Wuthering Heights | Summary, Characters, Family Tree

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights Summary, Characters

Wuthering Heights Summary

Wuthering Heights Characters List

Mr. Earnshaw

Mr. Earnshaw is Catherine and Hindley’s father. He discovers a young waif, takes a fancy to him, and thus Heathcliff is introduced into the Earnshaw family. Being a kind man, he dotes on the unfortunate Heathcliff, eventually to the detriment of his own son.

Mrs. Earnshaw

Mrs. Earnshaw is Catherine and Hindley’s mother. We know little about her, except that she is not fond of Heathcliff. She dies shortly after Heathcliff’s entry into Wuthering Height.

Hindley Earnshaw

Hindley is Catherine’s brother. From the beginning, Hindley hates Heathcliff because he is an intruder; furthermore, Hindley loses both his father’s love and his sister’s to the dark and sullen waif. When he is finally able to claim the fam estate, he sets out to brutalize and demean Heathcliff.

Frances Earnshaw

Hindley’s wife is a sickly, rather silly woman. She dies after Hareto is born; because Hindley is so grief-stricken, he allows himself to be manipulated and ruined by Heathcliff’s schemes.

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Hareton Earnshaw

Hindley and Frances’s only son is reared by Heathcliff as part of his plan to punish the Earnshaws. Hareton reflects Heathcliff’s cruel nature, but when he has the chance to better himself, he tries to learn to read and express affection for others.

Catherine Earnshaw

Catherine is the daughter of Mr. Earnshaw. As a child, she could “ride any horse in the stable”, She is a wild, impetuous, arrogant girl. Despite her feelings for Heathcliff, she decides to marry Edgar, knowing full well that “I am Heathcliff’s; he’s always in my mind.” Before she dies, she says that she wants both Edgar and Heathcliff to suffer – Edgar, because he never understood her affection for Heathcliff; and Heathcliff, because he never understood why she married Edgar.


An adopted member of the Earnshaw family. An orphan brought to live at Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw. As a child, he was sullen and impatient; as a young man, he is sullen, impatient, vengeful and cruel. He has an all-engrossing passion for Catherine Earnshaw, and when she marries Edgar Linton, he spends the remainder of his life in spiritual torment.

Linton Heathcliff

The son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. He is sickly and unmanly. His death is hastened because of Heathcliff’s neglect.

Mr. and Mrs. Linton

We know little about them; they seem to be kindly people who did shortly after Catherine convalesces at their home.

Edgar Linton

A devoted suitor of Catherine, he becomes a recluse after her death. He develops a fondness for young Cathy, but he is no match for Heathcliff who is determined to make Cathy pay for her mother’s caprices.

Cathy Linton

Edgar’s darling, she inherits her mother’s pride and determination and outwits Heathcliff; she also accomplishes a happy marriage with young Hareton.


Lockwood’s narration forms a frame around Nelly’s; he serves as an intermediary between Nelly and the reader. A somewhat vain and presumptuous gentleman, he deals very clumsily with the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights.

Isabella Linton

Heathcliff’s insubstantial wife who shows surprising spunk when she leaves her husband and tries to raise their child alone in a strange city.

Nelly Dean

The faithful , devoted servant at the Grange; as a chief narrator. She is sensible and usually reliable.


Joseph is an elderly servant of Mr. Earnshaw at Wuthering Heights. Joseph is a long-winded, fanatically religious, strange, stubborn, and unkind person. Nelly characterizes him as being wearisome and self-righteous; her assessment is accurate. He is a fit companion and loyal servant for Heathcliff.


The “lusty dame” who fills Nelly’s position at Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights Family Tree

wuthering heights family tree  

Summary of Wuthering Heights 

The time is the late winter month of 1801. Mr. Lockwood has come to the wilds of Yorkshire to recover for a love affair. He is staying at Thrushcross Grange and goes to nearby Wuthering Heights to meet his landlord. This is the surely, gypsy-like Heathcliff. Lockwood is intrigued by Heathcliffs apparent good breeding, his contempt for the world and his air of suppressed emotion. Indeed, so fascinated is Lockwood by Heathcliff that he returns to Wuthering Heights the following day where he is stranded by a snow-storm. On this second visit Lockwood meets two further members of Heathcliffs household : the brutal Hareton Earnshaw and the lovely but off-hand Cathy.

The storm obliges Lockwood to remain at Wuthering Heights and he is reluctantly shown a room. Here he sees the names of Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff and Catherine Linton scratched into the paint. He also reads the diary of Catherine Earnshaw which she has kept on the blank margins of her books. From this Lockwood learns of the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff and of the unfeeling dogmatism of the servant Joseph’s religion. Lockwood then falls asleep but wakes, shouting, from a nightmare. This rouses Heathcliff who orders him from the room; Lockwood leaves but, turning, sees Heathcliff sobbing to the ghost of Catherine Linton, born Cathrine Earnshaw.

