50 Books to Read Before You Die

words to inspire before you expire

Tag: Jane Eyre

Wuthering Heights

Good morning, class.

It’s easy to see the similarities between Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and her sister Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In both stories, the swampy moors of the English countryside set an atmosphere of oppressive weariness and longing. The romances tracked in both novels have drama seeping through the pages—lies, betrayal, terrible passion, and a man too mysterious to ever fully trust.

But I think it’s easier to talk about Jane Eyre, at least in terms of plot—our heroine Jane begins as an orphan, and we follow her journey into adulthood and into her romance with Mr. Rochester. Wuthering Heights is much murkier. Instead of any hero, we get a cluster of characters surrounding the villainous Heathcliff, one of the more disgusting characters I’ve ever read in a novel. He enters the narrative, destroys almost everything around him, and remains a mysterious stain on everyone’s happiness until the final pages of the novel, where a happy ending barely scrapes by from the debris in his wake. And so Wuthering Heights leaves its mark.


Heathcliff and Catherine, portrayed by Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights (1939)

The main narrative follows Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in a tortured romance. Heathcliff is brought back to the Wuthering Heights estate as a child by Mr. Earnshaw, where he meets the young Catherine and her brother Hindley. They grow up together, and Catherine and Heathcliff realize their attraction to each other, but obstacles get in the way. Heathcliff runs away, and Catherine decides to marry their neighbor Edgar Linton instead. When Heathcliff returns, he has enough money to enact revenge on those who kept him and Catherine apart.

Heathcliff swindles Wuthering Heights from Hindley (and from Hindley’s son Hareton) while marrying Edgar’s sister to punish both Edgar and Catherine. They each have children: Linton is Heathcliff’s son, and Catherine’s daughter is named Catherine (simply to confuse matters further). The elder Catherine dies while giving birth, and Heathcliff prays that her soul never rest—that she haunt him until he dies.

Fast-forward about 18 years, and Hareton, Catherine, and Linton have all grown up. They are the product of tortured love, revenge, and heartbreak, with Heathcliff the only surviving member of the first generation. Without giving too much away, the three of them try to right the wrongs of the past and revolt against Heathcliff’s tyranny—to be what their parents couldn’t be.


Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Heathcliff is the reason to read Wuthering HeightsI called him one of the more disgusting characters I’d ever read in a novel, and that’s because there so much villainous life breathed into him by Emily Brontë that he’s stood the test of time. His origins are unknown—both his heritage and his means of getting money—and hatred seems to come easier to him than love.

His relationship with Catherine is simply a mess. They seem to enjoy each other in childhood, both a little more unkempt and uncontrollable than most children. As outsiders they grow fond of each other. But in adulthood they punish each other as signs of love. They wrap up the Lintons into their mess and ruin the Lintons’ happiness—Edgar is in a loveless marriage and must compete with Heathcliff’s rage, while his sister Isabella is tricked into marrying Heathcliff who cares nothing for her.

After Catherine’s death, Heathcliff regularly digs up Catherine’s corpse and cries over it. He is ultimately disgusted with his son Linton and forces him to marry the younger Catherine so that he can inherit Edgar’s estate. Without a doubt, Heathcliff is a nightmare. Characters speculate if he is some kind of demon or imp. He has no pity for the people he hurts and delights in suffering. His obsession with Catherine is only matched by her obsession with him, and the only real question about his motivations is whether or not their relationship does more damage than he himself does.

Emily Brontë

Is Brontë’s writing strong? Absolutely—ahead of its time, even. Is the story worth reading? I’d say so—the plot is intricate and chaotic, in the best way. But Heathcliff is what makes Wuthering Heights special, and he’s why it made the list.


I like to think there isn’t a moral to the story, but if there is one, it’s about a bad kind of love vs. a good kind. The bad kind of love is the one that destroys and poisons, that’s so passionate and full of emotion that it can’t survive. Then there’s a patient, practical love—one that doesn’t hurt, and yet still wins out against obstacle. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine is destructive, but maybe the next generation can share a better love, despite the effects of the the generation before.


Up next, I’m reading E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India—one of the few books on the list I’ve never heard of before. Let’s hope it’s good!

Prof. Jeffrey

Jane Eyre

Good morning, class.

On April 23, 2006, the U.K. and Ireland celebrated World Book Day—a charity event focused on encouraging children to read—by making a list of the top 10 happy endings of all time (link courtesy of The Free Online Library). The top 5 are all on the 50-books list:

5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The only one I haven’t read is Rebecca (blog post pending for both Rebecca and To Kill A Mockingbird), but I’m willing to bet something about that happy ending—there are absolutely no promises about a happy beginning or a happy middle. That’s the case with the other four novels, perhaps especially with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.


Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles as Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre (1943)

Jane Eyre’s childhood is full of abuse: she is the unloved adopted orphan of her home, attacked, terrorized, defamed, and ultimately cast aside by her family. She falls back on her resolve and determination, which may get her into trouble, but never makes her sacrifice who she is.

As she grows up and leaves school, she finds a job caring for the daughter of a rich man, Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane and Mr. Rochester discover their love for each other—but, of course, there are complications that threaten the future of the relationship. For what it’s worth, as we already know, there’s a happy ending.


Jane Eyre isn’t simply about a romance—its focus on class and gender issues help it stand out, much like Pride and Prejudice a few decades earlier. I might argue that Pride and Prejudice carries wit and wordplay, thanks to Jane Austen’s style, but it’s only an interesting comparison.

Author Charlotte Brontë

However, there is something Jane Eyre has which Pride and Prejudice lacks . . . something I did not at all expect—horror. The mansion where Jane cares for Mr. Rochester’s daughter is, for lack of a better word, haunted. Sudden fires threaten to burn the place down, and eerie laughter can be heard through the halls at random times. The secrets of Mr. Rochester’s past endanger the lives of his staff and his daughter, giving the novel a sense of urgency, foreboding, and distrust—even in the happiest of scenes.

From a feminist standpoint, I think the idea is that there’s a particular horror for women trapped in social conventions designed by men. Jane seems to live her life entirely as a rebel, if only for the sake of remaining good and true to herself. But this is Victorian England—there are consequences when you choose to unreservedly be yourself. The consequences for Jane have something of a supernatural flair, making the novel that much more interesting. (The same Gothic influences appear in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Charlotte’s sister—blog post pending.)


But, Gothic influences aside, what makes this story great is Jane herself. She is an excellent heroine, knowing and understanding who she is and what she deserves. She faces the consequences of her actions, refuses to let her emotions cloud her judgement, and defends her body, spirit, and worth in the face of anyone who hurts her. Even when it costs her everything, she does what any person is supposed to do—she respects herself.

This may make her sound too fierce, or even too heartless to develop relationships with others, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Jane is also compassionate, grateful, and caring to everyone. Her childhood hardships could have hardened her, but instead, they made her more empathetic and kind; not many others could boast the same. Jane is the epitome of a good person in charge of their destiny, which is a rare find.


It’s been a while since I enjoyed something as much as Jane Eyre (besides Ulysses, that is). It is a really good story, and at the end of the day, that is the best thing a novel can offer.

My next book is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have read it before, so I already know what I’m getting into—a really good story.

More on that next time!

Prof. Jeffrey

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”

—from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me . . . Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?'”

—from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

—from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to to express the result of the process in words.”

—from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë