Literature In Lyrics: Wuthering Heights

by Amanda Flinner

In our Literature In Lyrics series, we look at how famous books have inspired songwriters and worked their way into song lyrics. Here, it's Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

If our Songfacts Categories are any indication, songwriters can find inspiration anywhere. TV shows, movies, news stories, dreams, sermons, cities, buildings, and bicycles have all gotten the creative juices flowing for many a musician. Not surprisingly, writers are often influenced by their fellow scribes, even from a different medium. In this case, we're talking about songwriters who found inspiration in classic novels. In the first installment of our Literature in Lyrics series, we explore Emily Bronte's gothic romance Wuthering Heights and related tunes from Kate Bush to John Lennon.
Like the girl in the novel in the wind on the moors
-"Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven)" by Marillion

Emily Bronte's classic 1847 novel follows the tragic romance of Heathcliff and Cathy, whose intense obsession with each other destroys both of their lives. The lovers meet as children when Heathcliff, a homeless child, is adopted by Cathy's father. They grow close exploring the wild English moors surrounding Wuthering Heights, but their relationship gets complicated after Cathy's father dies and Heathcliff gets demoted from son to servant. Meanwhile, Cathy is torn between her love for her penniless soulmate and her attraction to her wealthy neighbor, Edgar Linton – a "well-intentioned man."

Cath, she stands with a well-intentioned man
But she can't relax with his hands on the small of her back

-"Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie's "Cath..." was inspired by Cathy's decision to marry Edgar, ultimately choosing status over love. The polar opposite of Heathcliff, Edgar is a gentle man with a kind heart who loves Cathy despite her devotion to her volatile ex-lover, who skipped town upon news of their engagement. The 2008 song takes us to their wedding day, as the tormented bride marries her groom in front of skeptical onlookers, whose "whispers that it won't last roll up and down the pews."

When Heathcliff returns with newfound wealth and a vendetta against his former family, he shakes things up in the Linton household – including hooking up with Edgar's sister to get back at Cathy. Edgar finally bans him from the premises, which sends a pregnant Cathy into hysterics. She eventually dies, but not before Heathcliff begs her not to go – even if she remains as a ghost.

Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy
I've come home, I'm so cold
Let me in through your window

- "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush

Heathcliff insists he's haunted by Cathy's ghost at Wuthering Heights, where he rules with an iron fist after her death. On her seminal hit, "Wuthering Heights" (1978), Kate Bush recounts how the dead woman's spirit showed up outside of a bedroom window, begging to be let inside. In the novel, a boarder encounters the ghost, but in Bush's song, Cathy addresses Heathcliff directly.

Against her label's advice, the British singer-songwriter chose the ethereal track as her first single, reasoning that most people would be familiar with the story. With a celestial voice soaring effortlessly above the "wily, windy moors," the 19-year-old singer captivated the UK with her adaptation of the classic romance, and it peaked at #1.

"For me, Wuthering Heights is the ultimate love story," she told VH1. "You just cannot get beyond the passion that they cover there. You know, it's a love affair that goes beyond death - they will not be stopped by nature's boundaries."

But when you touch me like this
And you hold me like that
I just have to admit
That it's all coming back to me

- "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" by Celine Dion

The power ballad "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," made famous by Celine Dion in 1996, seems to be about two ex-lovers who rekindle their romance after a bad breakup. But it's a bad romance. Songwriter Jim Steinman was inspired by a scene when Heathcliff allegedly digs up Cathy's corpse and dances with her on the moonlit beach (this is a popular myth but actually doesn't happen in the book; he attempts to dig her up but only gazes into her coffin).

"I was trying to write a song about being enslaved and obsessed by love, not just enchanted and happy with it. It was about the dark side of love, about the ability to be resurrected by it," Steinman explained.

Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

By the end of the novel, Cathy, Heathcliff and Edgar are all dead, and Lockwood – the boarder who was visited by Cathy's ghost – passes by their graves. Contemplating the serenity of the moors, he wonders "how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

On their 1976 album Wind & Wuthering, Genesis took inspiration from the closing line for two instrumental tracks: "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers..." and "...Into That Quiet Earth."

Tony Banks, the band's keyboardist, told Louder Sound: "I was flicking through Wuthering Heights, saw the last two lines and thought 'unquiet slumbers' would work well with the softer part. 'In That Quiet Earth' sounds as if it will be a gentle piece, but ends as very attacking."

In our minds
We were Heathcliff and Cathy

- "You're The One" by Yoko Ono & John Lennon

Cathy and Heathcliff's toxic love affair proves the old adage that there's a thin line between love and hate, but some fans just see the love. In their duet "You're the One," John Lennon and Yoko Ono compare themselves to the star-crossed couple.

Many Beatles fans had trouble accepting Lennon's relationship with Yoko, which began in the mid-'60s as the group began to implode. At the time, the rest of the Fab Four resented her for showing up to their recording sessions and pulling their mate's attention away from the already-strained band. To make matters worse, the British press dubbed her "The Woman Who Broke Up the Beatles." But as Yoko later explained, her constant presence was due to her husband's Heathcliff-like obsession with her. Lennon insisted she never leave his side, from band rehearsals to bathroom visits - not to mention Bed-Ins. But, unlike Bronte's tempestuous couple, they were eventually able to find a happy medium. "You're the One," a testament to their mutual devotion, was released in 1984, four years after Lennon's murder.

Next in Literature In Lyrics: The Stand

December 12, 2019
More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • Bill from UsWow you really did some research here, I bet you had a lot more to say but regret having to keep it short for our short attention span Internet minds! In this case, I would love to read more. Great job.
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