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Michel Butor

Mr. Earnshaw introduces a homeless young gypsy, whom he names Heathcliff, into Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is somewhat withdrawn and reticent, but soon proves to be the favorite companion of young Catherine. Her brother Hindley, however, despises him. Heathcliff does not necessarily care enough to hate Hindley, but when he is offended by him, he will exact his revenge.

The same goes for anyone else who tries to deprive Heathcliff of what he truly cares for, which is Catherine. Edgar Linton is such a person. He is introduced into the story one day when Heathcliff and Catherine push beyond the boundaries of Wuthering Heights and come across Thrushcross Grange. Catherine is bitten by a dog and forced to stay for some weeks with the Lintons, with whom she becomes fast friends, never evincing the kind of ill will she shows at home at Wuthering Heights. Because of this, the Lintons adore her and she becomes haughty. Her haughtiness offends Heathcliff, and he turns his back to her; she, in turn, is upset. They eventually reconcile, but Catherine cannot keep Edgar from becoming a part of her life. She chooses to wed Edgar in the hope that he will permit her to retain Heathcliff as a friend. Heathcliff, however, senses only that she is rejecting him for Edgar, and departs from Wuthering Heights for a period of three years.

Catherine and Edgar are married and situated at the Grange. They are happy for a time, but gradually Catherine begins to pine for something—life at Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff—it is never stated and only observed by Nelly, the caretaker and narrator of events (to Lockwood, the journalist), in retrospect. One day, Heathcliff reappears, throwing Catherine into a fit of ecstasy and Edgar into a state of mild alarm. Heathcliff acts with propriety, however, and calmly asserts that he is staying at Wuthering Heights at Hindley’s request. Hindley, the new master of the Heights, is given to drinking and gambling, and it is this latter vice that Heathcliff manipulates to gain control of Hindley and his estate.

Heathcliff and Catherine meet more frequently, until Isabella, Edgar’s younger sister, becomes jealous of Catherine. Catherine mocks Isabella’s infatuation with Heathcliff. Heathcliff decides to use the infatuation to get back at Edgar for marrying Catherine, to ridicule Isabella out of spite, and to make Catherine jealous. Catherine, however, is not made jealous—she is too strong for that—and only says that Heathcliff may do as he pleases. She is, in fact, more disturbed by her own husband’s inability to stand up to Heathcliff. She prefers a man who is strong like herself, and that man is Heathcliff.

Divided by her passion/deep affinity for Heathcliff and her love for Edgar, Catherine succumbs to brain fever. Hoping to be pitied, she intentionally starves herself and nearly dies. Edgar gets over the humiliation he has suffered at his wife’s own hands, returns to her side, and nurses her back to a state of health (although she is never quite the same). It is revealed that Catherine is pregnant. Heathcliff, meanwhile, marries Isabella and returns with her to Wuthering Heights.

Unable to keep away from Catherine, Heathcliff contrives to see her when Edgar is gone to church. They embrace passionately for the last time, neither willing to let go, even though they both know that Edgar is returning and shall find them together; they prefer death in one another’s arms than any further separation. Edgar enters, Catherine feints, and Heathcliff departs. Their passion, again, appears as ephemeral as the ghosts that both of them will become in the minds of popular imagination at the end of the story. They promise to be with one another to the end, but reality continually drives them apart and puts a damper on their romance.

Catherine gives birth prematurely that same night and dies hours later. Her daughter is named Catherine but is commonly called Cathy. Following Catherine’s burial, Isabella escapes from Wuthering Heights and flees to London. She gives birth to a boy and raises him alone until her death, some dozen years later.

After Isabella’s death, her son is retrieved by Edgar and introduced to Cathy. Heathcliff insists that the boy live with him. He also hopes to draw Cathy into his web using his son Linton. This he does. Cathy feels pity for Linton and contrives to go to Wuthering Heights without Nelly’s or her father’s knowledge.

Linton, meanwhile, proves to be little more than a pathetic tool. Still, when Heathcliff finally imprisons Cathy and Nelly (after innocently inviting them into Wuthering Heights), Cathy does her best to look after Linton. At the same time, she is thoroughly distressed. Just before her father dies, she manages to escape and see her father to his everlasting rest. Heathcliff again reclaims her, however, along with her estate. When Linton dies, she lets her antipathy for the rest of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights dominate her spirit.

Heathcliff, having exacted his revenge and still feeling unsatisfied, longs for Catherine more than ever. He loses interest in the world around him and allows Nelly to come live at Wuthering Heights. Nelly influences Cathy to befriend Hareton, who obviously wants to win her admiration and be good himself. Cathy forgives Hareton for his imperfections, and the two become true friends. Heathcliff, meanwhile, begins a fast that will last until his death. He gladly embraces death and arranges for his funeral. After his spirit parts from his body, the locals claim to see his ghost united with Catherine’s walking often along the moors.

Most of this narrative is told from the standpoint of Nelly, with some gaps filled in by Lockwood himself, or quoted verbatim from letters from various characters. Lockwood operates merely as a framing device for the novel, though he also threatens at intervals to become an actor in the events. In the end, however, he is content to let well enough alone. Cathy and Hareton are happily in love, and Heathcliff has found his heaven on the other side of the grave, presumably, with his love, Catherine.

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