by Emily Bronte
Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005
(first published 1847)
Paperback, 338 pages
To be honest, I started reading this classic without expecting to like it much; I had heard that it was about horrible people treating each other badly, and I thought reading about miserable people would make me miserable by proxy. This was not the case at all. Sure, some of the characters are truly twisted and despicable, but oh the passion! And the betrayal and the heartbreak! And the tortured souls! I loved this book.
For those who haven’t read Wuthering Heights, the story goes something like this: As a young boy, dark-skinned Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw, where he is treated badly by his adoptive brother Hindley but becomes close friends with his new sister, the spoiled and selfish Catherine. The two grow up believing they are soulmates, but everything falls apart when Heathcliff overhears Cathy say that marrying him would degrade her. Heathcliff disappears and Catherine marries someone else — but she still loves Heathcliff! His eventual return causes crazy tension between himself, Cathy, and Cathy’s husband Edgar Linton. And then Cathy dies giving birth to her daughter (also named Catherine), and Heathcliff spends the rest of his miserable life trying to punish Edgar and Catherine for taking his Cathy away from him. It’s a bit melodramatic, but this book has a raw power to it.
Although I was horrified by Heathcliff and Cathy’s destructive relationship, and I don’t think Heathcliff’s abusive treatment of everyone around him is in any way justified by his heartbreak, his sorrow was quite moving. They didn’t have a healthy relationship — I’m not even sure whether they were really in love, or just obsessed — but the emotion with which they speak of each other is at the same time beautiful, powerful, and disturbing.
“What is not connected with her to me? and what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped in the flags! In every cloud, in every tree — filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day — I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces or men and women — my own features — mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!”
However, I have some criticisms of this book. Although using the housekeeper to tell Heathcliff and Cathy’s story to a lonely man visiting Yorkshire from London is an interesting style of narration, the way she told the story didn’t feel realistic. The way she exactly quoted whole conversations, including Joseph’s nearly unintelligible dialect, was a bit unreal. (Similarly, the way Joseph is quoted in letters doesn’t feel realistic; why would someone quote him in conversation or a letter as saying “Bud I can look for norther horse nur man of a neeght loike this — as black as t’ chimbley!” instead of the meaning behind the garbled words?) Although such detail is necessary for telling the story, such exactitude doesn’t very well fit my idea of the style of oral storytelling. While reading, I would often forget that I was hearing an oral account of the story because it read so much like a written narrative. This sometimes led to confusion when the book would switch from the story happening in the past to the story being told in the present.
— The next paragraph contains spoilers. (Does a 150-ish-year-old book even need a spoiler warning?) In any case, this criticism will only make sense to those who know the story —
Another problem I had with this book was the speedy resolution at the end. The way Catherine and Hareton’s attitudes change so rapidly just wasn’t believable. Catherine’s change felt semi-realistic; she had a good childhood with material comforts, education, and a father who loved her, so I can believe that she would realize she was being cruel to Hareton and change her behavior to help him. Hareton’s speedy reversal, however, didn’t feel realistic at all. He was raised for most of his life by a man who hated him and treated him horribly. I can’t believe that after so many years of nothing but ill treatment, he would so readily accept Catherine’s help and easily change from such an uncouth young man into one who is kind and gentle. Although I’m sure he was always a good person on the inside, the years of abuse he faced should have severely psychologically damaged him; I don’t think he could recover so fully in a matter of weeks or months. Perhaps this can be put down to the period in which Wuthering Heights was written, when psychology was less understood?
Overall, I really liked this book and foresee many re-readings of it in the future!
What are your thoughts on this classic?