Monday, August 17, 2015
'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte
2015 Reading Challenge, Week 33 - A Classic Romance.
I decided to return to the one which I've considered my favourite since my teenage years. This includes all the dramatic movies I've collected. The earliest old black and white, with Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, was a dreadful joke. I haven't seen the most recent, with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes, but will do some day.
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
It's an improbable set-up, when you think about it. Would Nelly Dean really take the time to tell Mr Lockwood, a relative stranger, all the deepest, darkest secrets of his landlord? Would she be so free with the histories of the two families she'd been loyal to all her life, to amuse a city slicker who just breezed through? And would he, in turn, decide to write them down? I'm not convinced, but it's definitely a good, dramatic way of gradually revealing flashbacks. And I really couldn't stand either Heathcliff or Cathy. They were savage, selfish brats who deserved each other. Yet I still wouldn't change my 5-star ranking, because this book taught me such a lot about fiction writing since I first read it as a teenager.
The setting, which was Emily Bronte's own environment, was perfect for the plot. The harsh, freezing Yorkshire moors matched the violence and excessive emotion of the story.
The plot itself had me analysing and daydreaming for a long time. It was so symmetrical and well planned, with each half of the book a mirror image of the other. I love how Bronte had the younger generation inadvertently beginning to re-enact the folly of their parents. And it was interesting how Heathcliff was the one who set these machinations in process, driven by his intense desire to avenge himself on the offspring of his dead enemies. Not a nice fellow.
I'm sure the second generation redeemed the story for me. The younger Catherine showed signs of being a pain in the neck like her mother, but didn't get so bad. And Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley's son, turned out to be more of a proper hero than Heathcliff, even though he was not the usual type we find. I was so interested in the budding romance between these two at the end that I didn't really care what happened to Heathcliff and Cathy.
After all the years since I first read it, I still find my thoughts wandering back to Wuthering Heights. I think part of the draw is to do with the author. Emily Bronte herself was so reclusive, wild and creative, it's easy to associate her with her story. I'm sure it will continue to intrigue readers for years to come.
This is me, walking up the steep, cobbled lane to the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth. I was 20 years old, and near freezing, although it was spring on the calendar. I was wearing so many layers of clothing I could hardly bend my arms, and still the chill penetrated. Whenever I stopped moving, my toes and fingers turned numb with cold. For Heathcliff and Catherine to run frolicking on the moors in their shirt sleeves, they must have had fantastic constitutions.