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Guest Blog: Ten Interesting Facts about Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

By Laura Inman

1.   Wuthering Heights was originally published as the first two volumes of a three volume novel, with Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë’s novel written at the same time, as the third volume, although the two works had nothing to do with each other. The manuscript of Wuthering Heights has never been found, nor is it known what might have become of it.

2.   Struggling novelists can take heart from the example of Wuthering Heights: publishers so consistently rejected the novel, that Emily Brontë paid the substantial sum of 50 pounds to have it published.  It met with no popular or critical acclaim, and she died believing it had failed.

3.   Twelve characters die in the novel (that count includes the infant Heathcliff Earnshaw, after whom the child rescued from the Liverpool streets is named), raising the question whether Brontë intentionally indulged in numeric symbolic play in doing away with her characters, as twelve is typically and obviously the number signifying the end–the end of the month, the end of the day, the end of an opportunity.  Next reading, pay attention to all of the things in pairs; after counting into the double digits and noting the context in which the pairs appear, query whether it might not be serving the same purpose as the number twelve.

4.   Emily Brontë’s father, with whom she lived while writing Wuthering Heights, did not know she was writing a novel and afterward never read Wuthering Heights. As for not reading it, that could be realistically attributed to his failing eyesight and not to any aloofness as a parent—he was a very caring father and brilliant man.

5.   In Wuthering Heights, three characters, Francis, Edgar, and Linton die of consumption, known today as tuberculosis, and their suffering is described with accurate medical detail in an eerie foreshadowing of her own death and that of her brother Branwell and her sister Anne.

Bronte16.   Heathcliff has come to be considered a great lover, but Brontë does not portray him as such in Wuthering Heights: Catherine is his adoptive sister; they never kiss, except during their final parting; and Catherine never plots or considers leaving her husband to be with Heathcliff. In advance of her time, Brontë created a character who is an emotional dependant and a compulsive mourner more than a lover.

7.   The brain fever that afflicts Catherine in Wuthering Heights was recognized by the medical establishment at the time as a real illness; the symptoms were most likely those that today would be diagnosed as caused by meningitis.

8.   The stark and realistic depiction of alcoholism in the character of Hindley Earnshaw mirrored the behavior of Emily’s brother Branwell, an alcoholic.  Even years before, Emily had written an essay on the malignancy of alcoholism in a way that shows, yet again, an understanding of issues before her time.

9.   The doctor in Wuthering Heights, Dr. Kenneth, appears a few times in the novel, and in each instance only to confirm that someone is dying or already dead.  Emily Brontë refused to have a doctor in to see her when she fell ill of tuberculosis.

10.  The famous and chilling scene of the waif knocking at the window calling to Lockwood to let her in suggests that Lockwood was “seeing” the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw.  It was inspired by a dream that Emily’s brother, Branwell, had about their oldest sister Maria, who died as a child after time spent at a school that inspired Charlotte Brontë in creating Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

Continue your Brontë odyssey with this pick of Emily Brontë’s best short poems and learn more about her poem ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’ here.

Laura Inman is a Bronte scholar, former lawyer, writer, and aspiring Stoic.  Her blog is The Living Philosopher, which features Stoic and literary ideas as a guide to living.

Image: ‘Top Withins – The Place That Inspired Wuthering Heights?’© 2008, Andrew Bowden, public domain.

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About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on November 12, 2013, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.

  1. Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel ever since I was a child. Nothing I’ve ever read since has moved so. I’m so happy to read new things about it as it shows that it can surprise me still even after all these years. Thank you so much for posting this!

  2. I’m glad that I read this post because I read Wurthering Heights years ago and whenever I hear other people saying that Heathcliff is one of the great literary lovers I don’t understand it because it wasn’t how I read him in the book!

  3. Wow!

  4. Enjoyable to read these tidbits of information on my favourite classic novel.

  5. Fantastic post! I love the ways some classic writers used symbolism and numerical themes in their writing. A previous posts have said it makes for a book that continues to surprise us! Emily Bronte must have been one super smart lady… what a shame she didn’t know how loved this novel became :(

    • Thanks! As for Emily’s failure,she didn’t live long after to expereince it, and, as even greater consolation, Emily lived in her own world. She proved the saying from “Paradise Lost”, “The mind is its own place and can make a heaven or hell or a hell of heaven.”

  6. I was thinking the same thing Carolyn – that it’s so sad she never realized how popular or beloved her work would become. I also feel totally vindicated in my feelings for Heathcliff since the author herself never intended him to be a romantic hero! Every time I re-read any Bronte work I’m always amazed at how ahead of their time they seemed to be. Great post – thank you!

  7. Yes, what a shame she never knew. I’m not sure that is something for struggling novelists to take heart from ;-) A really interesting post. Thank you.

