Everyone has heard of Wuthering Heights. May it be the Kate Bush song, the endless TV and film adaptions, or the book itself.
Emily Brontë’s and Kate Bush’s birthday both fall on the same day (30th of July), so it’s fitting to take a few moments to remember the sheer gravity of the novel that appears on so many school reading lists and influenced so many, including the great, eccentric musician herself.
In my first year of university, we were assigned Wuthering Heights to read, and were to write an essay through one of four perspectives: postcolonial, feminist, psychoanalytic, or Marxist. It wasn’t until then that I stopped seeing the book as something dense and boring, and started seeing it as a multi-layered masterpiece.
Emily Brontë died at 19, and therefore is only really known for this novel, but its complexity and depth has stood the test of time and is still known as one of the greatest novels ever written.
Brontë was extremely shy, and was somewhat of an outcast. Therefore she probably resonated with her character Heathcliff, who could be read as a migrant who did not fit in in Victorian Britain, or a ‘working-class hero’ who also didn’t fit into the upper-class surroundings he found himself in.
Emily’s shyness prevented her from publishing much, and in 1945 her sisters Charlotte and Anne (of Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall fame, respectively) found a stash of secret poems. These were poems that exposed the genius mind of Emily, and her sisters heavily persuaded her to send them to a publisher. Consequently, The Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846) was published, comprising of the three sisters’ poems under their male pseudonyms, highlighting the sexism surrounding women and writing at the time. This was the first ever Brontë work to ever go to print.
The brooding love story between Cathy and Healthcliff has found its way into numerous pop culture references; Kate Bush’s red-dress-clad, tumultuous ballad being one of them.
Kate Bush in the Wuthering Heights music video. Source: http://www.shambalafestival.org/kate-bush-wuthering-heights/
Others include the well-known TV adaption starring Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley, who first met and got together on set. Sylvia Plath was also influenced by the novel, who wrote a moody, sensory poem of the same name – read it here.
In 1939, the book was made into a film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. The film glossed over some of the darker aspects of the novel, but still goes down in history of one of the most famous adaptions, and was even selected for preservation in 2007. Over a dozen adaptions have also been created, including in radio and opera, further cementing its cultural and social impact.
In 2011, a high budget film adaption was released, directed by Andrea Arnold, which went through a cycle of actors before finalising on James Howson as Heathcliff, and Kaya Scodelario as Cathy. Previously, Natalie Portman, Gemma Arterton, and Ed Westwick were lined up to play the roles. With Howson eventually landing the role, it was the first time a black actor was to play Heathcliff. This was, of course, way overdue; despite Heathcliff’s description in the novel as ‘dark-skinned’, the TV and film industry’s problem with whitewashing had prevented this from happening for a long time. The film, with its stark depiction of the Yorkshire moors and the cruelness that Heathcliff experiences, garnered favourable reviews.
200 years on from the birth of Emily Brontë, it’s clear that its impact hasn’t wavered at all: 200 years from now, will hopeless romantics of the future still be swept away by the novel’s love story, and will future film fanatics be eagerly awaiting the release of Wuthering Heights (2218)? If its past as an influencer is anything to go by, its probably safe to say they will.