When Ellen tells him
shortly afterward of Catherine's death, Heathcliff demands that she
haunt him to his dying day since life without her is inconceivable. Just
as Catherine preferred Nature with Heathcliff to Heaven without him in
her dreams, Heathcliff spends the rest of his life rejecting earthly
possibilities and directs his spiritual and mental energies toward
reunion with Catherine: "I cannot live without my soul!" When the time
comes, he prepares for his death as if it were salvation: "Last night, I
was on the threshold of hell. Today, I am within sight of my heaven."
These two lovers inhabit a psychic and emotional world entirely their
own. Ellen Dean seems an honest observer, but her conventional
imagination makes her finally a spiritual stranger to all the facts she
so carefully relates. Lockwood is awed by the lovers' story, but he
"sees" it at a great distance because of limitations of feeling and
perception. Three generations of Lintons and Earnshaws together with the
conflicts of class and religious differences embodied in the
juxtaposition of "Heights" and "Grange" seem merely an insignificant
background to the classless, timeless, and eerily universal passion of
these two children of the moor.
The Brontë sisters, painted by their brother, Branwell c. 1834.
From left to right, Anne, Emily and Charlotte