The Environment in Emily Brönte’s novel

The environment in Emily Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, first published in 1847, is set out in two centres, two houses: Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The structure of the novel is build upon the contrastive qualities of the two places. What are the qualities associated with these two places? Do they represent opposite principles? The aim of this essay is to outline the principles readers may link to to these two centres, and then to concentrate on their relationships and interactions and their consequences.

It might be a good idea to start with the very beginning of the novel, that is with its name. What kind of connotations does it evolve in the reader? Wuthering Heights evokes an image of wild, rough nature exposed to winds and storms. In opposition to that, the name of Thrushcross Grange has, in the second part of its name, already the indirect mention of people and cultivated land. Already the names indicate the opposition of nature,or savageness, and civilization and culture. The very beginning of the novel contains a vivid description of Wuthering Heights which confirms the first quick interpretation of the name.

‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of

the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy

weather. ... Happily the architect had foresight to build it strong:

the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners

defended with large jutting stones. (46)

The image of rough nature is enlarged by strength, which applies to the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights too. The oppostion is seen also in the surrounding of the two residences. Inhabitants of Wuthering Heights go to walk, or rather run around and bounce, to the moors. By contrast, people living at Thrushcross Grange are used to walking in the surrounding park, fenced by a wall, so that it is on the one hand safe but, on the other hand,  it sets limitations to freedom. And it is possible to read this freedom not only literally, but also figuratively. As it will be discussed later in the essay, the Lintons are tied up by the conventions.

To finish the sequence of physical contrasts, the opposition of health and fragility should not be omitted. Characters born at Wuthering Heights are very strong, especially Heathcliff but also Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw. Hindley, although he drinks too much and lives a disorderly life after the death of his wife, is very strong physically, alcohol and night life do not seem to damage him on the body. Catherine is very vital too, so the doctor is surprised by her later illness when she dwells, as a wife of Edgar Linton, at Thrushcross Grange.

‘Nelly Dean,’ said he [Mr Kenneth, the doctor], I can’t help fancying theres an extra cause for this. What has there been to do at the Grange? We’ve odd reports up here. A stout, hearty lass like Catherine does not fall ill for a trifle; and that sort of people should not fall either.  (167)

The conclusion may be arrived at, that it is the rough environment of wild nature and passionate people living there that makes the people tough at the Wuthering Heights. This roughness is perceived not by those who have lived there all their lives (and the narrator Nelly Dean does not stress this at all), but by those who come to the Heights for the first time. That the place is not only rough but also dangerous for complete strangers is manifested in the scene when Mr. Lockwood is planning to return home from Wuthering Heights, to Thrushcross Grange, and not being familiar with the landscape he finds it impossible to get there on his own. Heathcliff, also a stranger when he was brought into the family by Mr. Earnshaw, was not received very nicely either.

They [Hindley and Cathy] entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so, I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow. (78) 

Another character in the novel who experiences the hostility towards newcomers at Wuthering Heights is Isabella Linton, after she marries Heathcliff. She is denied the entry to Heathcliff’s room and nobodyyy talks to her.

Mr. Lockwood is baffled by the house and by its master and other inhabitants. That is even dramatized during the night that he spends there. He has got bad dreams and nightmares. In this scene another theme of the book is introduced – violence. Lockwood himself participates in the violence, though only during the night when he is tormented by the nightmare when he sees Catherine Linton.

As it [the ghost of Catherine] spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window – terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down ... (67) 

Many other violent scenes are to be found in the book, for example when young Hindley beats Heathcliff or when Heathcliff hangs Isabella’s dog, or Hindley turbulently embraces his little son Hareton. Another scene worth mentioning in this context, is when Catherine, during the visit of Edgar Linton at the Heights, first pinched Nelly and then even hit Edgar. Edgar was shocked by that because he was not used to such treating at Thrushcross Grange. He was much more sensitive and gentlier than Cathy, which she views rather as a weekness than as a positive quality.     

That scene does not only reveal the proneness of Cathy to violence, but it shows a great difference in the rhetoric of Cathy and Edgar. Edgar says he is afraid and ashamed of Cathy, in a ‘subdued voice’. He solves the situation  coldly, rationally (before he feels sorry for Catherine and they reveal their mutual affections). (112) Catherine in this uneasy, tense situation uses mostly imperative sentences and tends to threaten Edgar. This exemplifies the dissimilarity in the language used at the Heights and at the Grange.

The people at the Heights use stronger words. Consequently the words lose their power, especially their power to hurt. One may find many examples of swearing either from the mouth of Heathcliff, or Joseph or Hindley. To demonstrate this just with one situation in the nove, the moment when Hindley comes back home drunk is quoted below.

By heaven and hell, you’ve sworn between you to murder that child! I know, how it is, now, that he [Hareton] is always out of my way. But with the help of Satan, I shall make you swallow the carving knife, Nelly! You needn’t laugh; for I’ve just crammed Kenneth, head-downmost, in the Blackhorse marsh: and two is the same as one – and I want to kill some of you, I shall have no rest till I do!

As it has been said, the words lose their power. They are too strong to be materialized and Hindley does not kill either Nelly or Hareton. By contrast people at Thrushcross Grange speak very smoothly, they do not threaten each other unnecessarily. Edgar’s resolution that he would not see Isabella and communicate with her, after she has married Heathcliff, is pronounced calmly, almost coldly without any visible expression of passion and yet it is powerful enough. This coldness of affection, whether real or seeming, is put into opposition with the passionate expression of feelings in the two figures of Edgar Linton and Heathcliff. But where does the character of Catherine fit?

