Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wuthering Heighs - Emily Bronte

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights is one of those books that people seem to classify as a classic romance sometimes, but it's really not.  It could be a type of love story, and obsessive one, I suppose--but it's definitely not a romance, not in the modern sense of the word.

At its heart, Wuthering Heights is about revenge for something that's really quite petty.  Though it's told through two different first-person perspectives (a tenant of the house that neighbors Wuthering Heights, and the housekeeper who was intimately involved with the families the book concerns) it's ultimately not the story of either of those people, but rather of Catherine and Heathcliff.  Catherine was the daughter of the Earnshaw family, whose father found Heathcliff and raised him as a sort of foster-son.  Following the father's death, Catherine's brother, who never liked Heathcliff, exiles him to servant status in a sort of reverse Cinderella-type situation.  Meanwhile, Catherine befriends the Lintons, the family who own the house that the aforementioned tenant ends up letting.  She ends up marrying the son of the Linton family and Heathcliff, in a fit of pique because of the marriage and something he heard Catherine say, though he didn't hear the context, decides to ruin Catherine's happiness and the happiness of everyone connected to her.  Because, you know, that's how you show you love someone.

Heathcliff is a complete sociopath.  He hurts animals.  He kidnaps people.  He has no sense of shame or moral compass, and is really a despicable human being all around.  That Catherine was attracted to him isn't the strange part here.  That seems to fall into the realm of "she thinks she can fix him" tropes, which unfortunately are very common in real-life as well.  What's strange is that, ultimately, Bronte seems to have made Heathcliff so despicable that she didn't know what to do with him.  Something had to happen, clearly, for the story to come to an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but Heathcliff was really so terrible that nothing but the most melodramatic of deaths wouldn't really have been suitable for him.  And while melodramatic might have been Heathcliff and Catherine's style, it doesn't actually seem to have been Bronte's.  And so the end has a weird feeling, like Bronte didn't know how else to end it, and so she just...did.  The contrast of the dark, dramatic days at Wuthering Heights and the sudden sweetness and light at the end felt very odd in contrast to the dark and brooding mood that pervaded the rest of the book.

And that mood--that's definitely something that Bronte knew how to do well.  I've never been to anywhere that had moors, but the cold and dark atmosphere of Wuthering Heights the book certainly suited the dark happenings of Wuthering Heights the house.  The one thing that Bronte included that I absolutely could not stand was the servant Joseph.  Bronte gave him this horrible accent that's written phonetically in the book, and I consequently couldn't understand anything he said, even when I attempted to sound it out.  As a result of that, I found myself skipping pretty much everything he said.  It must not have contributed to the book overly much, because I understood everything that went on perfectly without it...which also made me question the usefulness of his inclusion as a character in the first place.  And really, the characters as a whole, other than Heathcliff himself, had absolutely no agency in this book.  Heathcliff was the only one who was ultimately pulling the strings and making things happen, and none of the other characters had any hand in the story's ultimate outcome.  It's one of those things that, as I was reading it, I didn't notice, but now in retrospect I can't help but notice it.  It's kind of like how in the first Indiana Jones movie, the outcome of the plot would have been exactly the same even if Jones had never gotten involved.  It's a story in which the hero's "fatal flaw," rather than any outside force, brings about his ultimate demise.

Overall, there's a wonderful mood here and I can see why it was so popular in its time, and it's a story of revenge that I think ultimately appealed to me more than the other great "revenge" classic, The Count of Monte Cristo.  But there are definite flaws with it--not surprising, really, because it was Bronte's first (and only) novel.  But I think it was still an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

4 stars out of 5.

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