Emily Brontë "Wuthering Heights" Summary and Plot Overview

"Wuthering Heights" Summary

"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë, published in 1847, is an influential classic English literature book.
Marissa L.
min read
Mar 9, 2023

"Wuthering Heights" is written as a series of narratives told by Mr. Lockwood. The book describes the life and struggles of two landed gentry families over three generations, the Earnshaws and the Lintons, living on the West Yorkshire Moors around the 1800s. This Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights summary tells the story in short.


"Wuthering Heights" Plot Overview

This Wuthering Heights short summary begins with the narrator, Mr. Lockwood’s first journal entry in Chapter 1. He writes about his day at Thrushcross Grange, and his visit to the house’s landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. The landlord lives in a farmhouse nearby named Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was a mysterious man, he spoke like a gentleman but seemed somber, gruff, and tense. Though the house, staff, dogs, and Heathcliff were all unwelcoming, Lockwood’s curiosity was piqued and he vowed to visit again. 

In chapter 2, Lockwood decides to visit Wuthering Heights again. It starts snowing as he arrives and an elderly servant, Joseph, tells him that he is not allowed in. A young man eventually lets him in through the kitchen where he encounters a beautiful young woman who is cold towards him. Heathcliff returns and tells Lockwood that it was foolish to be out in a snowstorm. The woman turns out to be Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law rather than his wife as Lockwood initially assumed. Lockwood asks for assistance to get back but is denied help. He grabs a lantern to make his own way back, but Joseph thinks he is stealing it and lets the dogs loose on him. Lockwood ends up with a bloody nose and stays at Wuthering Heights for the night. 

Chapter 3 begins with a maid, Zillah, showing Lockwood to a room. There, Lockwood finds the 25-year-old diary of someone named Catherine. He reads about her older brother Hindley being cruel to Catherine and Heathcliff. Lockwood falls asleep but has wild dreams. He realizes that a branch tapping against the window is influencing his dreams and as he tries to remove it feels a cold hand grasping his. He screams as he realizes that a ghost claiming to be Catherine Linton moans “Lets me in”. Heathcliff is upset to see Lockwood in the room and when he hears about the ghost he starts crying and begging for the ghost to reappear.


In chapter 4, Lockwood meets the longtime housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean, who starts telling him about the history of the family. She takes over the narration and starts with the day Mr. Earnshaw brought back an orphan boy - Heathcliff - from Liverpool. Catherine and her brother Hindley initially despise the boy, but Catherine quickly becomes fond of him. 

In chapter 5 we find out that Mr. Earnshaw loves Heathcliff despite the tension between the orphan and his biological son Hindley. When Mr. Earnshaw gets sick, he sends Hindley off to college. Mr. Earnshaw soon dies, leaving Heathcliff with only Catherine who likes him. 

In Chapter 6 Hindley returns to take charge of Wuthering heights with a wife - Frances. He essentially makes Heathcliff a servant. One day, Heathcliff comes back home alone and explains that he and Catherine had gone to Thrushcross Grange to make fun of the Linton children, Edgar and Isabella. As they were running away, one of the dogs bit Catherine on the ankle. She was taken inside but the Linton’s sent scruffy Heathcliff away. Mr. Linton criticizes Hindley for his treatment of his sister and furious, Hindley forbids Heathcliff from speaking to Catherine. 

During chapter 7, the Linton’s take care of Catherine for five weeks and transform her from a wild child to a young lady. When she returns, she greets Heathcliff fondly but comments on him appearing dirty, upsetting him. As a thank you, Hindley invites the Linton’s over for dinner and they agree on the condition that Heathcliff not be present. Heathcliff still ends up throwing applesauce at Edgar and is banished to the attic. Nelly lets him have some food and Heathcliff tells her that he is plotting revenge. 

Nelly continues her story in Chapter 8 with the birth of Hareton - Frances and Hindley’s child. Unfortunately, Frances dies soon after, causing Hindley to become a tyrant and leaving Nelly in charge of Hareton. Though he treats Heathcliff worse than ever before, Heathcliff is pleased by Hindley’s suffering. Catherine develops a double character, one of good manners with Edgar Linton and her usual unruly self at home with Heathcliff. She exposes her wild side once when Edgar came to visit, but the incident just made him more infatuated with her. 

