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The Potentially Wrong Legacy Wuthering Heights Left Me

A black and white photo of a springer spaniel

This photograph was taken by Robert Wade.

I must thank Erin at Quixotic Magpie for the inspiration today. Her list of Top Ten Book Turn Offs made me immediately think of Emily Brontë’s book.

Wuthering Heights is a book for which it’s tricky for me to express either a like or dislike. I like it as a literary work, and the generality of it is lovely. But I abhor the content. Unlike the Laurence Olivier film version, which for some reason only portrayed the nicer aspects, the book I found loathsome.

Yet for all the relationship issues and awfulness, the scene that most remains with me, the scene that defines the book for me, is that of Heathcliff’s treatment of the dog. Whether Brontë intended it to be cruel but ultimately forgotten or not, that is the book to me. That was the scene that tipped the scales between discomfort and dislike. Not the arguments, not the destroying of lives, the dog.

In passing the garden to reach the road, at a place where a bridle hook is driven into the wall, I saw something white moved irregularly, evidently by another agent than the wind. Notwithstanding my hurry, I stayed to examine it, lest ever after I should have the conviction impressed on my imagination that it was a creature of the other world. My surprise and perplexity were great on discovering, by touch more than vision, Miss Isabella’s springer, Fanny, suspended by a handkerchief, and nearly at its last gasp.


She cannot accuse me of showing one bit of deceitful softness. The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it, the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one: possibly she took that exception for herself.

Whilst I know that caring about the dog is no bad thing, I doubt it is what Brontë or academics would have me remember. I would likely make a poor essayist for the book as that one scene would get most of my attention. But the scene is horrific, both literally and in what it represents, showing just how bad Heathcliff is. He abuses humans, who may be weak but can at least speak out or perhaps run away, he turns on a dog who can do nothing.

Have you ever taken as a book’s legacy on you something you feel wasn’t ‘supposed’ to be taken as the defining aspect?


Erin @Quixotic Magpie

October 25, 2013, 3:42 am

I honest to God think I blocked that scene from my memory, it is so horrific. I really can’t stand violence towards animals, it makes me sick – and I seriously don’t remember this. It must have been too traumatic. I agree, this book is one that is hard to place in a category of like or dislike. I have to say I like it, although the story itself is disturbing as hell. I am sure you understand that weird statement. I am with you, I don’t understand why Heathcliff is adored by many women, he is so messed up. I am sorry I reminded you of this!

Erin @Quixotic Magpie

October 25, 2013, 3:43 am

And that dog pictured is sooo stinking cute!!!! I have an English Setter, she is like a big Springer. Her name is Penny. :)


October 25, 2013, 2:04 pm

Yes. Sometimes a bit of character development that is not supposed to be “THE” defining part of that character takes over in my imagination based on my own experience, and if I want to go on reading the book, I have to be aware and find a way around my own trigger.


October 25, 2013, 8:32 pm

Is it wrong that this depiction of Heathcliff’s character (not the terrible treatment of the dog) makes me love the book that bit more?

I do that a lot with films and TV shows, not so much with books, but I definitely know what you mean. It’s happened to me a few times with books, but I can’t for the life of me think of the titles.

Jenny @ Reading the End

October 27, 2013, 10:12 pm

Hahahaha, I was just telling this to my roommate. She’s never read Wuthering Heights, and she loves dogs, and I told her she shouldn’t feel compelled to read it because Heathcliff murders a dog. Only terrible people kill dogs on purpose for no reason! Heathcliff is so not worth anyone’s time.

Katie @ Doing Dewey

October 29, 2013, 1:21 am

That’s awful! I’m fairly certain that would be my take away from this book too!


October 31, 2013, 11:38 am

Erin: Don’t be sorry, it got me thinking! It’s particularly horrific when it’s violence towards someone who doesn’t understand and doesn’t know to escape. I do understand that statement – it’s an excellent book, it’s just not very nice… okay, that’s an understatement. I’d venture to say the adoration is due to Lawrence Olivier and the way the film misses the nasty parts. Then again I think it’s Bella Swan’s favourite book? (Thinking given the context of Twilight that makes sense.) It was so hard to choose which photo to use! Interestingly I found a few photos of English Setters at the time.

Jeanne: That’s a very good point, your own experience. I wonder if having a dog myself affected the way I read. It’s difficult working your way round in that way. Do you find yourself able to in most cases? I have to admit to leaving a few books early on for that reason…

Alice: I wouldn’t say so, because it’s all about context. Viewed in a literary, study, whatever (you mean what I mean) I can see Heathcliff being appealing. Oh yes, films and TV shows all the time here, too. Drives others mad!

Jenny: That’s sounds a good recommendation. It’s weird – you could skip the scenes about the dog, but you’d loose [what I believe is] a vital part of Heathcliff’s character. Because a defenceless dog hurt with, as you say, no reason, is different to the abuse of the humans, even though they are innocent too. Totally agree with you there, Heathcliff wasn’t deserving of anything.

Katie: It is! Even though there’s no dialogue in the initial description, the image I remember more vividly than any of the conversations.



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