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Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

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Cover of Standard eBooks version of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights: Spoiler-Free Synopsis

As a young man, Heathcliff, an orphaned gypsy, is adopted by the Earnshaws, who live at Wuthering Heights, an isolated farm on the moors, where he becomes devoted to the pretty but spoiled daughter Catherine Earnshaw. In her turn, Cathy claims to love Heathcliff, but she longs for the money, education, and culture she sees in the Lintons, their neighbors at Thrushcross Grange. In an attempt to escape her narrow, abusive home-life, Cathy encourages Edgar Linton’s love and a proposal, arousing Heathcliff’s violent jealousy. Meanwhile, Edgar’s sister Isabella, though she has a pampered and luxurious life, wants to escape Thrushcross Grange, and she finds Heathcliff desperately exciting, arousing Cathy’s angry possessiveness. In this violent yet engrossing revenge tale, Heathcliff and Cathy’s tempestuous relationship threatens the lives of everyone in both families, as well as those of their descendants and the story’s multiple narrators. Can anyone survive their destructive passions?

The only undisputed portrait of Emily, by her brother Branwell Brontë.

Author Emily Brontë

One of the famous Brontë sisters, all authors, Emily was noted for her shyness, her love of nature, and her tendency to befriend stray neighborhood dogs. When a typhoid epidemic swept her boarding school, she was sent home (where two of her sisters died soon after) and educated at home. Emily wrote from a young age, mostly poetry and world-building with her sister Anne, and became a teacher at age 20. When Emily’s health suffered from the strain of teaching, she returned home. In 1848, shortly after the sudden death of her beloved brother Branwell, she took ill with an inflammation of the lungs from (undiagnosed) tuberculosis. She died in December 1848, only one year following the publication of Wuthering Heights, the novel for which she is famed.

1847 edition title page of Wuthering Heights with author’s pseudonym Ellis Bell

Critical Reception of  Wuthering Heights

Contemporaneous reviews (1847-49) of Wuthering Heights were not kind. While a few critics remarked on the terrific story (New Monthly)  and powerful writing (Tait’s Edinburgh Review), most critics declared Wuthering Heights  a strange book (Examiner), a disagreeable story (Athenaeum), or a strange, inartistic story (Atlas). Comparing the novel with Jayne Eyre, critic James Lorimer was brutally dismissive:

Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read. (North British Review)

Contemporary critics sometimes still compare Wuthering Heights to Jane Eyre (Virginia Woolf, 1916), liken its protagonists to Shakespeare’s villains (Joyce Carol Oates, 1983), and confess to loving its “strange cruelty and enchantment” (Anne Rice, 2004).

Still, Wuthering Heights, though warped into a strangely violent love story by Hollywood and some readers, is now generally accepted as a classic. While acknowledging the novel’s structure as famously complex, critics have begun to more closely analyze the multiple, unreliable narrators, questioning the identity of the real villains of the story. Many critics now view Wuthering Heights as arising from yet altering the patterns of its Gothic predecessors, with their ghosts, isolated castles or fortresses, and captive heroines, creating a more complex and ambiguous world than that found in Gothic novels, and portraying females as more than persecuted Gothic heroines. Like Jane Eyre, written by Emily’s sister Charlotte, Wuthering Heights deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those concerning women and children, causing both Wuthering Heights and its author to now be revered as feminist icons.

Standard eBooks cover for Wuthering Heights

Free Public Domain Versions of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is available free online because it is in the public domain: the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public. Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain,  some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to their edition of a public domain work; publishers  can then copyright only that particular edition of the public domain book.

Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, and WikiSource  are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search any of their sites by author or title of the book.

You can read Wuthering Heights online or legally download a free copy from the following sites:

• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.

• Gutenberg.org provides an HTML version  (which can be read online) as well as PDF, plain text, ePub, and Kindle versions, all of which can be downloaded to your devices.

• WikiSource provides a 3-volume version of the 1847 first edition of Wuthering Heights (in two volumes; volume 3 of this edition is sister Anne’s Agnes Gray), available 0nline, for any device. This edition, unfortunately, has typographical errors (via the publisher, who was renowned for his carelessness), and, at this time, WikiSource does not yet have the 1849 second edition, corrected (and editorially revised) by the author’s sister Charlotte after the author’s death. The WikiSource unsourced edition may be the one upon which the Gutenberg edition is based. Both the first and the unsourced editions are available to read online.

• Amazon has an Amazon Classics ebook version (with a very brief, 2-paragraph biography of the author), but this public domain version is free only to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. (The other “free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers” version of the novel has a warning that it contains quality issues, i.e., numerous errors.)

Though the book is also available on many other sites, I have not included any sites which have intrusive or misleading ads. The following sites offer Wuthering Heights free, but I have not examined these versions for typographical or editorial errors.

• ManyBooks provides the Gutenberg.org 1910 edition of Wuthering Heights, available online only, although you can change the font size.

• FullTextArchive has the novel, divided into 7 parts, available to read online or as a pdf to download to any device.

• Freeditorial offers an online, pdf, and epub versions. You can also send a copy of the file to your Kindle or Kindle app by providing your unique Kindle email address.

Other Free Wuthering Heights Information: Wikipedia’s Wuthering Heights has a plot summary, novel timeline, character list, and family relationships chart.

Audiobook: Although Amazon offers audio versions of many of the books in its classics series, the digital-mechanical voices “reading” the books are often stilted and distracting. The higher quality audiobooks are rarely free or even discounted. If you are not yet a member of Audible, however, you receive two free titles during your trial membership, one of which could be Audible’s exclusive version of Wuthering Heights, read by Joanne Froggart (of Downton Abbey fame). Additionally, both the Juliet Stevenson and Janet McTeer narrations of this novel are also excellent audiobooks, and you could choose one of those as your free title. Any free audiobooks acquired during the Audible trial remain in your library even if you cancel your membership.


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Looking for other classic poems, stories, novellas,
novels, or nonfiction books in the public domain?
See my Free Classics page

 


• Portrait of Emily Brontë, by Patrick Branwell Brontë. Photo @ Wikipedia

• 1847 (first edition) title page of Wuthering Heights with Brontë’s pseudonym “Ellis Bell.” Published by Thomas Cautley Newby. Photo @ Wikipedia

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Books That Changed My Life

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Someone on Twitter asked, “What books have influenced you or made an impact?”

How could any serious reader answer that in 140 characters or fewer?

Influenced me? How? My own writing style? That’s easiest to answer. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, anything by Alain Robbe-Grillet, anything by Chris Bojhalian, James Joyce’s short stories and the last (Molly) section of Ulysses.

Made an impact on me? Not sure what that means. Books you think about over and over? Books you read over and over? I don’t know. There are so many that I’ve read multiple times, for different reasons. Still, I couldn’t answer that in a Tweet. Or two. Or three.

What books irrevocably changed my life?

Ah, now that question I can answer.

When I was about 6 and T.S. Eliot died, the local newspaper ran a front page story about him, complete with picture and excerpt from his epic (and not always very good) The Wasteland. (When authors die today, they’re lucky if they’re mentioned on CNN’s ticker, momentarily, at the bottom of the screen during the morning news.) At 6, I tried to read The Wasteland excerpt myself, but couldn’t get it all, so I asked my mother who the man in the photo was. After she glanced at it, she said, “Some poet.”

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I asked her to read from the poem. She must’ve been in a really good mood that day because she actually did it. I was standing in the living room, looking up at a tiny window near the ceiling where shafts of sunlight poured in, watching the dust dance in the brilliant light, and listening to the most beautiful language I’d ever heard. I thought to myself, “One day, I’m going to write words like that, words that sound like music.”

My path as an author and life-long reader had just been chosen for me, and it began with poetry, specifically with Eliot’s The Wasteland, which you can read here, free, since it is in the Public Domain.

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When I was 8 and discovered Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales changed my life dramatically (this link will take you to the Prologue, free). My parents were always throwing my books away (after hitting me with them) because they thought the books were a waste of time since “women were supposed to get married and have babies so they didn’t need to read.” When I discovered a funny, dirty, interesting book written in English which they couldn’t understand (because it was in Middle English), it was an incredible epiphany.Unknown-8I was sitting at the kitchen table reading “The Miller’s Tale” and giggling hysterically over the arse-kissing part. My mother demanded to know what I was reading that was so funny. I obediently showed it to her. After a few seconds, she shoved the book back, asking, “WTH is this? It ain’t even in English.” I answered, “Old English” (because that’s what I thought it was). Her response, “You know, men don’t like smart girls. You ain’t never gonna get nobody to marry you if you keep reading crap like this.” (Only, being my mother, she didn’t say it quite so politely.)