In chapter 9, Hindley drops Hareton over the banisters in a drunken rage but Heathcliff catches him. Later, Catherine tells Nelly that she has accepted Edgar’s proposal for marriage, and though she truly loves Heathcliff, marrying him would degrade her. Heathcliff overhears just this part and leaves Wuthering Heights. When he is discovered missing, Catherine goes out in the rain to find him and falls sick. She is taken to Thrushcross Grange to recover but ends up giving her fever to the Linton’s, both of whom die. She marries Edgar 3 years later. 

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Heathcliff reappears in chapter 10, 6 months after the wedding of Catherine and Edgar. He has changed a lot over the years and is now a dashing, rich, young man. He stays at Wuthering Heights, gambling with Hindley, and frequently visits Thrushcross Grange. Isabella, Edgar’s sister develops feelings for him, but he only has eyes for Catherine. 

In chapter 11, Nelly goes to Wuthering heights where she finds an unruly and violent Hareton who doesn’t remember her. The next day, Catherine catches Heathcliff and Isabella in an embrace. The situation devolves into a fight between Edgar and Heathcliff and Edgar later asks Catherine to choose between the two men. In a rage, Catherine locks herself in her room and Edgar warns Isabella not to be involved with Heathcliff.


Chapter 12 begins with the information that Catherine has been starving herself for 3 days. She is upset that Edgar hasn’t come to her begging for forgiveness. She is half-mad, claiming to see Wuthering Heights from her window and telling stories about her childhood. She says that even if she dies, she will not be at rest without Heathcliff. Edgar is shocked to find her in this state and send for a doctor. The doctor tells him about a rumor that Heathcliff and Isabella had eloped, and Edgar rushes to her room to find it empty. He tells Nelly that Isabella is now his sister in name only.


Chapter 13 takes place 2 months later. Edgar has been taking care of Catherine for 2 months, who is slowly recovering. She is also pregnant, important because a male heir would allow Edgar to maintain control of the property. Isabella has been living in Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff and understands her mistake, but receives no responses from letters she sends to her brother. 

In chapter 14, Edgar continues to ignore letters from his sister but allows Nelly to go visit her. Nelly is shocked at the state of both Wuthering Heights and Isabella. Heathcliff demands a secret meeting with Catherine and Nelly refuses till she is threatened by him. She agrees to take a letter to Catherine, hoping this would cheer her up. 

In Chapter 15, Nelly gives the letter to Catherine four days after her trip to Wuthering heights while Edgar is at church. Catherine is so sick she cannot read, but Heathcliff himself enters the room. Catherine accuses him and Edgar of breaking her heart and killing her but they embrace as he begs forgiveness. He says he can forgive her for what she did to him but he can’t forgive her for what she did to herself. She collapses in his arms as Edgar returns, and rather than fight, Heathcliff insists that Edgar take care of Catherine. 

Chapter 16 starts at midnight as Catherine gives birth two months prematurely to her daughter Cathy. Catherine herself dies a few hours later, Heathcliff is both upset and angry, cursing her spirit. Heathcliff later replaces a lock of Edgar’s hair in Catherine’s locket with his own. Nelly finds it, combines both men’s hair, and puts it in the locket. Hindley does not attend the funeral and Isabella isn’t invited. Catherine is buried overlooking the moors where she played as a child. 

In chapter 17 Isabella shows up at Thrushcross Grange soaking wet and injured. She tells Nelly that Hindley lost his nerve to attend the funeral and ended up drinking all day, eventually saying that he would kill Heathcliff. Isabella warns Heathcliff, who enters the house anyway and beats Hindley. The next morning the two men have another fight and Heathcliff throws a knife at Isabella hurting her. Isabella moves to London where she gives birth to a boy, Linton, and dies thirteen years later, never returning to the area. Hindley dies six months after Catherine and Nelly discover that Heathcliff owns the mortgage. Nelly and Edgar try to take Hareton, but Heathcliff warns them that he would take Linton if they did. 

Chapter 18 takes place thirteen years later. Cathy grows up sheltered, never being allowed off the grounds. But one day when her father is out of town, she accidentally ends up at Wuthering Heights, playing with Hareton. She has a good time till she finds out that he is not the son of the master and assumes that he is a servant. A servant tells her that he is actually her cousin and Cathy says that it can’t be possible because her father is in London getting her real cousin. Nelly begs Cathy not to tell Edgar about the incident, saying that she would be fired if he found out. 

In Chapter 19, Edgar comes back with Linton. He is delicate and easily moved to tears, but Edgar hopes that Cathy will be a good influence on him. Joseph arrives the next day demanding that they turn over Heathcliff’s son.

