Ill Will: The Untold Story of Heathcliff

Written by Michael Stewart
Review by Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir

What happened to Heathcliff after he left Wuthering Heights in Emily Brontë’s novel, only to return three years later, a well-dressed, educated and wealthy gentleman? Where did he go and how did he come by all his money? These questions are never answered in Wuthering Heights, but in this novel Michael Stewart attempts to fill in the gaps. We see Heathcliff travelling by foot all the way from Yorkshire to Liverpool and striking up an unlikely friendship with ten-year-old Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a hanged highwayman. Heathcliff’s goals are made clear from the start: to find out the truth about his origins while also seeking the means to revenge himself on Hindley, Linton and his beloved Catherine. Before achieving these goals, Heathcliff will commit some terrible deeds that shape him into the psychopath he later becomes.

In Stewart’s rendering, Heathcliff is an engaging albeit not very sympathetic character and his companion Emily is a fascinating creation, her name and hacking cough a clear nod to the author of the original Heathcliff. What Heathcliff discovers about his origins is a little predictable but makes sense; however, the implications of this discovery for his past and future life could be delved into further and considered more carefully by Heathcliff himself.

Stewart researched his novel thoroughly. This is vividly manifested in detailed and lovely descriptions of the places Heathcliff and Emily travel through in northern England. The many changes taking place in the late 18th century are clearly portrayed, with Heathcliff’s acute observations of the stark contrast between destitution and wealth in the industrial cities. Overall, the novel is a realistic depiction of northern England at a time of rapid change, and is a truly enjoyable read despite the many profanities uttered by both Heathcliff and his fair companion.