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Wuthering Heights. A page-to-screen adaptation

Bachelorarbeit 2013 49 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

Part One
The structure of Wuthering Heights (novel)
Narrative structure
The plot of the novel
Structure of Wuthering Heights (film 2009)

Part Two
Sequence analysis: Sequence One
Sequence analysis: Sequence Two
Conclusion from sequence analysis: One and Two

Part Three
Female Characters: a close up on Catherine and Isabella
Conclusion on the Female Characters
The sense of coldness and loneliness both in novel and film


Additional information for the actors
Charlotte Riley

Rebecca Night

Rosalind Halstead

Sarah Lancashire

Tom Hardy

Andrew Lincoln

Tom Payne


Part One Introduction

Wuthering Heights, written between October 1845 and June 1846, by Emily Bronte is one of the main classic novels of English literature, together with Sense and Sensibility1 (Author Jane Austin) and Great Expectations2 (Author Charles Dickens), which were successfully transformed into films by British filmmakers. Cinematic adaptations often provoke debates about their fidelity, to the original; discussions about how the classic text has been transformed into film, whether adapted movies are spoiling the charm of the novel and thus ruining it, or, on the contrary, whether film has ‘’rescued’’ the novel, making it seem more interesting and worth reading in a new historical context. Can a novel be successfully transformed into film without spoiling it? Or on the contrary we may consider novels cannot be replaced and by adapting them the films deprive spectators of their ability to imagine?

This paper examines one of the most popular nineteenth-century novel Wuthering Heights together with its film adaptation(Wuthering Heights), directed by Cocy Giedroyc, a Mammoth Screen production supported by the Screen Yorkshire Production Fund,2008), in order to understand the differences between films and novels as modes of storytelling, by a close examination of both the structure of the novel and film, then I will provide analyses of two sequences; from then I will proceed will proceed with a close up on two of the female characters Catherine and Isabella and finally I will discuss the sense of cold and loneliness both in novel and film.

The structure of Wuthering Heights (novel)

George Bluestone states in his work that “the end products of novel and film represent different aesthetic genera, as different from each other as ballet is from architecture.’’3. According to the above quote the end product is unique. Thus it is not surprising that the film will be criticized for its originality.

Terence Hawks examines the nature of narrative in his book “Structuralism and Semiotics’’ and concludes that “Story is simply the basic succession of events; the raw material which confronts the artist. Plot represents the distinctive way in which the story is made strange, creativity deformed and defamiliarized’’4

The citation shows that although film and novels follow the same narrative they may have different tools to manipulate narrative structure. In a novel, a new chapter might take us back to a different time and place in the narrative while in a film we might go back to that same time and place through the use of a flashback, a crosscut, or a dissolve. Such are the various techniques the director of Wuthering Heights employs to keep the complex narrative coherent. For example, through Heathcliff’s memories in the beginning of the film we have a glimpse of Catherine and we immediately understand that she is Heathcliff’s beloved. In the novel, Catherine’s name first is not even introduced until some 30 pages in chapter 3 when Mr. Lockwood sees her name on the window ledge.

The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small - CATHERINE EARNSHAW, here and there varied to CATHERINE HEATHCLIFF, and then again to CATHERINE LINTON I had never heard the appellation of 'Catherine Linton' before.5

Further in the novel we get to know Catherine better not through what she says or does but through what is said about her in Nelly’s narration. Whereas in the film, the narrators Nelly and Mr. Lockwood disappear, but the director, cast, and crew rely on other tools of film to reproduce what one feels while reading a novel. Mr. Lockwood’s presence is felt in the beginning of the film when Catherine’s ghost haunting Heathcliff reminds us of Mr. Lockwood’s encounter with her, in the same room on page 36:

I must stop it, nevertheless!' I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, 'Let me in - let me in!' 'Who are you?' I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. 'Catherine Linton,' it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of LINTON? I had read EARNSHAW twenty times for Linton) - 'I'm come home: I'd lost my way on the moor! 6