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Since I was only 8 but already associated “marriage” with “control”, I thought, “Oh, goodie,” and kept on reading (although I did cover my mouth to laugh more quietly). Since she hadn’t found the book offensive, she hadn’t thrown it away. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English was the first book that gave me some power in my life: if my parents couldn’t understand what I was reading, I could read it without punishment. It also began my lifelong love of learning foreign languages: I’d simply read books in languages my parents couldn’t understand. No “crime”, no punishment. Besides the fact that Chaucer’s writing gave me power and increased my love for language(s), I adored all the characters in The Canterbury Tales, especially the Wife of Bath, looking for her 5th or 6th husband while on a “holy” pilgrimage to St. Thomas à Beckett’s burial shrine. What a riot.

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Though I read virtually everything I could get hold of (mostly in secret), the next book that altered my life taught me about espionage and spy-cunning. I was 12 when Zeffirelli’s classic film Romeo and Juliet came out, and, like all the girls my age, I desperately wanted to see it. That wasn’t going to happen: there was nudity in it – OMG! I decided I wanted to do the next best thing. Buy the book. My parents guffawed: “I had to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar once,” said my step- (later adoptive) father, “and couldn’t understand it at all. If I couldn’t understand it, you can’t.” I was actually forbidden to purchase the book, and, furthermore, threatened with bodily harm if I was caught with it.

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That was when I learned to become a spy, an undercover agent, a female James Bond. I cased out my classmates, deciding relatively quickly that my partner-in-crime would most likely be the girl with shoe-polish-dyed-black hair who defiantly wore thick black eye-liner despite constantly getting detention for doing so. She was 2 years older than I, but still in the seventh grade because she’d skipped public school so much, she’d been held back two grades, and then sent to Catholic school after she’d been caught smoking her parents’ stolen cigarettes with a boy behind the family’s garage. Yep, she’d do.

She had an older brother who could drive to the nearest bookstore to buy the book for me. After I laid out my plan, she said she’d ask her brother and get back to me. The next day, in a corner on the playground, while looking in the opposite direction and pretending not to talk to me, she informed me that her brother had agreed but only on the condition that I also pay for his Coca-Cola (which came only in bottles that you had to uncap with metal bottle-openers, and which nobody called “Coke” back then). I was also instructed that I’d have to give her a “gift” for her part in this risky affair. I was specifically told what the “gift” was to be. I agreed to all terms and immediately handed over all my accumulated stash of allowance money (25 cents/week for all household chores, including laundry, cooking, cleaning up, etc.) Oh, by the way, her older brother instructed her to tell me that he got to keep any leftover monies for gas and his time. I had to agree that, since he was the only one with a car, said conditions seemed reasonable.

For over a week, I waited anxiously, worrying constantly that the plot would be discovered, and I’d be tortured into a confession, revealing my accomplices. Finally, one day, Shoe-Polish-Hair-Girl gave me our pre-arranged signal, tapping on her uniform pocket three times, nodding once. How my heart pounded as I watched the classroom clock, how slowly its hands moved until the bell rang for lunch and recess. Outside on the playground, My Girl and I casually passed each other. I dropped one of my mother’s redder-than-red lipsticks (that I’d stolen from her dresser) into my co-conspirator’s coat pocket while she slipped the coveted Romeo and Juliet into mine. I immediately ran the length of the playground, down the steps to the church beside the school (I, too, was sent to Catholic schools, though for a different reason: despite my family’s being Jewish, the schools were supposed to offer “protection” from anti-Semitism). I covertly slipped into one of the confessionals with the contraband book. Even at that age, the irony was obvious to me.

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In the dim silence of that curtained space, I gazed longingly at my treasure for as long as I dared, rapturously and repeatedly kissing the cover — which featured Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in a furtive, soulful embrace — before I began to dismantle the book. I tore off both front and back covers, ripped them to shreds, snuck out of the confessional, and crept around the empty church, depositing the shreds into separate waste-bins. Next I took the book out the opposite side door, away from the school’s playground, dropped it into the dirt, where I then stomped on it, bent it, ripped some of the pages (but carefully, so no words were obscured). I also scraped the spine of the paperback against the rough stone of the church until its print was illegible.

Success. It looked like some raggedy old book without anything to outwardly identify it. I returned to the schoolyard in triumph and immediately began reading. My Girl in the black eye-liner and dark red lipstick nodded once at me in passing. I nodded furtively before returning to my treasure.

