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Discussion questions for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

Last week we announced the launch of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group, and the first book, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Helen Small, editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the book, has put together some helpful discussion questions that will help you gain a deeper understanding of the text as you read it and when you finish it.

  1. Even the early critics who were revolted or dismayed by the violence of Wuthering Heights admitted the ‘power’ of the novel. What seems to you to be the best explanation of that power?
  2. How ‘moral’ a story is Wuthering Heights? More specifically, is moral justice a concern in the shaping of the story and its characters?
  3. Catherine Earnshaw comes across as many things: passionate, rebellious, full of laughter and of scorn for others, driven by social ambition but careless of social expectations, self-seeking but ultimately self-destructive (willing herself to die). Is it a problem for our reading of her that we never hear her voice unmediated? How far did you feel inclined to trust what you are told of her by others?
  4. One critic has speculated that the ‘second generation’ story was an afterthought, written to fill the gap created in a three volume set (Wuthering Heights, Charlotte’s The Professor, Anne’s Agnes Grey) after Charlotte withdrew. How cogently does the Catherine/Linton/Hareton narrative seem to you to fit with the first half of the novel?
  5. Does Heathcliff’s story hold the novel together? Does it make sense to read it as, in its own fashion, a Bildungsroman (telling the story of the building of a character over time, through education and experience)?
  6. Wuthering Heights is in many respects lawless, but it is also a novel in which the law (and what people do with it) is crucial to the plot. What do you make of its interest in, especially, property law? How does it compare with other Victorian novels you may have read (Dickens? Trollope?) which have an interest in how the law seeks to regulate ownership of land, houses, even people (wives and children)?
  7. This is a famously difficult book to place within any wider story about the development of the English novel. Does it seem to you a ‘bookish’ work or primarily an oral tale?
  8. How important is supernaturalism to the novel’s effects? And how closely tied to religion is the supernaturalism explored here?

Heading image: Top Withens by John Robinson. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Jennifer Reynolds

    I just finished Wuthering Heights and I noticed that Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester in relation to Catherine Earnshaw and Jane Eyre are similar. The women in either situation eventually have ultimate control of their “situations”. Catherine’s daughter Cathy doesn’t have any children to further the Heathcliff name, thus rendering all of Heathcliff’s “efforts” in snuffing the Linton name useless and Mr. Rochester needing Jane Eyre to survive, both financially and physcially. They women are (Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, for that matter), in the beginning fearful of “the brute” only to fall in love with them. Kinda like Beauty and the Beast.

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