The story starts in the cold winter of 1801 when the narrator named Lockwood decides to rent a manor with a poetic name Thrushcross Grange. The manor stands aside the major road in the middle of the moors and abandoned fields. The man who owns the manor, Heathcliff, lives nearby, in the mansion called Wuthering Heights. Lockwood decides to visit his landlord once and from there on the real story starts.
The inhabitants of the house include several people and Heathcliff himself, an old grumpy man who isn’t even pretending to be pleasant with the guest. He treats him with all due respect but without any warmth. Another thing that seems strange to Lockwood is that the owner of Wuthering Heights has all the manners of a gentleman, but looks like a Gypsy man and all his manor seems more a farmhouse than a home of an aristocrat. Along with Heathcliff there is a young lady named Catherine. She is beautiful and intelligent, but she seems rough, full of despise to life and generally troubled. The third member of this strange family is a young man, a bit older than Catherine, named Hareton Earnshaw. He doesn’t look like Heathcliff at all, so it’s not his son, but he is definitely treated not as a servant.
A snowstorm makes Lockwood stay for a night. Intrigued with the owner and the whole family, he wanders around the house and finds a strange handwritten book with the sketchy descriptions of events that happened in Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. After returning home, Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly, to tell him the full story of these two manors. Flattened by his keen interest, Nelly starts from the time when Heathcliff’s father (or, better to say, stepfather) was alive.
Thirty years ago, Mr. Earnshaw, who lived in Wuthering Heights and owned the manor, took a trip to Liverpool. He returned from there with a little orphan child who seemed to be Gypsy by origin. Mr. Earnshaw named him Heathcliff and raised him as his own son along with his other two children, Catherine and Hindley. Hindley and Heathcliff didn’t get along well, Hindley was more reserved, while the orphan didn’t have any manners, was rough, straight and quick to anger. But Catherine was much more open-minded to him and soon she and Heathcliff became friends. They played adventurous games on the moors much to her brother’s displeasure and had a happy childhood.
The time passed, all the children grew up, their father became older and, eventually, Mr. Earnshaw died. Hindley returned from college in which he studied at the time, he and his wife Frances claimed the Wuthering Heights, because he was the oldest son and a heir. Now Hindley had all the power to have his revenge on his stepbrother. He treated Heathcliff like a servant disregarding Catherine’s pleas to show kindness to him.
Catherine became the only source of support for Heathcliff and their friendship soon grew into romantic feelings. Once they went to the neighbors to look and secretly laugh at the children of Lintons - the family who lived in Thrushcross Grange - Edgar and Isabella. The younger Lintons seemed too pampered and comically tender to Heathcliff and Catherine. But when Catherine injured her leg during play, Lintons treated her very warm, offering to stay at Thrushcross Grange until she healed. Then Catherine befriended Edgar too, not knowing that he treated Heathcliff as inferior with all the aristocratic vanity.
Soon Frances, Hindley’s wife, died after giving birth to her only child, Hareton. Embittered by her death, Hindley started to treat Heathcliff even worse and now Catherine wasn’t always with him to comfort the young man. Edgar amused her much more.
At first, Catherine tried to divide her feelings between Edgar and Heathcliff, but soon she found herself more attracted to the eloquent and refined aristocrat. It ended with Heathcliff hearing her talk to Nelly. Catherine said that despite her desperate love to Heathcliff she is a daughter of a high-class gentleman and couldn’t marry a Gypsy orphan. This was the offense Heathcliff couldn’t forgive. Later, Catherine engaged with Edgar and Heathcliff just disappeared for three long years.
Catherine lived the quiet life of a country landlady. She seemed contempt with it and never asked about Heathcliff, but her relationship with her husband soon became quite strained. Edgar saw her as too wild and sensitive and she treated him as cold and shallow, giving much more attention to the proper looks than to real feelings.
To her endless surprise, Heathcliff returned to the Thrushcross Grange dressed and speaking like a highly educated gentleman. Edgar, despite his displeasure, had no choice than to behave the same way. So he invited Heathcliff to his house. But his sister, Isabella Linton, was charmed by the polite and exotic stranger who barely looked like the orphan boy they used to mock. Edgar tried to warn her but Isabella was deeply in love - and Heathcliff quickly invented a plan to use her against Edgar and have his revenge.