    • I suppose that a writer who can’t get published can take heart from knowing that Emily Bronte found herself in the same situation. Whether posthumous fame is any consolation is doubtul, however. I think I might have been subconsiously ironic in writing that. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Thanks for the interesting post. I wish I could remember the details but I know there has been speculation that Charlotte Bronte destroyed the manuscript of Wuthering Heights, as well as a possible sequel that Emily wrote to it. I find a sequel unlikely though – authors did not really write sequels back at that time and series were also rare for several more years until authors like Trollope began writing them in the 1850s and 1860s.

    • I would like to know if as a matter of practice at the time whether publishers returned manuscripts or kept them. Charlotte might not have had it to destroy. I doubt she would have done that since it was in publication and she was promoting it with her “explanatory” preface. Emily continued writing poetry, as she had done before she took up novel writing, so perhaps she just wanted to return to her poetry.

      • That’s an interesting question. I would hope an author would be smart enough to keep a copy of her manuscript in case it were lost in the mail or by the publisher, although making a copy would have been laborious. I don’t know the answer and returning manuscripts likely varied from one publisher to another, but it would be worth investigating.

  9. It is sad that artists often go unheralded or only as an afterthought, Morphing into greatness as reviewers take another look.

    • The same thing happened to John Keats, now considered one of the three great Romantic poets. Not until he was discovered and promoted by critics and poets of the Victorian era did he come to be considered a great poet. He too died a failure and young.

  10. Wuthering heights is one of my favourite works. I just finished reading about it in another blog that I follow. The trivia is fascinating. I never thought about the significance of 12 until now.

  11. They made me read this book when I was in highschool, if I had known these facts I´d probably have written a better paper about the book. I did pass though…barely.

  12. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Interesting post on Wuthering Heights. As a young girl, I did love the novel (and the movie with Laurence Olivier). Frankly, however, Cathy annoyed the hell out of me.

  13. I always thought of Wuthering Heights as a gothic-type “romance.” I put romance in quotes because the love between Heathcliff and Cathy, to me, was one-sided, with all the pain of unrequited love on Heathcliff’s side.

  14. Very interesting post. Thanks for the titbits.
    Wuthering Heights is one of my most loved books. And yet, it was such an intense experience reading it that I have never yet dared to look through it again.

  15. This book had a huge effect on my imagination when I was a kid. Also, they made a movie when I was a teen which was not very well-received, but I loved it. Did you read an article recently that suggested that Branwell wrote WH with Emily? The reasoning was pretty good and would explain some of the mystery surrounding the book and Emily. I know that’s not a popular thought since she’s a woman and he’s not, but it’s something to think about. But could such an intense book be the result of a collaboration of two people, albeit very close people.

    • There is no way Branwell had anything at all to do with this book.One proof is Emily’s poetry. When one becomes familiar with her poetry, it is clear that the author of the poetry and the novel is one and the same. Also, Branwell was away or “non compos mentis” most of the time. He played no part in the evening writing sessions around the dining room table. It is reasonable to speculate that Branwell did offer inspiration for the character of Hindly Earnshaw, who wasted his life in “reckless dissipation.”

      • That sounds right. What I read was that E and B had co-written a lot of material which ended up the basis for the book (I think). But they all co-wrote together. That was their “apprenticeship.”

        • I too believe that Branwell co wrote Wuthering Heights, based on his own experiences (working out the plot over time). Emily loved and protected her brother, sharing his secrets with no one, not even with Charlotte or Anne. When I first read W.H. back in the 80’s I thought it was one of the strangest novels a woman could have ever written. It seemed so masculine. Now, thinking of it as a co-effort makes more sense to me. Emily had no love interests, as far as we know. Branwell was deeply involved with a married woman who’s husband was considered weak by Branwell, like Cathy’s husband in W.H. I think that Branwell, who was so tortured in his short life gave up the novel and Emily completed it for him using the alias Ellis Bell. But then Charlotte let the cat out of the bag naming ‘three’ sisters as authorship for the three novels and Emily was furious with her for this. I believe that Charlotte believed that Emily was the only author of W.H. and so in an introduction to the novel, after Emily’s death, she stated this and ever since then it’s been believed that Emily was the sole author. It’s also interesting to note that Charlotte and Branwell hadn’t actually spoken to one another for two years even though they were living in the same house during this fruitful but tragic time of the novels publications and the deaths of the brother and sister. Was Charlotte really sure?

  16. I found this such a good read. I never knew most of these things, yet it is one of my favourite books.

  17. Great article. May I recommend Christopher James poem about Branwell Bronte, which starts:

    Branwell Brontë, you died standing up,
    your talent eclipsed by whisky and genius.
    A station master’s assistant, you were
    let go for translating Horace in the ticket office;
    you made announcements only in Latin.

