Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: Who is Heathcliff?

Lesson rationale

This activity involves an exploration of the notoriously multifaceted character of Heathcliff, drawing on a range of sources that include the visual, literary and historical. Students will reflect on Emily Brontë’s depiction of Heathcliff before going on to explore possible connections with Byron’s poem The Corsair and with sources relating to the slave trade and Irish immigration into the port of Liverpool.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • How does Brontë depict Heathcliff? Which aspects of him repel us and which offer the possibility of sympathy?
  • Which aspects of Heathcliff are emphasised by Leighton and Freedman’s illustrations?
  • What connections can we make between Brontë’s depiction of Heathcliff and a range of literary and historical sources?
  • In what ways does an understanding of the Liverpool slave trade, and migration from Ireland to Liverpool, problematise the conventional reading of Heathcliff as villain?