Is Wuthering Heights really a love story

Love, passion, jealousy, vengeance and hatred. To this day, Emily Brontë's dramatic love story of Heathcliff and Catherine is one of the most fascinating and most widely read works of English literature in the world. In the seclusion of a rough moor landscape, the drama takes place between the rampant and quick-tempered Heathcliff and his great love Catherine. Heathcliff has to fight overwhelming demons: With his irreconcilable vengeance and raging jealousy, he not only pulls his beloved into an unstoppable vortex of passion and destruction ...

Unhealthy relationships, psychological abuse, cruelty to animals

My thoughts

Storm Heights is a difficult book, perhaps even more so today than it was in the early Victorian era when author Emily Brontë published the novel under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Don't get me wrong. “Die Sturmhöhe” divided the readers from the start. Victorian critics either praised the raw power of the story or were shocked by the human abysses that unfold as the novel unfolds.

Emily Brontë was a bit ahead of her time: Her portrayal of the abysses of the human psyche, of love, hate and interpersonal problems is as complex as it is disturbing, even today. Emily Brontë must have been a fascinating person, really. Overly intelligent, talented, and creative, an exceptional writer who, unfortunately, has only published one novel and continually offended Victorian society. But this book has it all.

Rainy moors, old mansions

Even today, many readers are initially shocked by the depictions of emotional and physical violence in "Storm Heights", of how Heathcliff and Catherine are being eaten away by their unhealthy love for each other. Many people believe that Storm Heights is “just” a Victorian love story, but it isn't. There is really nothing romantic here, even if the novel has been romanticized a lot, especially in recent years.

Is “Die Sturmhöhe” a love story? Yes. But they don't always have to be romantic or even end well. “Die Sturmhöhe” rather shows what can happen when love becomes an obsession. This topic was of course a lot more topical in 1847 (and in the late 1700s, the time "Storm Heights" was set) than it is today: the class boundaries were much stricter and Catherine, as an upper middle class girl, and Heathcliff, an orphan boy and servants, not a couple who could just be together like that.

This conflict between love and class awareness plays a major role in “Die Sturmhöhe” and Brontë's criticism of man-made boundaries always resonates clearly. This is exactly why I love the “Sturmhöhe”. It's a smart, if somber, novel that's so atmospheric that you can almost feel the cold wind on the Yorkshire moors as you read it. The old farmhouse Wuthering Heights, or in German just Sturmhöhe, comes to life. Old wood creaks, wind penetrates the leaky windows, the rain from northern England pounds on the roof.

“Die Sturmhöhe” may be a love story, but it is at the same time a classic Victorian horror novel: It is scary, dark, really creepy at times. Not because ghosts haunted the old Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange estates. No, the uncanny comes from the characters themselves, is psychological and so real that it is uncomfortable. There are no really good characters here, somehow everyone is an egomaniac unsympathetic, especially Catherine Earnshaw herself. The special thing about “Die Sturmhöhe” is that you can understand why these characters are like that, even though you don't like them.

Cathy can be cold and calculating, brutal even. She has a very dark side that often comes out, she is irascible and vain. Heathcliff, on the other hand, comes to Wuthering Heights as an orphan boy and has been brutalized over the years by the terrible treatment he has been subjected to. Emily Brontë's characters are not necessarily likeable, but they are complex and interesting and the tragedy that develops over the years and then crashes over the characters is portrayed believably and hurts because it could have been prevented and because somehow it happens anyway had to.

The “storm height” is driven by their figures. You don't necessarily want to know what happens to them, because you find out in the prologue of the novel, which takes place a few years later. Rather, one would like to find out how it came about and yes, somehow the constant moral downward trend pulls one deeper and deeper into the spell of the novel. There is just something fascinating about watching these figures keep breaking and breaking.

Classic check: timeless like the Yorkshire moors

I cannot review novels from centuries past like modern novels, which is why I like to address a few points about classics that do not apply to modern books. For example, whether the novel has aged well, whether it is still current enough and appealing in 2018 to justify the classic hype. And when it comes to “Sturmhöhe” I can only say “Yes” with full conviction. Somehow “Storm Heights” is a bit timeless and that makes the setting, the wild moors of Yorkshire, where time seems to stand still to this day, as if you could meet Cathy's ghost yourself, like Mr Lockwood does at the very beginning of the novel.

Everything about “Sturmhöhe” is somehow rough and cold like the moor itself and that is a charm of history that I can never escape. You shouldn't expect warmth or good deeds or that there is something good in these characters, but what you can expect is an incredibly honest look at a group of people who feel and do all these things that are in people and of which we are afraid. And whether they do the end of the 18th century or today it doesn't really matter, because there seems to be no time on the moor.

“Sturmhöhe” is not a novel for fans of happy endings, that much is clear. You have to be ready to grapple with the fate of characters you don't like and, above all, you have to be ready to recognize Heathcliff in particular for what he is: not a tragic hero, but a villain. This is exactly why “Sturmhöhe” is one of my favorite books: It is dark, complex and somehow timeless. Her influence on the Gothic genre is also indispensable.

I think there is no in between with this book. You love it or you hate it. I would definitely recommend the novel to everyone who is curious about the origins of the gothic and horror genre, because it played a major role in genre development and, especially in modern mystery, there is almost always a piece of “storm heights”. Even those who like stories about human abysses should take a look here. But do not underestimate the novel just because it is 170 years old: It is dark, complex and it takes with you and that more than some modern novels.

The storm height | Suhrkamp Insel, 2011 | 978-3-458-35718-6 | 454 pages | German | Translator: Grete Rambach | British OA: Wuthering Heights, 1847

There are of course some German editions and translations of “Sturmhöhe”, but I liked Grete Rambach's best after I compared a few reading samples, because it translates in a contemporary way and its language does not sound artificially old-fashioned, which is very nice to read . I would only recommend the English original if you are really fluent in English, because the dialogues are often written in Yorkshire accent and difficult to decipher if you are not familiar with it.