8.29.2007

Bronte's Wuthering Heights

By the middle, when Cathy marries Linton, and Heathcliff is so distraught after hearing Cathy’s protestations to Nelly, that he leaves, presumably forever, I gave up any hopes of liking this book. Cathy and Heathcliff love each other, or so I am told, but the love is violent and earth shaking, and unexplained. Bronte suggests that they love each other because their very natures are spun from the same stuff, but it rings hollow to me. Their passion and fiery devotion make their bodies cardboard. I just don’t believe anyone could act this way all the time. Bronte could have helped herself in this venture if she had spent more time explaining the development of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship when they are children, but when they are out on the moors, falling in love, we are in the house, developing a foul case of cabin fever with the rest of the unfortunate Earnshaw clan. The essence of Cathy’s character is selfishness, and a selfish character can never truly love. She tells Nelly that she loves Heathcliff because she loves herself, but she never thinks to give Heathcliff anything he might need; Cathy comes first to Cathy.

By Cathy’s death, which she brings about herself, I am really struggling to stay with it, yet I do, because I want to know how Cathy and Heathcliff get together. I know there must be some sort of posthumous tryst. The final chapters are sad, with images of the desperate Heathcliff unearthing Cathy’s coffin and surrendering to his grief on the windswept moors. If she had loved him, she would have married him, or left with him, or done something more substantial than have a conversation with Nelly and marry Linton.

Yet, Bronte is successful in a few things: Heathcliff’s hatred is every bit as full-blooded and vengeful as it should be, and the novel’s imagery is vivid in its bleakness. Heathcliff’s anger and hate is reminiscent of Iago, which is predictable, but I am satisfied with Heathcliff’s rancor. It is justified. He is treated horribly, and every bit of stray goodness in his soul is spent on Cathy, so there is nothing left in his person to do anything other than seek revenge on those who made him suffer. I feel sorry for Heathcliff, and I want to see him happy, for no other reason than someone with such bad luck should get a break, but he is lost in his ire, and Cathy will not save him.

Wuthering Heights is clumsily written; the story within a story strategy could have worked if it had been used more sparingly. Nelly’s storytelling is clear, and we must believe true, but it is biased and gives far too much benefit to Nelly herself. Joseph’s brogue is annoying and impenetrable, but it adds dimension to the claustrophobic and dismal atmosphere of the book; Joseph is as unforgiving as the harsh elements, and as dark as the great looming house. His dialogue makes this clear.

I would recommend this book if you were looking for something truly dreary to do. If it was foggy out, the tea was hot, and you wanted to forget your own disappointments in someone else’s, this might be a good way to spend the afternoon. I recognize some talented elements in this story, but in the whole it was not to my liking.


3 comments:

  1. Loved your analysis of Wuthering Heights. I have not read it since college and may try to do so again, but as you say, it is such a downer. Looking forward to your next review. Great idea for a blog!

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  2. It's a matter of opinion, of course, but Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books. I love it so much, in fact, that I wrote a website on it (www.wuthering-heights.co.uk) which involved re-reading it about four times in a couple of months.

    Don't make a mistake of thinking of the love between Heathcliff and Catherine as a normal love. They grew up together as children so they are more like two twins who feel they are one and the same.

    The love story in the second part, between Cathy and Hareton, is a more conventional love and anything but dreary.

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  3. It is true that Cathy and Heathcliff's love is unique and terrifying in its way, but I do not think that it's mutual or heartfelt on Cathy's side. Becuase we do not get enough explanation of the early stages of their love, we do not get a good view of the foundation. It is not enough to say that they are like twins and that is why they love each other. If Cathy loves Heathcliff like she loves herself, she would want to preserve him and love him, just as she wants to preserve and love herself. Heathcliff loves Cathy, there is no doubt, but I don't think Cathy truly loves Heathcliff. She would have married him or, at the very least, not killed herself to punish him.

    You raise great points.

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