the meaning of ‘wuthering’ in ‘Wuthering Heights’

 

Top Withens

The remote, abandoned farm of Top Withens (or Top Withins) is often thought of as the inspiration for the Wuthering Heights farmhouse. — source and photograph: The Reader’s Guide to Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”

 

The obsolete Scottish and dialectal English verb whither is from an assumed Old Norse verb hviðra, related in the same language to the noun hviða, denoting a squall of wind. Also used as a noun, whither referred primarily to a violent movement. One of its northern-English forms was wuther. For example, in A Glossary of Words used in the Dialect of Mid-Yorkshire (1876), C. Clough Robinson wrote:

– Wither; or wuther: to hurl, with an impetus imparting a trembling or whizzing motion to the object thrown. […] A whistling, impetuous wind, which dashes against objects with momentary violence, is said to ‘wither and wuther.’
– Witherer: a person or any object of surpassing size.
– Wuthering, present participle, is also employed adjectivally, to denote any object of huge size, or a person who, in conjunction with a heavy appearance, has a violent manner of displaying activity.

And, in Northumberland Words: A Glossary of Words used in the County of Northumberland and on the Tyneside (1893-94), Oliver Heslop gave the following definitions:

– whither, whuther: a noise caused by a rushing movement; whither, whuther: to move rapidly with a fluttering sound.
– wither, wuther: to rush with violence.

The Brontë sisters, who were from Yorkshire, used the verb and noun wuther to refer to a blast of wind. In her novel Villette (1853), Charlotte (1816-55) wrote:

At waking, lo! all was again changed. The light of high day surrounded me; not, indeed, a warm, summer light, but the leaden gloom of raw and blustering autumn. I felt sure now that I was in the pensionnat—sure by the beating rain on the casement; sure by the “wuther” of wind amongst trees, denoting a garden outside; sure by the chill, the whiteness, the solitude, amidst which I lay.

At the very beginning of Wuthering Heights (1847), Emily (1818-48) explained:

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.

French translations of Wuthering Heights have included Haute-Plainte (High-Lament – 1927) by Jacques and Yolande De Lacretelle, Hurlemont (Roaringmount – 1963) by Sylvère Monod, and, the title under which the novel is best known, Les Hauts de Hurle-Vent (The Heights of Roaring-Wind – 1925) by Frédéric Delebecque.

Wuthering Heights (1978) is a song by the English musician and singer-songwriter Kate Bush (born 1958):

Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.

Bad dreams in the night.
They told me I was going to lose the fight,
Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering
Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Ooh, it gets dark! It gets lonely,
On the other side from you.
I pine a lot. I find the lot
Falls through without you.
I’m coming back, love.
Cruel Heathcliff, my one dream,
My only master.

Too long I roam in the night.
I’m coming back to his side, to put it right.
I’m coming home to wuthering, wuthering,
Wuthering Heights,

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Ooh! Let me have it.
Let me grab your soul away.
Ooh! Let me have it.
Let me grab your soul away.
You know it’s me Cathy!

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!

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