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At home, I continued reading. Openly. Defiantly. Because neither my mother nor stepfather could tell what I was reading. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s language and with Romeo and Juliet’s story.

Did I understand it all? Of course not: I was 12 years old.

Have I loved Shakespeare ever since? Absolutely.

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His Romeo and Juliet taught me that love was tragic but beautifully written. Sigh. Again, with the beautiful language. Getting hold of Romeo and Juliet also taught me how to become a covert operative in order to deceive my parents so that I could read (almost) as many books as I wanted. It also taught me that, sometimes, the people you can trust most in the world dye their hair black with shoe-polish (until they can afford the real hair dye in a box like my mother used).

Although this first meeting scene is not as touching as the version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, it has a special place in my heart because it was this film which made me want to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the first place.

The love song, played in this video, was a top hit on the radio that year, and I adored the film when I finally got to see it. It’s Romeo’s and Juliet’s first meeting, from Zeferelli’s 1968 film. Since the play is in the Public Domain, you can read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet free of charge.

Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was my next life-changing book. And I  mean the book, not the movie. At fifteen, making plenty of money with all my baby-sitting jobs every night of the week and every single weekend, I’d bought the hardcover copy myself from another student who’d finished it. I removed the cover from the black hardback, and kept the spine lowered whenever I read.

One day, when I was about halfway through the book, my mother hung up the phone with my aunt, marched into the living room, and yanked the book from my hands. I protested vociferously. She claimed that my aunt had just read the book, or part of it, at least, and stopped, horrified by the scene where the satanically possessed daughter masturbates with a crucifix. Did I even know what masturbation was? she demanded loudly. I had to admit that I did not (my dictionary, also forbidden, was hidden under my mattress: I’d have to look the word up later).

My step-father then volunteered himself for the “awful task” of determining if I could finish reading the book I’d bought (though I’d already passed the crucifix-masturbation scene) by “bravely and unselfishly” reading it himself. After three weeks of annoyed but helpless waiting, I learned my sentence. My step-father announced that The Exorcist was, indeed, unfit for me to read. I was outraged. Not only had I bought the book myself but the very man who’d forced me to learn the actions (though not the words) for rape, incest, sodomy, and forced fellatio, was now deciding that I couldn’t read a book. My book. I crossed my arms over my chest, narrowed my eyes, and gave him, as they say, a look that could kill… (It never occurred to me to wonder when or how my parents realized I was reading a book called The Exorcist, I was so outraged by their taking it away.)

Though I’d never had study-halls before (too boring), I suddenly decided that I needed not one but two. The first in the morning and the second during lunch-period (I didn’t eat anyway). Both were granted because I was such a good, well-behaved, obedient student. I immediately purchased a new copy of Blatty’s book from another student and read it during my two study-halls, keeping the novel stored in my locker at school, never taking it home.

(Though we were technically too young to see the film version of Blatty’s novel when it came out, theater managers weren’t as strict as they are now about letting you into R-rated films as long as you looked like you were at least 17 (I was 15): we went with a friend’s older sister, who showed her ID, said she was our sister, too, and that we were all allowed to see the movie. The film version of one of the scenes that my stepfather objected to in the novel, though my parents themselves freely used such obscenities (and worse) was more horrifying that I’d imagined.

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Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist taught me that “a room of one’s own” — despite Virginia Woolf’s insistence — isn’t always sufficient: what one really needs is an off-home hiding/storage area to which no one else has access or keys.

After I turned 16 and purchased a ’68 VW Beetle with over 100,000 miles on it — so I could get to work without paying one of my friends for a ride — that VW’s massive front-end trunk, which locked, became the new “room of my own”- the storage facility for all my books. The keys never left my body, even when I slept. One does what one must to survive. And blossom, even in the intellectual desert that was my family.

Other books have changed my life, and me, but those are a few that I remember most vividly, and which I’ve read (and taught) countless times over the years. Though I do not have the original Romeo and Juliet, having replaced it with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I do have my first copy of The Canterbury Tales and of The Exorcist. These books are some that are dearest to my heart: not just because of their beautiful writing or their stories, but because they, literally, changed me, my view of life, and my ideas of what I could accomplish if I was determined enough (and it my accomplices-in-crime didn’t confess under torture).

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What books have dramatically and irrevocably changed your life?
How?
I’d really like to know.

Use as many characters as you need.

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