Wuthering Heights is one of those classics that tends to elicit strong reactions in those who read it. Thanks to a cast of unsettling characters, an uncomfortable Gothic setting, and the obsessive, amoral love story at its core, Emily Brontë’s only novel is one that fascinates some readers while simultaneously boring or infuriating others. Even fans of other works by the Brontë sisters are divided on Wuthering Heights; some love it as much as or more than Jane Eyre, while others vehemently insist that Charlotte Brontë’s novel is far better written and far more enjoyable.

Having read Wuthering Heights in both high school and college, I consider it not only my favorite book, but also one that changed my life. Reading it in English class during my sophomore year of high school opened my mind to so much about literature. I came to realize just how complicated literary characters could be, how setting can reflect plot and themes, and how much more interesting a book can be when there is no clear hero and little distinction between the good and the bad. While some readers have decried the twisted love story between Catherine and Heathcliff and especially Heathcliff’s bitter vengeance on Catherine’s relatives and their descendants, I was instantly enthralled with the strange relationships between the characters, the way Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange reflected the lives of their residents, and the themes we discussed in class. Simply put, Wuthering Heights was the novel that made me want to study literature like never before and lead to my decision to major in English in college.

Toward the end of my college career, I once again found myself reading Wuthering Heights for an English class. While I was excited to read it again, I also wondered if I would love Brontë’s novel as much as I had several years beforehand. I was thrilled to find that after several years of honing my critical thinking skills and learning more about literature, Wuthering Heights was better than ever. I had the chance to explore fully Heathcliff’s racial difference from those around him and its potential implications for the novel, as well as what may have inspired Brontë to include a Roma character. The brilliance of the structure of Wuthering Heights became clear to me; there is a reason, and perhaps even multiple reasons, for its framing, story-within-a-story format. With a deeper, more complex reading of the novel, its themes became more powerful and its plot more disturbing. While I had read and discussed plenty of other books between my first reading of Wuthering Heights and my second, seeing the novel again through sharper eyes made me remember exactly why I had chosen my major, and just how rewarding the study of literature could be.

I believe that the things that cause many to dislike Wuthering Heights are exactly the things that I love about it. Centering a novel on a mysterious, bitter individual such as Heathcliff provokes questions that would be impossible with a more likable main character. Especially after my second reading of the book, I found myself simultaneously despising and pitying Heathcliff, as well as finding much more to discuss and analyze about him than I would have a more conventional, romantic hero. As for the love story between Heathcliff and Catherine, I think it might shock some readers to find out that it isn’t the beautiful romance they often expect from literature, or that they had been told was part of Wuthering Heights (the 1939 film adaptation, which excludes the second half of the novel, has shaped many people’s image of what the book is really like). I’ll admit that I was initially a bit taken aback myself at the bizarre, obsessive nature of their relationship. I had not expected their passion to be so destructive and unchanging, especially in the years after Catherine’s death. However, their love story, if it can indeed be called that, is now a large part of what keeps Wuthering Heights so vibrant in my mind. It is a relationship in which both parties are entirely obsessed with one another, yet completely selfish. Their passion ruins others’ happiness and continues to do so for years after one of the lovers has died. The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is unlike any other I’ve encountered in literature, and it too inspires discussions that would never happen with a more typical love story.

I could go on forever about Wuthering Heights from a number of perspectives, but I won’t. I doubt that my praises here will change many minds, but for me, this will always be an extremely fascinating and special book—one that changed my life and my outlook on literature forever. Feel free to leave a comment about what you love or hate about this legendary novel, and how it has affected you.