A few weeks ago, Girl With Her Head in a Book asked me about participating in a Wuthering Heights book discussion, hosted by Kirsty, from The Literary Sisters. I readily agreed, even though Wuthering Heights would probably never make it onto my TBR list. And, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it much more than I ever thought I would.
Wuthering Heights is something that pretty much everybody reads in school at least once and, many times, loathe to the end of their days, or, in other cases, love and remember fondly to the end of their days. I was one of the former. I don't like being wrenched and feeling as though I am being emotionally manipulated every second of a book. I thought the characters were ridiculous and emotional to the point of unbelievability. But then I picked up this book and my perceptions started to change.
First of all, the narration of this book is fascinating. It's somebody telling a story about somebody telling a story about somebody else. So this is 3rd-hand news, in other words. It reminded me of those pictures you see of somebody taking a picture in a mirror and having it reflected in multiple little mirrors in the picture (did that make any sense? I have an image in my head). I was especially struck by the amount of error that could have occurred in the tellings and, indeed, Emily Bronte leads us to believe that all kinds of information is being shifted, nay, lied about. The narrators are Nelly Dean, who leads us and the other narrator, the foppish and pompous Mr. Lockwood to believe that she is a pious and righteous woman, never prone to any kind of mistake or problem. In her eyes, she is the warm and kindly housekeeper who can do no wrong. And yet, brilliantly, Emily shows us how wrong Nelly can be.
The narrators also interested me because both of them are so unlikeable. It's not a new phenomenon to have plenty of unlikeable characters in a book, but for the most part, the author writes the narrator as a sympathetic character with whom the reader is supposed to identify. But not Lockwood and Nelly Dean. The only reason they aren't as despicable as Heathcliff is because they haven't the imagination or the tortured personalities.
Actually, there's nobody to like in the whole book. Heathcliff is purely awful, his wife, Isabella, is spoiled and weak, Cathy is tempestuous and headstrong and decidedly selfish, exactly like her mother, Catherine, Hindley is despicable, a gambler, and slightly insane, the servants are pretty bad, too...Hareton is the closest any of the characters come to being likable.
And then there's the chain of characters that confused me until about halfway through the book. The inbreeding is ridiculous. Luckily, in the front of my flimsy little edition was a family tree with notes about who married whom. Thank goodness for that, because I would have been lost without it. Here's the family tree, which is very similar to the one that was in my book, linked from this very interesting website.
This time around, I was impressed by how actually reserved this book is. The writing is surprisingly unflowery and dramatic. Sure, the plot line is pretty intense (like Cathy being locked into Heathcliff's house until she agrees to marry his wormy little son, Linton), but the writing in and of itself is very withdrawn and calm.
I would love to know what experiences Emily drew from when writing this tortured novel. The type of secluded life she lived was not exactly conducive to lots of adventure and experience with people. Was it purely imagination? Inspiration from other books of the time? There is an innocence in the way she writes about such characters as Heathcliff. They are simply bad people, but not bad in complicated ways or for complicated reasons. And how was Isabella really dashing around the moors, supposedly pregnant by that time with Linton? Emily doesn't appear to have wondered. The innocence, yet the incredible understanding of human nature fascinated me in this book and that, in and of itself, was enough of a reason to read this book.
For instance, Catherine and Heathcliff's intense longing and love, mixed with loathing was written so believably. This is the quote that so many people bring up when talking about Wuthering Heights, but I think that it really does perfectly depict Catherine and Heathcliff's intense, tortured relationship.
“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What 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.”
The story was really gripping. Each morning, I'd plow through a couple of chapters over breakfast and then in the evenings I'd tell everybody to stop talking to me so I could read Wuthering Heights. I was drawn in and spent more time than I thought I would thinking about the characters and wondering what was going to happen next.
Would I recommend reading this book? Oh, yes! I recommend keeping a large-ish slip of paper in your book as a bookmark. I then wrote notes and thoughts on it as I was reading the book. I think a lot of observations and general notes about the characters would have been forgotten if I hadn't been writing them down. So I think that, if you were like me, one of the people that scoffed at Wuthering Heights, turn to this book again and give it a second chance. I think you won't regret it. I'm certainly glad that I cracked open the pages of Wuthering Heights again.
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