Early reviews (1847–1848)
Early reviews of Wuthering Heights were mixed in their assessment. Whilst most critics at the time recognised the power and imagination of the novel, they were also baffled by the storyline and found the characters extremely forward and uninhibited for Victorian times.[note 1] Published in 1847, at a time when the background of the author was deemed to have an important impact on the story itself, many critics were also intrigued by the authorship of the novels.[note 2] Henry Chorley of the Athenæum said that it was a "disagreeable story" and that the "Bells" (Brontës) "seem to affect painful and exceptional subjects".
The Atlas review called it a "strange, inartistic story," but commented that every chapter seems to contain a "sort of rugged power." Atlas summarized the novel by writing: "We know nothing in the whole range of our fictitious literature which presents such shocking pictures of the worst forms of humanity. There is not in the entire dramatis persona, a single character which is not utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible ... Even the female characters excite something of loathing and much of contempt. Beautiful and loveable in their childhood, they all, to use a vulgar expression, "turn out badly"."
Graham's Lady Magazine wrote "How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors."
The American Whig Review wrote "Respecting a book so original as this, and written with so much power of imagination, it is natural that there should be many opinions. Indeed, its power is so predominant that it is not easy after a hasty reading to analyze one's impressions so as to speak of its merits and demerits with confidence. We have been taken and carried through a new region, a melancholy waste, with here and there patches of beauty; have been brought in contact with fierce passions, with extremes of love and hate, and with sorrow that none but those who have suffered can understand. This has not been accomplished with ease, but with an ill-mannered contempt for the decencies of language, and in a style which might resemble that of a Yorkshire farmer who should have endeavored to eradicate his provincialism by taking lessons of a London footman. We have had many sad bruises and tumbles in our journey, yet it was interesting, and at length we are safely arrived at a happy conclusion."
Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper wrote "Wuthering Heights is a strange sort of book,—baffling all regular criticism; yet, it is impossible to begin and not finish it; and quite as impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about. In Wuthering Heights the reader is shocked, disgusted, almost sickened by details of cruelty, inhumanity, and the most diabolical hate and vengeance, and anon come passages of powerful testimony to the supreme power of love – even over demons in the human form. The women in the book are of a strange fiendish-angelic nature, tantalising, and terrible, and the men are indescribable out of the book itself. Yet, towards the close of the story occurs the following pretty, soft picture, which comes like the rainbow after a storm....We strongly recommend all our readers who love novelty to get this story, for we can promise them that they never have read anything like it before. It is very puzzling and very interesting, and if we had space we would willingly devote a little more time to the analysis of this remarkable story, but we must leave it to our readers to decide what sort of book it is."
New Monthly Magazine wrote "Wuthering Heights, by Ellis Bell, is a terrific story, associated with an equally fearful and repulsive spot… Our novel reading experience does not enable us to refer to anything to be compared with the personages we are introduced to at this desolate spot – a perfect misanthropist's heaven."
Tait's Edinburgh Magazine wrote "This novel contains undoubtedly powerful writing, and yet it seems to be thrown away. Mr. Ellis Bell, before constructing the novel, should have known that forced marriages, under threats and in confinement are illegal, and parties instrumental thereto can be punished. And second, that wills made by young ladies' minors are invalid. The volumes are powerfully written records of wickedness and they have a moral – they show what Satan could do with the law of Entail."
Examiner wrote "This is a strange book. It is not without evidences of considerable power: but, as a whole, it is wild, confused, disjointed, and improbable; and the people who make up the drama, which is tragic enough in its consequences, are savages ruder than those who lived before the days of Homer."
Literary World wrote "In the whole story not a single trait of character is elicited which can command our admiration, not one of the fine feelings of our nature seems to have formed a part in the composition of its principal actors. In spite of the disgusting coursness of much of the dialogue, and the improbabilities of much of the plot, we are spellbound."
Britannia called it a "strangely original" book that depicts "humanity in this wild state." Although mostly hostile, it notes that the book is "illuminated by some gleams of sunshine towards the end which serve to cast a grateful light on the dreary path we have traveled."