The 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, directed by William Wyler, only really concentrates on the romantic relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff, and avoids getting involved with the book’s dark heart. Wuthering Heights is a powerful study of the destructive force of jealousy and bitterness. It is an incredible achievement, because Emily Brontë, through her main male character Heathcliff, manages to create a man/fiend who is at once both the book’s anti-hero and villain. He is a dark, brooding monster, slowly consumed by his own rancour, taking it upon himself to torture and destroy those who have wronged him. However, his thirst for revenge is never sated, and the reader is appalled by the scope of his hatred. Yet, tormented, vengeance-driven fiend though Heathcliff is, the quality and psychological depth of Brontë’s writing somehow always manages to keep a tiny part of the reader on his side. Something in us always yearns for him to find redemption.
Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights under the pen name of Ellis Bell. It was published in 1847 - just a year before she died of tuberculosis. She was only thirty years of age at the time of her death, and never knew the success her one and only novel would go on to achieve. At first, it received quite mixed reviews - hardly surprising, I think, when you consider the book’s underlying sense of amorality, and the Victorian values it clearly challenges. Emily Bronte was born on 30 July (a day before my own birthday) - so she’d be a hundred and ninety-six this week (me, not so much!). I have no doubt people will still be reading and enjoying her novel in another two hundred years and more - and let’s face it, that’s more than can be said of just about every book that has ever won the Man Booker prize.
Happy birthday Emily Brontë. Thanks for writing such a monstrously brilliant novel!