So far the opposing principles have been discussed but they have been abstracted from the novel by analysis and, in consequence, they have been introduced and presented rather in isolation. However, in the novel they are fluid, they are represented by characters who develop and are in motion. Moreover, the story involves three generations. In this context it might be useful to discuss the character of Catherine.

In Catherine’s youth, when she grew up with Heathcliff, she undoubtedly represented the unrestrained wildness and freedom. She and Heathcliff, after the death of old Mr. Earnshaw, lack any real authority. They literally grow up in the moors. Isabella and Edgar grow up under the guidance of both their parents, so that the traditional family and social values are handed down to them. But suddenly there is a turningpoint in the novel when Catherine, after a long adventurous walk with Heathcliff, gets into the the house of the Lintons. She discovers different values and behaviour and is attracted by them. Heathcliff is left aside, the house is not open for a dirty foundling. Cathy stays at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks and her manners soften, her speech and also her appearance is more polished and gentle. The impact of the different environment is enormous on her.

... and, while her eyes sparkled joyfully when the dogs came bounding up to welcome her, she dare hardly touch them lest they should fawn upon her splendid garments. She kissed me gently, I was all flour making the Christmas cake, and it would not have done to give me a hug.

Her standoffish behaviour would be unthinkable before. Now she acquired new dress and with it new eyes which point out a distance between her and (literally) dirty Heathcliff. She is surprised by Heathcliff’s dirty outlook which now becomes more important for her. Also her language changed: she does not communicate with passionate bodily language anymore. So, what did she bring from that five-week “cultural” stay? Nice manners, nice appearance – superficialities which cultural or civilized world so much insists upon.

Why is Cathy so excited about the life at Thrushcross Grange? And why is Heathcliff not? It seems that Heatchliff’s resistance is due to the fact that  he was denied the acceptance to this world. But his total resistance ended when Cathy rejected him as suitable partner for her life. If Cathy did not belong there by anything else, she belonged there by her birth. Cathy later marries Edgar Linton, they have a quiet marriage for some time, but she is missing her youthful energy and wildness. That is only aggravated when Heathcliff comes back as a rich man. Also Isabella and Heathcliff represent relation of two opposites, but their coexistence is deliberately vitiated  by Heathcliff’s wickedness. Both marriages end in a catastrophe. The reconciliation of the two opposites seems to be unrealistic but the reader should wait for the end of the novel, for the next generation.

The feelings and the ability to love build a wall between the Lintons and the Earnshaws. Heathcliff, although almost a satannical figure at times, is yet presented as someone who can love truly and passionately. Edgar’s love, however tender, devoted and affectionate, is inferior (in the eyes of Cathy) to the passions of Catherine who finally dies for her love. Isabella is incredibly ridiculous when she falls in love with Heathcliff. What kind of love does Cathy long for? It is obvious that the era of her happiness is her youth – why does she then betray her values if they bring her a true life?

Definitely the marriage of Catherine, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine, and Hareton has a symbolic meaning of a reconciliation between the opposing trends throughout the novel. Why have all the previous attempts of marriage failed? Why is this one so promising? The answer may be: their love is a pure one, a love of two people who do not get married in order to gain something, be it a social status or a passionate life. When Catherine Earnshaw married Linton, it was partially out of hypocrisy. When her daughter married Hareton, it was out of pure love. 

The attempt has been made to outline the basic antagonistic principles associated with Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Physical contrasts, such as strength versus weekness and fear, health and fragility have been discussed. Other aspects typical for the two places have been covered too: roughness opposed to softness, arrogance and politeness, unrestrained wildness versus social norms, irrationality and rationality, savageness and education, violence and sensitivity.

It is tempting to mention another contrastive pair: hell and heaven. But it seems to work only one way in the novel. Wuthering Heights is several times described as being a hellish place. By contrast the Lintons’s eyes are compared to those of angels. (145) However, this contrast does not work, the conflict in the novel is not primarily that of good and evil. It seems to be more about a natural, passionate energy versus cold social norms which kill the instincts. The social norms have also another destroying power – they kill the natural living by the heart. They force people to act rationally, and due to this Cathy did not marry Heathcliff, because it was not socially adequate. But it turned out to be a mistake, she could never find real happiness after her cold, rational decision to marry Edgar.

It has been said that the impact of the environment in which one finds himself is of immense importance in terms of social standards and values. Emily Brontë shows that these ‘areas’ are permeable, but that they create only the surface of human action. Catherine can live as a good wife of Edgar for some time, she can behave according to the rules of his house, but deep in her soul she is different.

As the story deals with three generations of people, it is easy to see how childhood and youth shape the core of a peson’s personality. Cathy and Heathcliff obviously in their ideals never grew up, they never left childhood and everything that it meant for them. They never surpassed this period in their lives, they never really proceded to the adult age.

The essay began with the name of the novel and I shall return to it eventually once more. This essay listed many contrasts present in the novel, compared Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. What may challenge this, however may again be the name of the novel. Why is it called Wuthering Heights and not Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange? Is the passionate principle elevated above the principle of social order? It is not outright but it is sure that Wuthering Heights survives. Thrushcross Grange is finally rented to strangers and even they leave.


Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Penguin Books Ltd., Bungay, 1972.