Chapter 17


Narrator: Nelly, largely recounting Isabella’s story. 

Isabella turns up at Thrushcross Grange. She speaks of life at Wuthering Heights, including how Heathcliff was locked out and broke in. Isabella runs away and there is mention of the birth of Linton. Six months later, Hindley dies in debt to Heathcliff, who therefore now owns Wuthering Heights. 


Isabella brings us up to date with events at Wuthering Heights and the progress of the characters who live there. She is much changed from when we first met her and speaks of a desire for revenge. Amid the blood and violence which Isabella describes, it is interesting how much mention of God and praying there is. The concepts of punishment, judgement and personal responsibility are strongly connected to religious beliefs for Emily Brontë, a clergyman’s daughter. Some early critics saw the detail of the violence as too graphic in chapters like this. 

That Friday made the last of our fine days: Brontë uses the weather to create the mood.

he groaned from this to his dying day, and wept tears of blood for Catherine!: Isabella alludes to Heathcliff’s distress using imagery that would remind readers of Jesus the night before his crucifixion:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

Pulling out the nerves with red hot pincers: a vivid image; Isabella uses the language of people who have lived at Wuthering Heights.

John WesleyPraying like a Methodist: the followers of John Wesley, who had established the Methodist evangelical movement about forty years before this, devoted much time to extemporary prayers.

God .. was curiously confounded with his own black father!: Isabella asserts that Heathcliff’s ‘God’ is in fact the devil.

Joseph affirms .. that the Lord has touched his heart, and he is saved ‘so as by fire.’: Joseph uses language associated with religious revival meetings, of sinners saved by suffering. In 1 Corinthians 3:15, the apostle Paul speaks of fire destroying bad things. However, Isabella is skeptical.

Stanchions: upright bars of a window.

Girned: snarled.

Preterhuman: beyond human.

Basilisk: a legendary creature, hatched by cockerel from a toad’s or serpent’s egg and having deadly breath and look. (A cockatrice is from a cock’s egg, hatched by a serpent.)

'One might suppose you had never opened a Bible ..’ … ‘An eye for an eye’: Isabella quotes the Old Testament law code that limited vengeance to the level of damage that had originally been inflicted (Exodus 21:24). However, Nelly reminds her that Jesus had overturned this teaching in the New Testament (Matthew 5:38–45):

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. … 43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Isabella has sunk to the same level of Heathcliff’s revenge code.

his mouth watered to tear you with his teeth; because he's only half man: not so much, and the rest fiend.: The bestial imagery associated with Heathcliff is intensified, yet again balanced by our awareness of his overwhelming grief (‘tears ..suffocating sighs’).

I'd go to hell with joy / rather .. perpetual dwelling in the infernal regions: both Hindley and Isabella believe the eternal torments of hell are preferable to living with Heathcliff.

He was too good to be thoroughly unhappy long: both Edgar and Heathcliff mourn Catherine, but Nelly offers the difference between them here.

Buried at the crossroads: According to Heathcliff, Hindley had drunk himself to death and was thus a suicide; these were regarded as criminals and buried in unconsecrated ground. Joseph casts doubt on Heathcliff’s account.

If one tree won’t grow as crooked as another: Heathcliff appears to want Hareton with him simply to destroy him, seeing this as a type of revenge on Hindley even after his death. Again, death is not seen as the end for Heathcliff.

Investigating Chapter 17

  • Make notes on Isabella’s description of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, especially in terms of the style and language used.
  • Compare Hareton’s hanging of the puppies with Heathcliff’s similar action in Chapter 12.
    • What does this similarity suggest?
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