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.
6. 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.