Table of Contents
2 Biography of Emily Brontë
3 Summary of Wuthering Heights
4 Wyler’s film (1939) in comparison with the book
4.1 Background information on the film
4.2 Differences between the novel and the film
4.2.1 Changes of the characters
4.2.2 Changes in the course story
184.108.40.206 Deletion of the second part of the story
220.127.116.11 Death scenes
18.104.22.168 Penistone Crag as a symbol
4.3 Reasons for the changes
Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights is one of the “greatest works of art” (Kettle 1974, 130) and also “one of the 19th century’s most evocative novels” (Tibbetts/Welsh 1998, 469).
Emily Brontë is perhaps the greatest writer of the three Brontë sisters. She published only one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), a story of doomed love and revenge. But that single work has its place among the masterpieces of English literature.
After its release, a lot of reviewers were shocked, mystified and puzzled, though some also expressed admiration for the strange power of the novel. Wilson, Schlueter and Schlueter (1997, 63) point out that “even modern critics have difficulty dealing with the novel, tending either toward a stress on its eccentricity or concentration on very small sections.”
A lot of books and articles have been written about Emily Brontë’s only novel – and there are also a couple of films dealing with the story or with parts of the story.
In my study I will concentrate on the question if there are differences between Emily Brontë’s novel and the film adaptation by William Wyler (published in 1939). Therefore I am going to describe the most important diversities in detail and give possible reasons for the changes.
But before starting with this I would first like to introduce Emily Brontë’s biography and a summary of her famous novel Wuthering Heights.
2 Biography of Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818 at her father’s parsonage in Thornton, Yorkshire. As the daughter of Maria Branwell and Reverend Patrick Brontë she was the fifth child of six (Maria, Elizabeth, Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, Anne). In 1820 the family moved to Haworth and only one year later, Mrs Brontë died. Her sister, Miss Elizabeth Branwell, came from Cornwall to help Mr Brontë to look after his large family. She was strict and conventional and was not able to care about the emotional needs of small children. Nevertheless, she did her best but she was never a mother to the young family. Mr Brontë also tried to recompense for the absence of a mother, but the children suffered from his lack of warmth and humour. Fortunately, the two eldest children Maria and Elizabeth did a great deal to generate an atmosphere of love and security; all the children had a very close relationship and provided all the qualities they missed in their father and in their aunt for themselves.
However, Mr Brontë obviously had a great influence on his children. He liked poetry, music, politics and the countryside and therefore encouraged his children’s natural interests in these things. Especially Emily developed an intense love for the moorland environment in which she grew up and where she found inspiration for her poems.
In 1824 Emily and her sister Charlotte were sent to Cowan Bridge School for the Daughters of Clergyman. Only one year later, her oldest sisters Maria and Elizabeth, who also attended the school, died on tuberculosis and Emily and her sister were send home.
Back in Haworth, Emily, her brother and her sisters were left largely to themselves and they created their own world of fantasy which they wrote down in little books – it was the beginning of their writing-career. Emily was also talented in playing the piano.
In 1831, when Charlotte was sent to school at Roe Head, Anne and Emily began to record the Gondal saga. During that time Emily was educated at home by her father. In 1835, Emily went to Roe Head School, too but became so ill from homesickness that she was brought home after only three months. There she was perfectly well again and very happy.
At the same time her brother Branwell was unhappy, too. He failed an interview at the Royal Academic School, where he had hoped to study painting and therefore started to drink, whenever he had money. Emily helped him as often as possible in his bouts of drunkenness; maybe because she knew more about her brother’s mental state than anyone else. Nevertheless, Branwell died in 1848.
In 1842, Charlotte persuaded Emily to attend a school in Brussels. Emily did well; her teachers were especially impressed with her clear, smooth writing style, but made no friends, as was typical for her. She went back home as soon as she possibly could.
In 1845 Charlotte accidentally found some of Emily’s poems and recognized their originality and power. She persuaded her to join her and Anne in the publication of a selection of their poems. This volume appeared in May 1846 as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The three sisters changed their names, but they kept their initials. Although the book had no commercial success, the Brontë sisters went on writing and each of them produced a novel, all published in 1847: Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, Anne Agnes Grey and Emily Wuthering Heights. In the following years Charlotte and Anne published some other novels, too.
Emily’s novel was not received with any enthusiasm; many readers were shocked when they read “Wuthering Heights” because of the passionate tone of the novel and the strange power.
Then Emily fell ill. She died on December 19, 1848 of tuberculosis in Haworth, Yorkshire.
(see Gérin 1972 and Brontë 1994, v-vii)
3 Summary of Wuthering Heights
The story is told by Mr Lockwood at the beginning of the 19th century. He is the tenant of Mr Heathcliff and was no witness of the things that happened on Wuthering Heights and on Thrushcross Grange. He gets all the information from Ellen Dean (Nelly), the housekeeper, and writes down the story in his diary.
Mr and Mrs Earnshaw live on Wuthering Heights together with their children Catherine and Hindley. One day Mr Earnshaw returns from a journey to Liverpool and with him he brings home a dirty, black-haired child in torn clothes. He takes the child as his son and calls him Heathcliff. Catherine likes Heathcliff very much but Hindley hates him because he is his father’s favourite and he feels supplanted in his father’s affections by the boy. A few years later Mrs Earnshaw dies and Hindley is sent away to college.
