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Free Study Guide-Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte-Free BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

Chapter 1

Summary

The novel begins with Mr. Lockwood's visit to Wuthering Heights, on the Yorkshire moors, in the year of 1801. He goes there from London in order to introduce himself to his landlord, for he has rented a neighboring home, Thrushcross Grange, owned by Heathcliff. In his diary Lockwood has recorded his observations about his visit. On his first trip to the Heights, Heathcliff and his old servant, Joseph, do not seem to be sociable men. Lockwood describes Heathcliff as being "a dark skinned gypsy, in aspect; in dress and manners a gentleman." Having admitted Lockwood to the house, Heathcliff asks his servant to get some wine from the cellar. Later, Heathcliff himself goes to bring the wine. In the meantime the landlord's dogs attack Lockwood ferociously. To hold them off, Lockwood uses a table as a barricade. This infuriates the animals still more. He cries for help, but no one appears. At last Heathcliff's housekeeper rushes into the room brandishing a frying pan; soon she has the situation under control. After this Heathcliff enters the room with the wine. Then he talks to his tenant about the advantages and disadvantages of his present place of retirement. Lockwood finds him very intelligent. As a result, before he returns home, he makes up his mind to pay Heathcliff another visit on the following day.

In addition to recounting this experience, Lockwood also gives a detailed description of Wuthering Heights. He admires the carving over the main door and is curious to find out more about the name "Hareton Earnshaw" and the year "1500," both of which are engraved at the entrance of the house.

Notes

The opening word of the novel is a date: "1801." The second, "I," introduces the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, who uses a diary as the form of narration. He has come to Wuthering Heights to introduce himself to Heathcliff, the owner of the Heights, who will be his landlord at Thrushcross Grange, which he has rented. Lockwood finds Heathcliff to be a strange man, almost like gypsy-like in appearance and behavior.


Mr. Lockwood is a stranger to the Yorkshire moors and Wuthering Heights. He is curious to find out more about this strange place and its even stranger inhabitants. The reader, like Lockwood, is immediately drawn into Heathcliff's world. Lockwood describes Wuthering Heights as an ancient fortress, standing against both the weather and outsiders. On his first visit, the first gate has to be unchained before he can enter the court. The date carved above the porch confirms the antiquity of the structure; and Lockwood finds its architecture to be essentially functional, serving to protect the "fortress." "The narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones".

The name of Hareton Earnshaw, also carved above the door, prepares the reader for Nelly Dean's story in Chapter 4. It will be one of many times that the story shifts from one person to another, giving the reader various perspectives on the action within the novel. The reader also notices the shifts in time that occur between the different narratives. This mosaic of dates and narrators makes the novel's structure more interesting.

The story begins almost at the end, and most of the plot is told as a flashback. When Mr. Lockwood visits Heathcliff in the opening scene, several of the key characters are already in their graves: Mr. Earnshaw, senior, his son (Hindley), his daughter (Catherine), Catherine's husband (Linton) and Heathcliff's son (young Linton). When the actual tale begins as a flashback, Heathcliff is a child; but in this opening chapter of the novel, he is in his forties. Thus, the story of Wuthering Heights spans some forty years.

Chapter 1 introduces a number of important characters in the novel: Lockwood, Heathcliff, Zillah, and Joseph. Lockwood is depicted as an affected and somewhat shy bachelor. He narrates an experience he once had with a young lady at a coastal resort. He fell in love with her, but he discouraged her interest in him by acting heartlessly towards her. Because of his own detachment, Lockwood sees a similarity between himself and Heathcliff; it is obvious that his landlord also shuns society. Lockwood comes from London and sees himself as more polished and worldly than these people on the moors. It is this attitude that makes Lockwood misinterpret many things as a narrator. He constantly sees deficiencies in this wild setting and sometimes makes a fool of himself when he tries to apply the superficial values of civilized society to the austere, but much richer, world of the novel.

Heathcliff, the central figure and protagonist of the book, is also described in the first chapter. Lockwood sees him as a personification of Wuthering Heights in both appearance and character. He is a handsome, erect, and dark-skinned man who seems almost to be a gypsy; however, he has the manners and dress of a gentleman. His black eyes, hidden under his dark brows, suggest his morose nature. His aloofness would make any guest feel unwelcome. Lockwood says he seems to recoil from human contact, like a tortoise into its shell. He leaves Lockwood by himself for a long time, not even returning when the guest is frightened by the dogs and calls for help.

Joseph is an elderly servant at Wuthering Heights and goes about his work with obvious resentment. Like his employer, he is sour by nature and hostile to strangers. He is described as a pious, rugged man, speaking entirely in dialect. When Heathcliff asks him to bring wine, the servant disappears and fails to return with it. He also fails to answer Lockwood's cries for help. In contrast to Joseph, Zillah is a "lusty dame," a servant who works mainly in the kitchen. She is the only one to rush in to save Lockwood when he is attacked by the dogs.

A significant feature of the novel is its poetic descriptions, found in the author's use of imagery, which helps to set the mood. The basic pattern of images is established on the first page when Lockwood describes the "fortress." "Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling, with 'Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather."

This dark description foreshadows the storminess of the events to take place in the plot. The bleak mood is further intensified when "gaunt thorns" are used as an image to represent starving human beings, "craving alms." As the plot unfolds, it becomes obvious that Heathcliff is a "gaunt thorn," starving for love.

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