Late November 1801 and Lockwood, the tenant of Thrushcross Grange, visits his landlord, Mr Heathcliff, at his remote farmhouse on the moors - Wuthering Heights. The place and its inhabitants arouse his curiosity. Attacked by the dogs and made to feel anything but welcome by the curious array of inhabitants (he can't fathom their relationships with each other - but this doesn't stop him trying) he determines to visit again. Even the weather conspires against him, forcing him to stay the night (much to Heathcliff's chagrin). Now the action really starts...
He passes the night in an oak chamber, seeing the name Catherine Earnshaw - Catherine Heathcliff - Catherine Linton scratched on it and reading diary entries written in the margins of books which tell something of the history of this Catherine. Disorientated by his day's experiences he dreams that he is denounced from the pulpit of a local chapel and attacked by the congregation. Later still he comes face to face with the child-ghost of Catherine Linton, who has been walking the moors for 20 years. In terror he rubs the child's hand against the broken glass and calls out - only to be rescued by Heathcliff, who seems to have been expecting 'Catherine'. Lockwood escapes downstairs and is eventually accompanied back to Thrushcross Grange by Heathcliff.
Back at the Grange Lockwood persuades the housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell him something of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. The story moves back to 1771 when Mr Earnshaw (Catherine's father) returned from a trip with a foundling child - Heathcliff. He grows close to Catherine but alienates her brother Hindley, who feels usurped in his father's affections. Time passes, Mr Earnshaw dies and Hindley takes charge of the house. He is exceptionally loving to his wife and exceptionally hateful to Heathcliff and Catherine. Nelly tells of the day they rebel and escape across the moors to Thrushcross Grange, where an injured ankle detains Catherine but Heathcliff is refused admittance.
Catherine returns home transformed with new friends (the Lintons) and so Heathcliff is sidelined despite his best efforts to fit in. A child is born to Hindley and Frances - Hareton - but Hindley's decline into drinking, gambling and violence starts soon after his wife's death. Heathcliff becomes increasingly jealous of the time Catherine spends with Edgar Linton. She rules the hearts of both men and confides her true feelings to Nelly, overheard by Heathcliff who flees the Heights. Catherine marries Edgar and is accompanied to the Grange by Nelly, leaving five year old Hareton to the mercies of his father.
There is a break in the story. Heathcliff visits Lockwood and Nelly resumes the story.
Edgar does his best to raise Catherine's spirits. Heathcliff reappears three years after his flight transformed, apparently civilised and rich. Edgar struggles to welcome his wife's favourite but Isabella is besotted. Heathcliff has no feelings for her (but her money is attractive and she provides a convenient method of revenge against Edgar). Catherine reveals a deep understanding of Heathcliff's capabilities.
Heathcliff is to return to the Heights. Nelly, aware that Hindley is in some danger, visits and is stunned by the transformation of Hareton into brutish oaf under Heathcliff's influence (revenge against Hindley).
Heathcliff's presence continues to cause disharmony at the Grange. Catherine locks herself away, refuses to eat and falls into a delirium. Isabella elopes with Heathcliff, returning two months later. Catherine is nursed by her husband but continues to decline. Isabella writes to Nelly. It seems she has learnt the truth about Heathcliff's nature. Edgar will not intervene so Nelly is left to give a piece of her mind to Heathcliff.
Heathcliff visits Catherine and they part violently and passionately. Catherine dies the following day after giving birth to Cathy. Heathcliff reacts violently and places lock of hair into Catherine's locket when he visits her in her coffin. She is buried in a corner of the kirkyard where her grave becomes overgrown by the moorland vegetation.
Isabella escapes from the Heights with tales of Heathcliff's reaction to Catherine's death and violence towards herself and Hindley. She leaves the area and give birth to a son - Linton. Six months after his sister, Hindley dies, leaving Heathcliff in charge of Wuthering Heights and Hareton whom he continues to corrupt.
Cathy grows up within the confines of the park of Thrushcross Grange and with no knowledge of Wuthering Heights. She develops a desire to travel outside her immediate surroundings. Isabella sends for Edgar to settle her affairs as she is dying. Cathy meets Hareton at Penistone Crags and ends up at the Heights where she discovers that he is her cousin. Linton returns to the Grange with Edgar but is shortly removed to the Heights by Heathcliff, where it is obvious how he will use him to gain revenge.
Nelly and Cathy are taken to visit Linton at Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff explains (in some fashion) the hatred between himself and Edgar. (Edgar does so later). Cathy starts a secret correspondence with Linton (though it appears Heathcliff is writing the letters). Both father and son use Linton's illness to blackmail affection from Cathy. She visits Linton in secret during Nelly's illness. Meanwhile Hareton is beginning to realise his rightful place at the Heights.
Edgar is dying and is too ill to keep his vigil at Catherine's grave. Cathy continues to meet Linton and is lured to the Heights where she and Nelly are imprisoned. Cathy agrees to marry Linton if she can return to the Grange to comfort her dying father. Nelly is allowed back but Cathy escapes just in time. Edgar realises the danger Cathy is in but fails to change his will (Heathcliff has bribed the lawyer). Heathcliff is now in possession of both houses and his revenge seems complete. He explains his feelings for Catherine to Nelly and reveals that he has twice tampered with Catherine's grave. Linton dies. Hareton tries to please Cathy and the story is brought up to date.
Lockwood quits the Grange. There are some indications that Heathcliff's revenge is about to turn sour.
Later in the year Lockwood returns to the area to find that Nelly is now at the Heights. Much has changed; Cathy and Hareton are in love; Nelly is singing. Heathcliff died three months earlier in the oak pannelled room, claiming to see Catherine and having refused food and locked himself in. he is buried next to Catherine, although there are reports that he and a woman have been sighted on the moors.
Hareton and Cathy plan to marry on New Year's day and will live at the grange, thus uniting the two families.
Lockwood visits the graves of Catherine, Heathcliff and Edgar.