Another two years later Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley comes home for the funeral with his wife Frances. He forces Heathcliff into the role of a servant and stops his education. So Catherine starts to teach Heathcliff all she has learned and plays with him in the fields. One day they run to Thrushcross Grange and see Isabella and Edgar Linton. They think that Catherine and Heathcliff are burglars and Catherine is injured by the watch-dog. Therefore she is forced to stay at the Grange for a few weeks. When Catherine returns home she is dressed like a lady and has given up her wild ways. Seeing Heathcliff she laughs at his black, cross look and he runs away in anger.
Shortly after the birth of Hareton, Hindley’s wife Frances dies. He gives himself up to wild living and only Mrs Dean cares about the child. The household falls into chaos, Catherine’s teacher stops visiting her and Edgar Linton is the only person that comes to see her. Heathcliff is harshly treated and hates Hindley more and more. Catherine and Heathcliff argue intensely and when Edgar asks her to marry him she agrees although she still loves Heathcliff. She tells Nelly that she is unhappy but she cannot marry Heathcliff because it would degrade her and she is attracted by what Edgar represents: he is good-looking and will be rich. But Heathcliff listens to the conversation and runs away. As Catherine recognizes that Heathcliff has left, she starts looking for him all night in a storm and gets ill. Three years after his father’s death Edgar marries Catherine. Nelly has to go with her to her new home Thrushcross Grange.
After a few years Heathcliff returns to take his revenge on the Linton family. He is now an educated man with money. Catherine is very happy to see him but Edgar isn’t very excited. Nevertheless Heathcliff and Catherine pick up their friendship. Heathcliff stays with Hindley at Wuthering Heights and gradually gains financial control by paying Hindley’s gambling debts. Soon Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, falls in love with Heathcliff. Catherine tells Heathcliff about it. Although he doesn’t like her, he tells Catherine that he will make good use of it. Catherine starts a quarrel with Heathcliff and so Edgar Linton demands him to leave his house. Edgar is very furious and tells his sister Isabella that if she marries Heathcliff she will be only his sister in name. Catherine is furious at Edgar of driving Heathcliff away and at Heathcliff for wanting to marry Isabella. So she doesn’t eat and drink anything for three days and falls ill with a brain fever. While she is ill, Heathcliff and Isabella elope. But soon Isabella is very unhappy at Wuthering Heights.
One day, when Edgar Linton has gone to church, Heathcliff visits the pregnant Catherine. Catherine accuses him that he kills her. But Heathcliff accuses her of killing them both by marring Edgar. Then Catherine forgives him and Heathcliff forgives her what she has done to him and they swear undying love for each other. Two hours after having given birth to her daughter Catherine (Cathy), Catherine dies.
Meanwhile Isabella’s love for Heathcliff has turned into hate. She leaves Wuthering Heights and never revisits the area. She lives in the south, and has born a son called Linton. Six month after his sister’s death Hindley dies, too, and leaves Heathcliff as the master of Wuthering Heights.
Then the story omits twelve years. Cathy lives at Thrushcross Grange together with her father Edgar Linton and the housekeeper Nelly. She is very lonely and not allowed to leave the house alone because her father is frightened that something could happen to her or that she could go to Wuthering Heights.
One day the sister of Edgar Linton, Isabella, dies and leaves her and Heathcliff’s son Linton alone; so Mr. Linton has to drive to London to take the boy home. During that time Cathy escapes for the first time and is found by Nelly on Wuthering Heights later on; this is the first time Cathy is in that house, but she doesn’t know why her father hates the people from Wuthering Heights. She is disgusted to learn that Hareton, whom she had taken for a servant, actually is her cousin. Ellen tells Cathy how her father hates the Heights and makes her promise not to tell Edgar Linton that she has been there
The next day Mr. Linton and his nephew arrive at Thrushcross Grange. But the boy Linton, a weak and ill boy, is only allowed to stay one night at Thrushcross Grange; then Heathcliff forces Mr Linton to bring the boy to Wuthering Heights because he wants his son to stay with him.
A few years later, on her 16th birthday, Cathy is allowed to leave Thrushcross Grange together with Nelly officially for the first time. On their walk through the moor the two women meet Linton; Linton and Cathy like each other and from that day on they write secret letters to each other and meet secretly because Mr. Linton does not want his daughter to have any relationship to Wuthering Heights.
Cathy and Linton become good friends; and when Linton becomes more and more weak, Cathy cares about him and visits him as often as possible. But one day Heathcliff obliges Cathy, Linton and Nelly to stay Wuthering Heights, where he forces a marriage between his son Linton and Cathy then. The reason for this is that he knows that the weak and ill Linton will die very soon. Heathcliff also knows that Cathy’s father is very ill, too, and recognizes that if Mr Linton died, he would become the owner of Thrushcross Grange. A few days later, Mr. Edgar Linton dies and another few days later Linton dies, too. This means that Heathcliff is the owner of Wuthering Heights and of Thrushcross Grange now.