Copyright 2024
The Reader's Guide to Wuthering Heights


Catherine's love and the anti-hero of the story. The book essentially follows his story from first appearance at Wuthering Heights to his death there. He is badly treated by Hindley and his love for Catherine (which is more like a twin's than a lover's) becomes all-enveloping. But she prefers to marry Edgar for his position and breeding, and he vows vengeance on Hindley, Edgar and their children.

Note: there is no "E" at the end of "Heathcliff".

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff
Laurence Olivier from the 1939 film
Ian McShane as Heathcliff
Ian McShane from the 1967 drama
Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff
Timothy Dalton from the 1970 film
Ken Hutchison as Heathcliff
Ken Hutchison from the 1978 TV drama
Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff
Ralph Fiennes from the 1992 film
Robert Cavanah as Heathcliff
Robert Cavanah from the 1998 TV drama
Tom Hardy as Heathcliff
Tom Hardy
from the 2009  TV drama
James Howson as Heathcliff
James Howson from the 2011 film

Vital Data
Parents: unknown Siblings: unknown
Date of birth: about 1764 Place of birth: unknown. Was found living in Liverpool, starving and homeless
Married: Isabella Linton in February 1784 Children: Linton Heathcliff, born 1784
Date of death: April 1802 (aged about 37) Place of death: Wuthering Heights
Physical description: thick, low brows; black hair and whiskers; athletic
Notes: In the novel, he was named "Heathcliff" after a son of Mr Earnshaw who died in childhood. Emily may have created the name from "Thorncliff" in Rob Roy (see Inspirations).

Link to "FAQ: Where did Heathcliff go?" Link to "FAQ: Was Catherine and Heathcliff's love incentuous?" Link to "FAQ: Was Heathcliff black?" Link to "FAQ: When did Heathcliff embrace Catherine's body?" Link to "FAQ: Was Heathcliff Mr Earnshaw's son?"


(1771, aged about 7) … 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 … All that I could make out, amongst her scolding, was a tale of his seeing it starving, and houseless, and as good as dumb, in the streets of Liverpool, where he picked it up and inquired for its owner. Not a soul knew to whom it belonged, he said; and his money and time being both limited, he thought it better to take it home with him at once, than run into vain expenses there: because he was determined he would not leave it as he found it.

(1771, aged about 7) He seemed a sullen, patient child; hardened, perhaps, to ill-treatment: he would stand Hindley's blows without winking or shedding a tear, and my pinches moved him only to draw in a breath and open his eyes, as if he had hurt himself by accident, and nobody was to blame … He took to Heathcliff strangely, believing all he said (for that matter, he said precious little, and generally the truth) …

(Childhood) Cathy and her brother harassed me terribly [during their illness with the measles]: he was as uncomplaining as a lamb; though hardness, not gentleness, made him give little trouble.

(Childhood) I wondered often what my master saw to admire so much in the sullen boy; who never, to my recollection, repaid his indulgence by any sign of gratitude. He was not insolent to his benefactor, he was simply insensible; though knowing perfectly the hold he had on his heart, and conscious he had only to speak and all the house would be obliged to bend to his wishes.

(1777, aged about 13) You are younger [than Edgar], and yet, I'll be bound, you are taller and twice as broad across the shoulders; you could knock him down in a twinkling; don't you feel that you could?

(1777, aged about 13) Do you mark those two lines between your eyes; and those thick brows, that, instead of rising arched, sink in the middle; and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil's spies?

(1780, aged about 16) In the first place, he had by that time lost the benefit of his early education: continual hard work, begun soon and concluded late, had extinguished any curiosity he once possessed in pursuit of knowledge, and any love for books or learning. His childhood's sense of superiority, instilled into him by the favours of old Mr. Earnshaw, was faded away … Then personal appearance sympathised with mental deterioration: he acquired a slouching gait and ignoble look; his naturally reserved disposition was exaggerated into an almost idiotic excess of unsociable moroseness; and he took a grim pleasure, apparently, in exciting the aversion rather than the esteem of his few acquaintance.

(1783, aged about 19) A ray fell on his features; the cheeks were sallow, and half covered with black whiskers; the brows lowering, the eyes deep-set and singular. I remembered the eyes.

(1783, aged about 19) He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man; beside whom [Edgar] seemed quite slender and youth-like. His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr. Linton's; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of former degradation. A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified: quite divested of roughness, though stern for grace.

(1783, aged about 19) … [Edgar] had sense to comprehend Heathcliff's disposition: to know that, though his exterior was altered, his mind was unchangeable and unchanged.

(1801, aged about 37) He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose.