EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS, first published in 1847, continues to still be regarded as one of the finest works in the whole of English literature, one of the few which stands consistent rereadings at any point in the readers life. What is it that makes it so endure?

Like any work by any of the Bronte’s, a lot of Wuthering Heights strength lies in the elements of her upbringing. Patrick Bronte, Emily’s father, was a friend of William Wilberforce’s and joined the campaign to end slavery. The influence of slavery is apparent on Wuthering Heights, as Catherine and Heathcliff are far from the libertines which they initially appear to be, instead being completely enslaved by their emotions for each other. “My love for Heathcliff resembles the rocks below” says Catherine at one point. “A source of little visible delight, but necessary.” This is not what love is supposed to feel like; almost a Calvinistic view of love. It is not supposed to feel “necessary”, it is supposed to provide the delights which are clearly lacking from Catherine’s experience. She is driven by the primitive rather than what is best for her. Is there any wonder that so many of the very young become enthralled with “Wuthering Heights” as one of the first classics they read? Catherine and Heathcliff are so driven by the id that they are basically primitive, at times selfish, children.

Slavery was finally abolished in 1833. Wuthering Heights was published fifteen years later, with the scars of slavery still visible. The abolition appeared, sadly, a month after Wilberforce’s death. Wuthering Heights is rarely looked at through the influence of Patrick Bronte’s involvement with the anti-slavery campaign. Cultural context changes the reading constantly, and slavery seems so far away that it is cast from the readers mind.

Wuthering Heights was greeted harshly by the critics upon publication due to conventions of Victorian morality, but modern readings tend to romantacise itmuch more. However Dorothy Van Ghent, an influential modern critic on the Bronte’s, has referenced the savage cruelty and violence in the novel because, as she words it “Even in the weakest of souls there is an imitation of the dark Otherness, by which the soul is related psychologically to the inhuman world of pure energy, for it carries within itself an “otherness” of its own, that inhabits below consciousness.” It has also been pointed out that post modern critics are generally sympathetic to Catherine because of her supposed rebellious nature in the context of such a conformist culture. However, I do not see this rebellion as being enough to transform her into a complete free agent. Bronte’s angle on the novel could be compared to Oscar Wilde’s view that the artist can have no ethical sympathies – the characters are presented simply as they are, not being judged or condemned. By the end of it, the reader finds themselves liking Catherine and Heathcliff due to the passion and intensity of their love.

Many people have had a relationship which appears bad for them, but the intensity of the love overrides this. We can always turn to literature to provide a sympathetic portrayal of this; novels such as Yukio Mishima’s “Slave to Love” and Emily Maguire’s “Taming the Beast” (a novel which references Wuthering Heights) deal with the theme of love being an enslaving emotion, but when it comes to sheer unbridled passion with little thought for the consequences, there is no novel which deals with it quite like “Wuthering Heights.” It was the only novel Bronte published, as she died a year after its publication – it is difficult to imagine how she could have ever followed this due to the portrayal of some of humans most complicated emotions.

Humans never stop feeling. Many classic novels can be a little to detached from this. The way “Wuthering Heights” runs in the opposite direction ensures that it still a novel that the modern reader will turn to time and time again.

We are all enslaved to its power.

Amy Britton