Literature Week is an event occurring this week on my blog. Everyday, I will read a book considered to be a "great" classic and review it.
For my second book, I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
The dark, wild gypsy orphan Heathcliff loved only one person on earth, beautiful, willful Cathy Earnsaw. But Cathy's brother Hindley--the cruel, drunken master of Wuthering Heights--hated an abused the orphan; their rich neighbors at Thrushcross Grange, Edgar Linton and Isabella Linton, reviled the the boy. They all conspired to force Heathcliff and Cathy apart, first as playmates, then as lovers, and at last to drive Heathcliff away.
Years passed. Heatcliff returned a rich man--and found Cathy had married Edgar. Like a sullen demon, the gypsy vowed to rule Wuthering Heights and the Grange, to plague his tormentors, to relentlessly hound and ruin the Earnsshaws, the Lintons, even their children--until he won back the woman he loved.
Which would never be.
Wuthering Heights is a gothic novel that has the distinction of actually living up to the extent of it's "literary merit." Skillfull, dark, and obsessive, this novel is both a classic and entertaining.
The main characters, Cathy and Heathcliff, are both vile, repulsive, and horrible. In short, there's nothing likable about them, or for that matter, about any of the other characters in the whole novel. Bronte has a talent for rendering characters that will rouse reader's disgust and horror--but the important thing is that it is a talent. Her characters are so well-developed and just so convincingly terrible that it it's a wonder to read the story that unfolds in Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff is the gypsy boy that Cathy's father takes under his wing--and designates as his favorite. Cathy and Heathcliff grow up together, wild and petulant, while Cathy's brother Hindley does his very best to torment Heathcliff. When Cathy's father dies, Hindley degrades Heathcliff to the status of a lowly servant, and Cathy becomes haughty enough that she hesitates to marry Heathcliff. When Heathcliff overhears her utter the sentiment that it would lower her to marry him, he storms off, and doesn't return for three years. During this time, Cathy marries her wealthy neighbor, while Heathcliff mysteriously turns into a gentleman of wealthy means. Upon his return, he vows to do anything to get Cathy back--and the ensuing events provide the fodder for a haunting tale that is filled with nothing but despair and unconsummated love.
What impresses me the most about this novel is the fact that this was written in 1847 by a 28 year old preacher's daughter who managed to make a novel--if viewed free of the clout of old-fashioned prose-- edgy, at least compared to the time period when this was published. Heck, compare it to something like Pride and Prejudice, which is tameness and propriety to the utmost degree. In contrast, Wuthering Heights is scandalous. This novel is the story of all-consuming passion. Obsession. Lust. Hatred. Cruelty. Revenge. Despair.
But most of all, emotion.
Nestled in between the lines of prose, the endless subordinate clauses, and Bronte's inexplicable fondness for ridiculous words such as "ejaculated", is a story of such resonance that I can honestly say I've never encountered the like before. Wuthering Heights is, without a doubt, the most vivid and intense book I've ever read. The love, the obsession, the hate, and the revenge will not fail to have an effect on the reader.
Bronte conveys the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy so effortlessly that readers will never question the cruelty that is the very essence of their love--readers may be disgusted by their actions, but the important thing is that the readers react to the characters. There's a huge difference between creating totally unlikeable characters that make a story unpleasant to read, and creating deeply flawed characters that make a story compelling and resounding. And in Wuthering Heights, Bronte succeeds in the captivating readers throughout the test of hundreds of years. I have such tremendous respect for Bronte--a novel full of such life, such passion, could not have been penned by anyone that was not fully alive and passionate herself.
Because of this, Bronte's novel transcends time and still has important literary significance. And just importantly, it's a amazing novel in it's own right, with believable characters, haunting description, and striking dialogue.
But as in all books, Wuthering Heights is not without it's flaws. Most of the problems I had were due to either personal ignorance or my own inability to understand parts of the novel--so I can't exactly blame Bronte, but I can do what I do best, which is complain. I found the dialogue of certain servants to be largely intelligible, which caused me to skip over those parts. I mean, does anyone in this room understand what this is supposed to mean?
"Aw woonder hagh yah can faishion tuh stand theor i' idleness un war."
I ask of you, is that gibberish or English? I'm not sure myself.
Also, I have to say that Wuthering Heights could have had a better story structure. The point of view is just so, so odd--the story is narrated by the family servant Nelly in a series of flashbacks. Which wouldn't be so bad, if Nelly didn't then converse with another character, who would relate their story, who would converse with another character, who would converse with another character, who would then [repeat, repeat repeat]...and, on top of that, the original narrator Mr. Lockwood occasionally broke in with his own incessant chatter. This makes for a very confusing novel. Half the time I had no idea who was narrating, so I'd flip back a few pages, flip back more, and the narration had shifted multiple times within those pages. Why, oh Ms. Bronte, could you just not use omniscient? Why?
But complaints aside, I'd say Wuthering Heights is a wonderful novel. I had a great time reading it--and I had an even more enjoyable time hating everyone in the novel, half-wishing they met whatever fate they deserved and half-wishing that everything would end happily. While I'm not exactly sure that it came to a "satisfying" conclusion, I won't deny that Wuthering Heights has made a lasting impression on me. This novel deserves all the praise it receives.
Ignoramus Teenage View:
I don't know if I got confused by the old-fashioned prose, or I wasn't paying attention, or what, but seriously, I would be reading...and BAM. Married. Reading, reading, reading...and BAM. Baby! I didn't even know the character was pregnant but...yeah.
And...it has to be done! Heathcliff is a 6 on the hawtness scale. I mean, he's not exactly described as attractive, especially in the beginning what with his sullenness, coarseness, and idiotic air. But when he comes back...well, that's when I really started rooting for him, especially since he loved Cathy enough that he tried to better himself. I liked him until he did something that made me hate him. And zOMG, he may or may not be more delicious than Heath and Cliff bars combined, depending on whether they have chocolate in them. Hehe.
Rating on the classics scale: 9/10. This is exactly what a classic "great" literature book should be, and honestly, I think everyone should read it.