  18. Wuthering is my favorite book ever and it really touched my heart. It’s amazing to know the story behind the story. I must thank you for this :)

  19. I’m glad you found it of interest.

  20. Love, love, love Wuthering Heights. Interesting facts indeed.

  21. Thanks so much for this post, I enjoyed learning new facts about Emily.

  22. In reference to the sixth point made in this article, I have always wondered why Heathcliff is considered such an amazing lover. I agree this cannot be what Bronte intended. In fact, Heathcliff is obsessive, abusive, and malicious in almost all of his interactions with the women in this novel. To explain, he hangs Isabella’s little dog from a bridle hook right before they run away together and get married. After they are married, he abuses her both emotionally and physically. He slaps the younger Cathy again and again when she tries to escape his imprisonment of her. Even his interactions with Catherine (the focus of his obsessive love) are dysfunctional i.e. they argue constantly, purposefully hurt and mock one another, and are both prone to fits of violent jealousy when it comes to the other. I feel Bronte created the character of Heathcliff to expose just how limited the choices were for women of her time period; while at the same time exposing the prevalence and acceptance of violence against women at the hands men and a male-dominated society

  23. What a great post!. Both Maria and her sister, Elizabeth died as a result of the harshness of the school you mentioned and I am certain it was the model for Lowood. There was also a threatened lawsuit against Charlotte!

  24. Thank you for this post, it was fascinating. Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books after having studied it a A-Level years ago . It’s such a shame that she never got the recognition she deserved for it in her lifetime. I never know that she died in the belief that it had failed, how sad. This post has inspired me to revisit this amazing book for another read!

  25. Hi, have you read this-
    “Emily Bronte ‘disappointed had to pose in underwear to promote sister’s new book’”
    From-
    http://dailywhatsit.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/emily-bronte-disappointed-to-pose-in-underwear-to-promote-sisters-new-book/

  26. I am saddened and appalled that there are so many people commenting in the affirmative about number 6 in this ‘bloggers’ post.

    To claim that Heathcliff isn’t romantic! For shame.

    The man was driven to extremes. What causes one to this but complete and absolute love?

    Love is different for us all. Some of us are more romantic, in our way, then others. He was obsessed with someone who he was deemed unworthy of, and lived, every second of his entire life, trying to be with.

    It has been some time since I read Wuthering Heights however I recall Catherine carving her name in a windowsill. Before she crossed them out they read; Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, and Catherine Healthcliff (b/c Heathcliff had no last name). would she not have done this without considering him as a potential suitor? Giving herself his surname here, as she did with her eventual husband’s?

    For this blogger to say that“…Catherine (sic) never considers leaving her husband to be with Heathcliff” is an affront. She has always considered a connection, in precisely this way, to Heathcliff.

    Heathcliff felt betrothed to Catherine from childhood to death. He embraced his own death believing that it meant he would be with her eternally. You have the audacity to consider the era in which they lived, when making your other points, but deny him a title of ‘lover’ b/c why? He wasn’t physically sexual with her? If someone went to the lengths he did, for you, would you not feel loved? Would you consider someone you slept with a lover but not one whom you flirted the possibility of being with, who is still forever spurred onward in the hope of being with you passionately someday? You wouldn’t consider a past flame who maintains their affection for you all their life a ‘lover’?

    He carried a cross for her like no one has since Jesus. His love consumed him. Take the lenses off that give you the modern parameters of clinical psychology, and stop with the ‘here is a case of condition found in chapter 4 of the DSM detailing the clinical obsessive traits in line with borderline personality disorder blah blah blah’. this was love. A form of love. I’m sorry if your psychology book defines LOVE differently. I’ll find love in life and in art, like this classic. I will never look for what love is in some science periodical.

    So put away your psychology books and accept that he showed his love, in his way (which at times he expressed in the most cruel and devious means ever put to paper). Catherine understood his passion for her. to call him anything but a lover is appalling made especially so because this statement is made alongside interesting facts. Don’t educate people with interesting points, that are passed off as facts related to the authorship and novel, and then interject alongside them your skewed assertion that Bronte never makes mention that Healthcliff is considered a lover but rather a “… emotional dependant and a compulsive mourner…”.

    I hope none of you are in any position to explain to someone that he isn’t actually a ‘lover’. Let them, the readers, have their own interpretation and believing him to be one of the great lovers, of any era, is not in any way wrong.

  27. Hello and Thank you for liking a post. This is interesting but never heard of it. Have a nice day.

  28. I consider Wuthering Heights extraordinary literature. The fact that Emily Bronte never knew how extraordinary is another reminder to writers of all genres to believe in the merits of our own work despite what others may think. In hindsight, I’m glad she persevered to the point of paying for the novel to be published.

  29. I read all the above comments on WH I am reading it and merely crossed the 5th page of it.

  30. I’m curious where you got the bit about Branwell dreaming about his sister Maria’s ghost. I would like to read more about that.

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