I read Wuthering Heights when I was sixteen and had just left home. I did not read it as a love story. I thought it was a loss story. Heathcliff loses Cathy. Cathy loses Heathcliff. Edgar Linton loses Cathy, their daughter, his life, and Thrushcross Grange. Hindley loses Wuthering Heights. His son Hareton is dispossessed,
Heathcliff’s revenge on everyone, including himself, is matched by Cathy’s death-wish (Why did you betray your own heart?)
Heathcliff is a foundling. As an adopted child I understood his humiliations, his ardour, and his capacity to injure. I also learned the lesson of the novel that property is power. It seemed to me that if you want to fall in love you had better have a house. Whatever Emily Bronte was doing, it was not the sentimental interpretation of this novel of all for love and the world well lost.
Cathy is a woman and can’t own property in her own right. Therefore she can’t rescue Heathcliff unless she marries Edgar (and that is part of her plan but Heathcliff has already misunderstood and disappeared). Much later when her daughter marries Heathcliff’s horrible son Linton he gleefully claims that all her property is now his – and when he usefully dies, all that was hers passes to Heathcliff.
Heathcliff himself starts with nothing – and so can’t marry Cathy. His gradual gain of every house, horse and heirloom belonging to the Earnshaws and the Lintons is his revenge and his ruin.
What’s love got to do with it?
( All right, quite a lot, but this is not a love story)
The Times – August 2011