Literature Week: Wuthering Heights

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.

Book Description:


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.

My Opinion:

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.


Justine said...

Hahahah, your review is the best. I love the sophisticated language, that's what sold me ;) I've yet to read this book actually. My cousin recommended it and so...I'm going to do it. Soon, I hope.
Thanks so much for your review! It's the only one I read about Wuthering Heights...

Katie said...

Thanks for this review! I'm really reluctant to read the so-called classics but I might have to give this one a try.

Natalie said...

This is definitely one of my favorite classics. Like most classics, it can take a little work to get through, but it is worth the effort. The book is great!

Vee said...

I think it Emily Bronte was a writer today she'd just be amazing. If you get rid of all the annoying classic stuff (the POV and the language, for instance) and let the passion and emotion of her writing and the well-crafted characters come through (I hate them, but I love them, but I hate them, lol) this book would be just incredible :)

Agree with your review, book twin. This is one of the best classics.

Unknown said...

I read this over the summer. I found the opening really confusing but I stuck with it. It is such a dark story that I found it difficult to enjoy yet I was also compelled by it. Amazing review.

Raven M said...

I am so glad you liked Wuthering Heights!

I loved this book when I read it last summer. The emotion in the story is so powerful and Cathy and Heathcliff's love is so strong and complicated. Such a beautiful book!

Amna said...

I really need to read this XD

Monica Corwin said...

Nice review. This is one of my all time fav classics.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Outstanding review! I may have to read this now. :-)

pepsivanilla said...

Haha, yeah, major things in this book happened pretty fast. It's not just you! Thanks for the review :)

Amy said...

I could NOT get through this book. 1 page and i put it down. I love your review though-just goes o show that some ppl are more patient than others ;-D

Angie said...

I'll have to re-read this. It's been so long, I've forgotten the story. And may I say that I can't believe how fast you read? It would take me at least a month to get through something like WH. :)

Jessica said...

Mmm... You have me craving a Heath bar! lol

Excellent review! A book a day? That's very ambitious. I've been reading classics lately, too. I don't read a book a day though. :(

Katy said...

I've never read this classic. Perhaps it should go on my list of classics that I'm planning to read next year.

yuan said...

=DDDDD I'm SO GLAD YOU LIKE IT!! I absolutely adore Wuthering Heights, it's my favourite of the Bronte sisters novels. And your review is so spot on. =D Especially with the whole awfulness of the characters. Yes, they're awful, but they're fascinating and I can't get enough. =D

I actually did like the narration though. I have a weakness for stories-within-a-story and the layers in which it's told and the parallel/contrast with the first and second half. So yeah, the switching of perspectives didn't feel too jarring. ^^;;

The dialogue is rather strange to read, but after a couple rereads of this book (and believe me I reread this novel quite a few times) I find that the dialect stuff is much easier to understand if you say them aloud.

Anyhowwwww so glad you liked the novel, lol.

Unknown said...

Great review! This is one of my long time favorites and will continue to be. I love that my 8th graders are starting to go back to the classics too. I think that they often get overlooked because of the prose and dialect. But I am glad that you are highlighting them!!


Heather Thomas - advocate for change said...

I am currently working on this one. It's a reread for me and I can't seem to get into it. I'll keep plugging away though.

Rebecca Christiansen said...

I hated this book :( I read Jane Eyre, Emily Bronte's sister's novel, first, and enjoyed it way more. I also read Wuthering Heights just after reading all six of Jane Austen's novels, and loved those. Next to all those books, Wuthering Heights just paled in comparison for me. Hated the characters.

Post a Comment