Meanwhile, Hindley, devastated by his wife’s death, fell lower and lower. He became addicted to alcohol and gambling, he often came home drunk beating his son and servants. Heathcliff, who had a decent sum of money after his absence, befriended Hindley on this basis. Heathcliff was much better in gambling so it ended the only way it could - Hindley had to mortgage Wuthering Heights to his stepbrother just to cover his game debts.
Now an owner of a manor, Heathcliff made a proposal to Isabella, which she accepted. But the married life appeared to be a nightmare. Heathcliff never loved any other woman other than Catherine, he abused Isabella treating her as a sister of his sworn enemy. Isabella, threatened into submission never objected until the day Heathcliff and Edgar had a big argument about herself. Then the poor woman started to think about her own plan of breaking free.
The said argument depressed Catherine, pregnant with her first child, so much that she fell ill and actually never recovered from it. Hearing that his love is on her deathbed, Heatcliff rushed to her to hear that she loved him all the time and she is sorry. But nothing could be undone and soon Catherine died, giving birth to her daughter, also named Catherine.
This was the last straw for Isabella. Also pregnant, she ran away to nowhere, settling somewhere near London with her newborn son Linton Heathcliff.
Hindley, robbed by Heathcliff, was tasting all the abuse he treated Heathcliff with years ago. His son Hareton was also a victim of this abuse. Though the kid wasn’t guilty, Heathcliff, obsessed by his revenge and drunk with power, couldn’t care less. Soon Hindley died and Hareton was left to his fate completely alone. He was the distorted reflection of Heathcliff himself in that age but there was no Catherine to comfort him and offer him her friendship.
For thirteen years Cathy, the daughter of now deceased Catherine, grew up in Thrushcross Grange. Nelly and her father did everything to protect her from the malicious owner of Wuthering Heights. But Cathy inherited the adventurous spirit of her mother. Despite Edgar denied her to do that she wandered the moors to finally meet Hareton. The mistreatment turned the boy into an uneducated grunt, but he was the only person of her age around, so Cathy was glad to have at least one friend to speak with.
Later, Heathcliff received a letter about his wife’s death. He felt no remorse but still accepted his son in his house. Linton had nothing in common with his father, he was fair-haired, fragile and refined like other Lintons. He differed from Hareton as day from night, but Heathcliff still hated them both.
Nevertheless, Catherine was excited to finally find someone not only of her age but of her intelligence level. She quickly befriended Linton and soon they naturally fell in love. The milkman helped them to secretly pass love letters to each other, but soon this secret was discovered by Heathcliff. He eerily saw Cathy as a kind of reincarnation of Catherine, or at least a dearest memory. It didn’t help that Cathy really was strikingly resemblant to her mother. So Heathcliff decided to marry Linton and her, so Cathy will inherit both of the manors. Not willing to wait until it happened the natural way, Heathcliff used his weak-willed son to lure Cathy to Wuthering Heights and force her to marry him. Cathy stays there, half-prisoner, half-servant, with her husband unable to stand against his father and defend her. Edgar, too sick to interfere, soon died because of grief and illness. Soon after Linton, who was always fragile, died too, leaving Cathy fully to Heathcliff’s mercy.
Disgusted with what he just heard Lockwood immediately sends a note to Heathcliff saying that he leaves the manor immediately. But nevertheless, in six months, he returns for some reason to meet Nelly again and hear the end of the story which came to a conclusion while he was away.
Cathy showed mercy to Hareton. She had to teach him the most basic things like reading. Heathcliff didn’t care about his revenge anymore. Gradually he slipped into madness, wandering the moors he used to play with Catherine and talking to her ghost, confessing to her and asking to be together with her. Soon his wish was fulfilled - Heathcliff died a painful death and found peace on the family cemetery finally reuniting with his beloved in death.
His death was a huge relief to everyone in Wuthering Heights. Cathy learned to laugh again and her temper was softened. Hareton learned impossibly quickly and he and Cathy engaged.
This last scene of this book has a strong feeling of hope and renewal. Hareton and Cathy inherit both of the houses and there is a chance for them to live a happy life and forget the dark shadow of family feud.