Narrative structure

The novel WUTHERING HEIGHTS has very complicated narrative structure. There

are two clear narrators. The novel is almost like a theatrical drama and as such dialogue plays a great part in the plot. There are different levels of narration which construct the story, not by the usual way of telling the same events from different perspectives, but by the participation of characters helping in understanding what happens. The shifts in the time reference, events, narrators, and the great role of dialogue catch and keep our attention immediately. Dialogue allows the characters to express themselves, appear as real and dynamic personalities, with a deep inner life, and we, the readers, just fall under their spell. The narrative structure of the novel is unique and consists of a story within the story. There are two narrators Mr. Lockwood and the housekeeper Nelly Dean. They are both narrating from their point of view and can be considered as eyewitness narrators as they both took part in the story. Their narration is genuine and well organized. However we may say that Nelly’s narration is more detailed as she is the one who experienced the whole story together with the main characters.

Mr. Lockwood’s narration is more objective as he is an outsider to the family. Furthermore, Mr. Lockwood’s tone of narrating is formal and detached, which is entirely descriptive and perceptive. Lockwood describes the events around him as he sees them. He also allows the reader to feel closer to the action he presents. The following quote proves that his comments and judgments are typical of an outsider within a completely alien environment.

The apartment and furniture would have been nothing extraordinary as belonging to a homely, northern farmer, with a stubborn countenance, and stalwart limbs set out to advantage in knee- breeches and gaiters. Such an individual seated in his arm-chair, his mug of ale frothing on the round table before him, is to be seen in any circuit of five or six miles among these hills, if you go at the right time after dinner. (Chapter 1,page 21)


The narrative is divided into two narrative perspectives: ‘‘a present perspective’’ and a ‘‘past perspective’’. The ‘‘present perspective ’’ is the perspective of Mr. Lockwood. It starts with the moment Mr. Lockwood rents the Thrushcross Grange, meets his landlord Heathcliff (chapter one), and asks Nelly Dean to tell him the story of his landlord (chapter 4). The ‘‘past prospective’’ is a kind of ‘‘past time’’, where the events told by Nelly Dean took place.

Nelly is the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, as she had been before at Wuthering Heights, and also she was nursemaid of Heathcliff and Cathy Linton. So, she is the one who knows everything for everyone. As a consequence that makes her a very interesting character through whom the reader is drawn into the story. One cannot imagine the story without Nelly Dean who is always helpful and keeps the secrets of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. One might say that Nelly Dean is not just a servant; she is an incarnation of the mother missing in the Earnshaw family.

The plot of the novel

Wuthering Heights is not the same as many other love stories. The main protagonists here are anti-heroes. Neither Catherine nor Heathcliff are what a ‘‘hero’’ is supposed to be. They are passionately in love and selfish at the same time and do not care for the harm they do each other. The two lovers are too proud to express their true feelings, instead they fight turning their love into a disaster. The plot of the novel is divided into five different phases, which correspond to the five stages in the plot of a classical drama. Below are the five sections together with their location in the novel and some examples.

First section: It establishes the nature of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, their relationships to each other, and the strange atmosphere that surrounds them. (Chapters 1, 2 and 3, Pages 19 to 42)

a) Mr. Lockwood establishes the relationship between the inhabitants in Wuthering Heights.

Then it flashed on me - 'The clown at my elbow, who is drinking his tea out of a basin and eating his broad with unwashed hands, may be her husband: Heathcliff junior, of course. (Chapter 2, page 27) Second section: Events in the novel are set in motion by the arrival of Heathcliff, picked up as a child of unknown parentage on the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw, who brings him home to raise him as one of his own children. (Chapter 4, Pages 44-45)

b) Mr. Earnshaw returns from his trip with Heathcliff, whom he found in the streets of Liverpool.

And at the end of it to be flighted to death!' he said, opening his great-coat, which he held bundled up in his arms. 'See here, wife! I was never so beaten with anything in my life: but you must e'en take it as a gift of God; though it's as dark almost as if it came from the devil. We crowded round, and over Miss Cathy's head I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk: indeed, its face looked older than Catherine's; yet when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand. (Chapter 4, Page 45)

Third section: Mr. Earnshaw passes away; his death brings forth a quick succession of events that complicate the plot. Bullied and humiliated by Hindley, Heathcliff develops a passionate and ferocious nature that finds its complement in Earnshaw's daughter, Catherine. Chapter 5- 8)

c) Mr. Earnshaw’s health weakens and he eventually dies.