Lockwood returns to Thrushcross Grange. He finds that he has caught a fever. He is nursed by his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, who tells him the story of how Heathcliff became master of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.

Lockwood is told that old Mr. Earnshaw, the original owner of Wuthering Heights, having gone on business to Liverpool found an abandoned baby whom he brought home and named Heathcliff The baby was dark skinned, with a hint of the diabolic about him. In carrying in how back, old Mr. Earshaw broke the toys he had bought for his children Hindley and Catherine. This angered them, and from the start Heatholin is shown to be both destructive and to breed bad feeling.

Hindley Earnshaw despises Heathcliff but is nonetheless weaker than him. Catherine, on the other hand, is drawn to the growing boy as is her dying father. A great childhood friendship develops between Catherine and Heathcliff as they ramble on the moors in defiance of Joseph’s dreary religious rules.

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Eventually old Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley returns for his funeral and, much to everyone’s surprise, brings a wife, a sickly and neurotic creature with him. Hindley, as head of the house, gains his revenge on Heathcliff by degrading him to the status of a servant. This makes no difference to the growing love between Catherine and Heathcliff: they still roam the moors together, going one day to spy on their neighbors, the Lintons. They break into the Linton’s garden and peer into their beautiful house. Such beauty attracts them, but the petulant children, Edgar and Isabella, earn the contempt of both Catherine and Heathcliff.

Heathcliff himself informs Nelly Dean of what they have been doing, for he returns home alone. He and Catherine were caught by the Lintons and severely reprimanded after being chased by the dogs. Catherine had, indeed, been caught and hurt by one of the dogs and she is being nursed in the house by the Lintons. Heathcliff has been told off and sent home. He has noticed that whereas he is treated like a servant, Catherine has been treated as a young lady. The social difference between the two will be crucial.

Catherine stays at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks. During the time the tomboy is transformed into a young lady, at least on the surface.. A different Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights. Although she asks immediately for Heathcliff and kisses him, the spiteful Hindley has introduced him to her as one of the servants, and after her first impulsive kiss Catherine laughs at Heathcliff. Heathcliff is mortified. After much thought he decides to try to reform his ways: he will change from being the wild, unwashed boy. But as Nelly Dean grooms him she sees how ineradicable are the traces of the dark and sinister in him. Accidentally insulted by Edgar Linton, Heathcliff retaliates and is severely punished by Hindley, and as Catherine goes to comfort him Heathcliff vows his revenge.

Hindley Earnshaw’s son is born. This is the brutal Hareton Earnshaw we met at the start of the novel. Hindley’s wife dies in child-birth and Hindley himself goes into a rapid and degrading decline. Heathcliff whose sinister nature is beginning to become ever more clear, watches this decline with some pleasure.

Meanwhile, Catherine is growing into an attractive young woman. While she is still attracted to Heathcliff she is also being courted by Edgar Linton. She begins to take on a double character’: the natural Catherine who loves Heathcliff and the young lady who is a suitable match for Edgar. Her double character, it will be seen, is the basis of her ruin. Her apparent coldness distresses Heathcliff, while Edgar, although shocked by her extreme behaviour, is in love with Catherine and confesses his passion after a quarrel with her.

Catherine agrees to marry Edgar but confesses to Nelly Dean that her soul truly belongs to Heathcliff. She says she cannot marry Heathcliff because he is penniless and such an alliance would degrade her. Unknown to Catherine, Heathcliff has overheard her conversation with Nelly and he leaves Wuthering Heights. In her great outburst to Nelly Dean we see the depth and elemental force contained in Catherine’s love for Heathcliff By denying these she has denied her soul. In her agony and confusion she runs out into a storm and catches a fever.

Catherine marries Edgar Linton three years later. The marriage is a fairly good one, untroubled until Heathcliff returns. This, of course, he docs and the love denied three years earlier begins to take its terrible revenge.

Heathcliff returns a wealthy man, but despite his appearance of gentility, his eyes are still full of the ‘black fire’ of his youth. He wants to murder Edgar and we discover that he has taken lodgings with his old, depraved enemy Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff is working on the further destruction of him and his son.

At Heathcliff’s return, Catherine is thrown into frenzied excitement. The wild, elemental love in her has been revived, but the continued suppression of this love will wreak ruin and eventually kill her. Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, also falls passionately in love with Heathcliff. He is indifferent to her but uses her infatuation to gain her hand in marriage and thus, if Edgar has no male heirs, possession of Thrushcross Grange.

