When Wuthering Heights was first published, it received some extremely unfavourable reviews. The book was seen as brutal in its depiction of the depths of human selfishness and cruelty. Its characters were unlikeable: spoilt, selfish, vengeful, a showcase of the very worst human traits. Yet the book has become a classic of English literature, loved by people all over the world. When great love stories are spoken of, it is not long before somebody mentions the names Cathy and Heathcliff.
The reason for its success must lie in Emily Brontë's unflinching portrayal of the darker side of human nature. The emotions depicted in the book are extreme; both joyful love and intense hate are present throughout, and the thin line between them is walked with trepidation. There is an instability that keeps you on edge throughout the whole novel: the characters are unpredictable and apt to change direction at any time. In a setting so isolated, with the characters almost completely cut off from the outside world, every sense is heightened, every emotion magnified. Although widely regarded as one of the greatest love stories written, Wuthering Heights is far from the classic tale of two lovers kept apart by the laws of society. What sets the work apart is Emily Brontë's unapologetic way of taking her characters to the very limit in every situation. She does not shy away from distasteful feelings of jealousy, desire for revenge or self-indulgence, but rather explores these emotions in depth, so making her characters real people we can all relate to - whether we want to admit it or not. What reader, having experienced passion, would not feel some affinity with the fierce pronunciations of love between the two main characters? Which of us could really say that, subjected to the same humiliation as Heathcliff, we would not consider seeking a similar revenge?
The story does not pan out as one would expect: for all the desperate assertions that they cannot live without each other, it never really happens between Cathy and Heathcliff. Brontë acknowledges that things do not always work out in real life, leaving the reader feeling somewhat empty, yet also strangely satisfied that the author has been so honest.
As well as offering stunning descriptions which really bring the Yorkshire moors to life, Emily Brontë's only novel takes us on a fascinating journey through the depths of human behaviour. It isn't your candy-coated, happy-ever-after fairytale, but rather a realistic look at human nature and emotion that is as relevant today as when it was first published.
Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper - "It is impossible to begin and not finish it; and quite as impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it...There seems to us great power in this book but a purposeless power"
Atlas - "We know nothing in the whole range of our fictitious literature which presents such shocking pictures of the worst forms of humanity"
Examiner - "This is a strange book. It is not without evidences of considerable power: but, as a whole, it is wild, confused, disjointed, and improbable; and the people who make up the drama, which is tragic enough in its consequences, are savages ruder than those who lived before the days of Homer."
Unidentified Reviewer - "It is not every day that so good a novel makes its appearance; and to give its contents in detail would be depriving many a reader of half the delight he would experience from the perusal of the work itself"