In the course of time Mr. Earnshaw began to fail. He had been active and healthy, yet his strength left him suddenly (Chapter.5, Page 48)

d) Hindley humiliates Heathcliff and puts him in the position of a mere servant.

A few words from her, evincing a dislike to Heathcliff, were enough to rouse in him all his old hatred of the boy. He drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of doors instead; compelling him to do so as hard as any other lad on the farm. (ch.6, page 52)

Fourth section: Heathcliff returns three years later (chapter 10, page 88) and finds the married Catherine is still attracted to him, a fact that devastates her husband, Edgar. Heathcliff is allowed to stay at Wuthering Heights with Hindley, who is now widowed with a son, Hareton; he has become a gambler and loses everything to Heathcliff. As a result, Heathcliff becomes the master of Wuthering Heights and brings Hindley and Hareton completely under his power. As part of his revenge, Heathcliff also marries Edgar Linton's sister, Isabella, and cruelly mistreats her (chapter 12, page 121). He also unintentionally hastens Catherine's death (chapter 16, page 146), which is the point of climax for Heathcliff.

e) Heathcliff returns after three years.

‘ What!' I cried, uncertain whether to regard him as a worldly visitor, and I raised my hands in amazement. 'What! you come back? Is it really you? Is it?' Yes, Heathcliff,' he replied, glancing from me up to the windows, which reflected a score of glittering moons, but showed no lights from within. 'Are they at home? where is she? Nelly, you are not glad! you needn't be so disturbed. Is she here? Speak! I want to have one word with her - your mistress. Go, and say some person from Gimmerton desires to see her. (Chapter 10, page 90)

f) Isabella escapes and marries Heathcliff secretly.

‘ Speak lower, Mary - What is the matter?' said Mr. Linton. 'What ails your young lady?

She's gone, she's gone! Yon' Heathcliff's run off wi' her!' gasped the girl. ‘ (Chapter 12 ,page121)

g) Catherine gives birth and dies.

‘ Yes, she's dead!' I answered, checking my sobs and drying my cheeks. 'Gone to heaven, I hope; where we may, every one, join her, if we take due warning and leave our evil ways to follow good! ’ (Chapter 16, Page 148)

Fifth section: He lures the young Cathy, the daughter of Catherine and Edgar, to his house and forces a marriage between her and his son, Linton. After Linton's death (chapter 26, page238), he forces Cathy to stay on at the Heights (chapter 29, page 239), a situation that allows an affection to spring forth between her and Hareton. Nelly’s story ends and the reader is transferred to the ‘’present narrative. Heathcliff's desire for revenge eventually wears out, and he allows Cathy and Hareton to pursue their relationship. All Heathcliff longs for now is death, so that he could be together once again with Catherine.

h) Edgar Linton dies.

He died blissfully, Mr. Lockwood: he died so. Kissing her cheek, he murmured, - 'I am going to her; and you, darling child, shall come to us. (Chapter 28, Page 238)

i) Heathcliff forces Cathy to live with him at the Heights.

No more running away! Where would you go? I'm come to fetch you home; and I hope you'll be a dutiful daughter and not encourage my son to further disobedience. (Chapter 28, Page 239)

Conclusion: It is reached with the death of Heathcliff (Chapter 34, page 278). In and through Heathcliff's death there is the promise that the two contrasting worlds and moral orders represented by the Heights and the Grange will be united in the next generation in the union of Cathy and Hareton.

j) Heathcliff dies.

Mr. Heathcliff was there - laid on his back. His eyes met mine so keen and fierce, I started; and then he seemed to smile. I could not think him dead: but his face and throat were washed with rain; the bed-clothes dripped, and he was perfectly still. The lattice, flapping to and fro, had grazed one hand that rested on the sill; no blood trickled from the broken skin, and when I put my fingers to it, I could doubt no more: he was dead and stark! (Chapter 34, page 278)

k) Catherine and Heatchliff ghosts roam the moors together.

Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on 'em looking out of his

chamber window on every rainy night since his death:- and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. (Chapter 34, Page 279)

Structure of Wuthering Heights (film 2009)

This classic adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights does not exactly follow the same structure as the novel, although it is a very interesting adaptation and can fully cover all of the themes conveyed throughout the novel. The adaptation chosen to work on came out in 2009. It revisits the classical love story of Catherine and Heathcliff. Although the film and the novel have a lot in common, both in their structure and their plot, and the film covers most of the themes that are discussed in the novel, the film itself is a unique piece of art. The structure of the film differs from the structure of the novel. The first and most striking differences are that in the film, instead of two narrative perspectives and two narrators Nelly Dean and Mr. Lockwood, we do not have an external narrator. What is more, Mr. Lockwood is not present in the film at all. Nelly Dean is present but does not narrate the story; she takes part in the plot and is an important figure in the film.

Because the story is conveyed in entirely different way we are amazed to find out that, even so, it remains faithful to the novel. In the first 30 minutes we are introduced to the main characters although we cannot make a clear connection between them. The main characters here are Heathcliff, Young Cathy, Young Linton, Hareton, Linton and, of course, we have several glimpses of Catherine. Thanks to dialogues we understand that Young Catherine (daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton) and Young Linton (son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton) and Hareton (son of Hindley Earnshaw and Frances Earnshaw), are cousins. We also understand that Heathcliff and Linton hate each other but we do not know why.

It is very important that a TV film should have powerful beginning in order to capture the viewer’s attention so that he or she will not change the channel during the first series of commercials. Wuthering Heights (2009) is a TV series in two parts destined for a public aged between 16 and 25. Perhaps because of the fact that such young audiences have to be captured quickly the film’s beginning is mysterious and scary. It is very dynamic, full of action (especially in the first five minutes where Heathcliff sees Catherine’s ghost). Hence the film opens with Heathcliff in the present haunted by the presence of a ghost.

Having already explored the structure of the novel I will now continue with the structure of film dividing it into five parts.

The beginning

The actual beginning of the whole story is presented by a flashback to the moment

when Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff to Wuthering Heights and by doing this introduces the main conflict in the family. Heathcliff becomes his adopted son (chapter 4, page 44). His own children, Cathy and Hindley, do not like the boy. In fact, no one likes him. He is labeled a "gipsy," an "imp of Satan," ‘’ cuckoo in a nest’’ and all sorts of other cruel names. Finally, Cathy warms up to him, and they console each other after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes raging for revenge. As his relationship develops with Cathy, Cathy’s brother Hindley hates him more and more as he sees that Catherine likes him and spends more and more time with him.

The rising action

The story becomes complicated when Hindley, already as a grown up returns to Wuthering Heights, as the owner of the house. He brings his bride with him and acts as the owner of the house. He treats Heathcliff badly; he humiliates him and puts him in the position of a servant. While Heathcliff has always been treated like an outsider, at least he had Catherine. But when she meets the Linton’s (Isabelle and Edgar), she becomes socially ambitious. She wants to be the lady of the house - something that would never happen if she married Heathcliff. So even though she really loves Heathcliff, she does not want to escape with him and decides to marry Edgar. At the same time she proposes to Heathcliff to stay with her and she promises to help him financially. Heathcliff refuses such a disgracing situation and disappears for three years, and it is never entirely clear where he goes.

The fact that Catherine changes her opinion and chooses to be a rich lady instead of living a life as an outcast with the one she loves might be explained by the historical context of the story. The norm for a Victorian woman of middle or upper-class origins was to become a submissive wife.


1 A 1995 British-American period drama film directed by Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee and based on Jane Austen's 1811 novel of the same name

2 A 1946 British film directed by David Lean, based on the novel by Charles Dickens and stars John Mills, Bernard Miles, Finlay Currie, Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt, Alec Guinness and Valerie Hobson.

3 George Bluestone, Novel into Film (University of California Press, 1968) 104

4 Quoted by Brian McFarlane, Novel into Film Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation ( Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1996) 23

5 Emily Bronte, WUTHERING HEIGHTS (London: Penguin Popular Classics,1994) 32

6 Emily Bronte, WUTHERING HEIGHTS (London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994) 36


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Université Toulouse II - Le Mirail – English department
wuthering heights a-page-to-screen



Titel: Wuthering Heights. A page-to-screen adaptation