Confrontations between Heathcliff and Edgar show Edgar to be by far the weaker man. The strain of this brings Catherine to point of breakdown. She becomes ill and delirious and longs for death.

Heathcliff runs away with Isabella who is disowned by Edgar. Edgar exhausts himself looking after the dying Catherine. Heathcliff’s evil attentions are now clear. He intends to ruin Hindley, Hareton and Isabella and the marriage of Edgar and Catherine. Nonetheless, if he is evil he is also profoundly romantic. He is deeply in love with Catherine and tormented by his love. The fact that she is dying is almost unbearable to him. He then confesses his love and rounds on her for denying them both happiness. The strain becomes intolerable for Catherine. Heathcliff is thrown into a despair that is both primeval and animal-like. On her death-bed Catherine gives birth to a daughter.

Isabella has run away from Heathcliff soon after their wretched marriage. She has watched Heathcliff destroying Hindlev: she goes to London and is not heard of again until her death, when she leaves behind her a child, Heathcliff’s son Linton.

Heathcliff wines the whole of Wuthering Heights whilst gambling with Hindley. Hareton Earnshaw, the rightful owner of Wuthering Heights, is now a penniless brute. Heathcliff is grimly satisfied with his victory.

Catherine’s child, the young Cathy, grows up. She is a likely and attractive girl, a milder version of her mother. She is not allowed out of the grounds of Thrushcross Grange where she stays until Edgar, her father, goes to London to sort out his dead sister’s affairs. When she does go out she inevitably finds her way to Wuthering Heights where she meets Hareton Earnshaw. She is repelled by him.

Edgar returns from London with the sickly Linton Heathcliff whose father at once claims him. They boy does not meet Cathy again until her sixteenth birthday when, roaming the moors, she meets Heathcliff who invites her to Wuthering Heights. Cathy and Linton become fond of each other, but we see the spiteful Linton taunting Hareton and showing his peevish sickliness. Cathy and Linton exchange love letters until this is stopped by Nelly Dean.

Saddened by the thought of her father’s imminent death and the ending of her love affair with Linton, Cathy walks on the moors. She encounters Heathcliff who informs her that Linton is dying for her love. Fascinated by this, and despite her father’s injunction not to go to Wuthering Heights, Cathy persuades Nelly Dean to visit with her. Their love is revived at this meeting despite Linton’s erratic behaviour.

During Nelly’s ensuing three-week illness, Cathy rides over to see Linton nearly every day. But, if Linton has been forced to love Cathy largely by his father so that Heathcliff can be doubly sure of securing Thrushcross Grange, Hareton Earnshaw has genuinely fallen in love with her. He tries to learn to read and to improve himself but Cathy remains contemptuous and cruel towards him.

The dying Edgar, hoping that Cathy may at least have some share in Thrushcross Grange, allows occasional meetings between Cathy and Linton. The boy is also now clearly dying and is forced by his father to beg that Cathy and Nelly Dean return with him to Wuthering Heights. They agree to do so and are made Heathcliff’s prisoners. He forces the marriage between Cathy and his son.

Edgar is mortified at this but is unable to change his will against Heathcliff’s favour His dying consolation is that Cathy manages to escape to lend his last hours. She is pursued by Heathcliff, rounds on him, but accompanies him back to Wuthering Heights where Linton eventually dies. That joyless period of her life begins in which we see her at the start of the novel.

Heathcliff now confesses to Nelly Dean the depth and anguish of his love for Catherine. He lives in an abyss of hell without her. He has even tried to dig up her grave, and for eighteen years has been haunted by her ghost. He has bribed the sexton to remove the side of Catherine’s coffin and has secured his promise to do the same to his. The lovers will lie together in death as they never could in life.

At this point the story is deadlocked. Lockwood decides to return to London, ignoring Nelly Dean’s suggestion that he should marry Cathy to save her from her wretched existence.

By chance, Lockwood returns the following year. Heathcliff has died and Hareton, Cathy and Nelly Dean are all living in a calmer and happier Wuthering Heights. Lockwood sees Cathy caching Hareton to read and is aware of the love that has grown between them.

Nelly Dean describes the growth of their love, a love stronger than the power of Heathcliff’s hatred. She describes how Heathcliff weakened as he approached death. The young people begin to stand up to him and he lacks the power to destroy them. They both remind him too much of Catherine with whom he longs to be united. He eventually dies in a state of both elation and great spiritual pain. The hatred and desire for revenge that his thwarted love has inspired are shown to be weaker than true love. The two families he tried to break and ruin are to be united in marriage. Despite Lockwood’s sonorous and powerful meditation on the dead lovers ‘peace, Heathcliff’s ghost is said by some to haunt the neighborhood.

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