11.09.2011

Currently Reading: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering HeightsWhat were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here?  My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself.  If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees.  My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.  Nelly, I am Heathcliff!  He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.  So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and—’

She paused, and hid her face in the folds of my gown; but I jerked it forcibly away.


Author: Emily Bronte

Synopsis: When Catherine Earnshaw’s father brings home an abandoned gypsy child, she doesn’t start off liking it. Before long, though, she and the boy—christened Heathcliff—become fast in a bond of crazed affection that dominates their lives, their separate marriages, the lives of everyone around them. Their passion will subdue everything but their own self-interests.

Alternate synopsis: A young pair fall madly in love, prove exceptionally selfish, and then go crazy and die.

Notes: After dragging my heels for years, and after numerous recommendations from George, I happened upon the right time and mood to read this book. It proved utterly perfect for a windy Halloween weekend. Heathcliff was the most terrifying human monster I’ve ever read in a book, perhaps excepting Achilles from Ender’s Shadow.

I’ve heard it said that the reader winds up not liking any of the characters in the story, but that must have been an exaggeration. A few weak moments aside, I wound up liking Edgar Linton rather well overall. His daughter and Hareton showed some decency in the end, too.

It never came clear to me whether I was meant to like Nelly Dean or not. For the most part she made good sense, but her harshness occasionally took me by surprise. But then, she grew up in a house with Hindley and Heathcliff around; who wouldn’t learn harshness?

Cathy Earnshaw mystified me a little. In Eclipse, Bella Swan calls her the real monster and the cause of all the trouble. I saw moments where such an accusation was perhaps justified, but for the most part she simply seemed like a common child who’d learned to dominate her authorities and was therefore used to getting her way. Not a good thing, but not entirely without redemptive possibilities, and certainly not entirely to blame for Heathcliff's sins.

Maybe I ought to read the book again once the main horror at Heathcliff wears off, so I can give her due consideration.

Actually, I probably won’t. I didn’t like it that much.

I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to, either. For a story so bent on portraying humanity working hard to become as awful as it could be, I found it tolerably readable. It dragged on a bit at the end, but I cared enough about the Cathys and Edgar and even Linton Heathcliff to stay engrossed throughout the bulk of the tale. Linton was despicable, but he was also suffering cruelly. And I’m just not confident enough of my own potential saintliness in similar circumstances to criticize.

As a matter of fact, Bronte’s strength in this novel lies at least partly in showing How They Got This Way. Even Heathcliff, who has segments of past that are ultimately mysterious and whose obsession with Cathy I found as heartless as everything else about him, has some early moments in which I really felt for him. Despite the darkness of his nature, his character was human and not caricature. Which is probably what made him so terrifying.

In Gothic ghost-story aspect, Emily Bronte reminded me perforce of her sister Charlotte. The air of the supernatural was as present in Wuthering Heights as in Jane Eyre. There are similarities between the two bitter and brooding leading men, as well. Rochester was only half monster, though, and had the fortune to love a good strong woman. Apparently these things make a difference.

Recommendation: If you want a spooky tale to read on a windy Halloween, you probably won’t find one more suited.

8 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I had first read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, with which I fell in love and I re-read and I now teach, and was encouraged to read Wuthering Heights afterward.

    Let's just say that--for me, at any rate--it was like going from eating a bowl of ice cream straightaway to sucking on a lemon. It left a very nasty taste in my mouth and I disliked all of the characters. I've tried to get some intellectual distance from it so as to learn to appreciate whatever point(s) it was trying to convey, but I cannot foresee myself ever liking this novel.

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  2. I can totally understand, Carrie-Ann. For myself, I think I expected to hate it so much that I was pleasantly surprised to find anyone to root for at all, any moment of hope or encouragement. And though I did like some things about it, I will probably never read it again, and it was most definitely no Jane Eyre. :)

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  3. Sorry to recommend such an unpleasant book, but it is one of those that even though it's dark & unpleasant & extremely difficult to get through (kind of like Twilight), it's one that a person probably should read at least once.

    Of course, next time I read Wuthering Heights it'll probably be the vampire version. :)

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  4. No need to apologize, George. I'm quite glad I read it once. :)

    There's a vampire version? Wow.

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  5. The one I bought the other day for $.99 is Heathcliff, Vampire of Wuthering Heights. There's also Wuthering Bites. There's also one with Heathcliff as a werewolf. :)

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  6. Hee hee! George's diss on Twilight made me laugh. So did the alternate synopsis! Spot on, Jenna.

    I had the same mischance as Carrie-Anne: I was young, with undeveloped tastes, and was fresh off the high of Jane Eyre when I first read Wuthering Heights. Very lemony, indeed.

    The second time I read it, I knew full well it was dark and hideous and was surprised to find at the end, the redemption offered by the second generation. Catherine and Heathcliff's children have their example laid out before them as a path to follow, and they choose not to take it. It's been at least ten years since I read it, so I can't remember the particulars, but I remember the strength of the sensation I had that the novel had ended with hope, that the second generation had deliberately decided against the way of their parents. Am I remembering it correctly? I was still young with underdeveloped tastes when I read it the second time.

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  7. ;)

    Yeah, Maria, I believe you are remembering it correctly. That second-generation hope was the big surprise for me as well. I don't know if their decision was a deliberate act against the way of their parents as a deliberate choice to act decently and charitably, but either way, the result was good.

    My sister had the same experience as you and Carrie-Ann, reading WH shortly after Jane Eyre. Honestly, I think Wuthering Heights ought to come with a disclaimer. Caution: Book includes poisonous natures. Side effects, especially in those whose literary intake includes Jane Eyre, may include crying, a feeling of depression, and a desire to throw the book across the room.

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