In Chapter 20, Nelly takes Linton to Wuthering Heights. Cathy is told that Linton had to leave to be with his father but not told how close he is. Linton is terrified of both Wuthering Heights and his father and begs to go with Nelly, but she leaves him there. 

Chapter 21 takes place three years later. While on a walk Cathy bumps into Heathcliff and upon realizing who she is, he invites her back to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff reveals to Nelly that he plans on getting the cousins married so that he could have possession of both properties. Cathy is pleasantly surprised to see Linton. Edgar explains things his way when she returns home, and though she believes him, she starts a secret love letter affair with Linton. Nelly discovers it and makes her stop, burning the letters, but not telling Edgar. 

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In Chapter 22 Edgar falls sick, Cathy worries about her father even though Nelly tells her that he will recover. She bumps into Heathcliff again one day and he tells her that Linton is close to death because she stopped writing letters to him and he was heartbroken. Though Cathy says she doesn’t believe him, she is consumed with guilt and decides to visit the next day. 

In Chapter 23 Cathy and Nelly visit Wuthering Heights and find a sickly Linton who guilt trips Cathy into feeling sorry for him. Nelly makes Cathy promise not to go back. Unfortunately, Nelly falls sick as well and Cathy takes care of both her father and her by day, but secretly visits Linton in the evenings. 

Chapter 24 takes place a few weeks later when Nelly has recovered and catches Cathy returning one night. On one visit, an argument broke out between Hareton, Cathy, and Linton which Linton blamed on Cathy. She vowed never to return but after he expressed his love for her, all was forgiven. Nelly tells Edgar, who forbids Cathy from visiting but says he will invite Linton over. 

In Chapter 25 Edgar’s health continues to worsen. He tells Cathy that as long as it makes her happy, he would not mind if Heathcliff’s plan is fulfilled and she marries Linton. He keeps corresponding with Linton who says that Heathcliff won’t let him come to the Grange. But eventually, all parties agree to meet in the middle on the moors. Nelly tells Lockwood that this happened just last winter. 

During chapter 26, Cathy and Nelly meet with Linton. They are shocked to see him so weak and understand that Heathcliff is intimidating the boy. They come home worried but decide not to tell Edgar anything till another visit. 

In Chapter 27 Edgar’s health worsens and Cathy is always by his side until her appointment with Linton. At the appointment, she and Nelly are tricked by Heathcliff into entering Wuthering Heights and are kept prisoner tell Cathy agrees to marry Linton. 

Chapter 28 takes place 5 days later. Nelly is finally let out of her room by Zillah. She finds out that Linton and Cathy are married, but she is kept locked in a room. She goes back to the Grange and sends men to get Cathy but they return without her. Cathy escapes with Linton’s help and arrives in time to meet her father before he dies. She lies to him, saying that she is happy in the marriage. A lawyer appears and dismisses all the servants except Nelly. 

In Chapter 29, Heathcliff arrives to take Cathy back to Wuthering Heights. He tells Nelly that she will stay to take care of the Grange and is not welcome at the Heights. He has a conversation with her about seeing the ghost of Catherine for the past 18 years. 

Chapter 30 is the last of Nelly’s narration. She has not seen Cathy since the previous events and only gets news of her through Zillah. Cathy had been forced to take care of Linton alone till he died and had a miserable existence in that house. Zillah and Hareton try to be nice to her but she responds rudely. Lockwood tells Nelly that he intends to leave in the morning. 

In Chapter 31 Lockwood goes to Wuthering heights with a note for Cathy. Though it’s intercepted by Hareton, her tears make him feel bad and he gives it to her. Lockwood has an awkward dinner while he tells Heathcliff he plans to leave. 

Chapter 32 takes place 6 months later. Lockwood goes to the Grange and is surprised to hear that Nelly is at the Heights. There, she catches him up on events. After Zilla left, Nelly was called to be Cathy’s companion. Heathcliff had withdrawn more and more and Cathy and Hareton were getting close. 

In Chapter 33 we find out that during an argument with Heathcliff, Hareton had taken Cathy’s side. The two of them reminded Heathcliff of Catherine so much that he was feeling ill at ease. 

The summary of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë ends with Chapter 34. Heathcliff had been behaving oddly and eating less and less. He seemed to be seeing Catherine’s ghost frequently. He spent an entire night in the moors and returned happy. That night he was found dead in his bed. He was buried next to Catherine, and Cathy and Hareton will be married soon. 

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