Monday, 29 October 2012

A Gothic event: Wuthering Heights

(cover from among those proposed by Wallace)
How can one person, who is doomed to die shortly after her 30th birthday, who has lived practically in solitude, who has never really wanted to go outside and deal with the rest of world - how does someone like Emily Brontë manage to write such a masterpiece as Wuthering Heights?  

Her one and only adult work that shows human nature in all its wilderness and dark moments still haunts literature afficionados everywhere...

Wuthering Heights is not an easy book to read.  If possible, I would recommend reading in a book club or, as I did, in a read-a-long, organised and hosted by Wallace.  It makes reading much more exciting (peer pressure included), and the comments by all the readers shed light to parts that may otherwise go unnoticed.

The story in Wuthering Heights is innovative for her time:  an immense passion that continues after death and haunts the main character, Heathcliff, to the point of driving him mad with revenge towards all those near him, reminding him of his Catherine.
But first things first:  the story is told by Mr. Lockwood, a tenant of Heathcliff's.  He seeks peace and quiet in the moors, and when visiting his landlord, he's quick to realise that the picture of the family he sees is far from ordinary.  Thus begins a conversation with trusted Nelly, the housekeeper, to shed light into an unbelievable story of love and hate.

In the beginning, we get to see a family with two spoiled children, Catherine and Hindley, who start playing around with their adopted brother, Heathcliff.  While their father may have sincerely wanted a better future for him, Heathcliff will never escape the scrutiny of his "proper" siblings - when opportunity arises, he will be mistreated and eventually thrown out of the house. 

His character is the most puzzling for me in the book.  While he begins as a good-natured boy, Heathcliff always seems to have a savage background that haunts him.  While he accepts being treated as a domestic, he makes sure that he'll eventually gain the power needed to get to an equal footing, and seek revenge afterwards.  This dark soul is only slightly redeemed towards the end of the book, and it is for this I wonder whether his passion for Catherine, that later turned into pure obsession, could have transformed him thus. Whether his feelings for her, who refused him on the grounds of not being good enough, made him lose his sanity, and start on this intricate journey to the dark side.  Did he mean to destroy the lives of Hindley, to a certain degree of Hareton (Hindley's son), Isabella (whom he marries) or their son Linton? Throughout the book, there are plenty of reasons to dismiss Heathcliff as a villain, a good-for-nothing character, who deserves what he gets.  But he knows all that himself. He is, in the end, welcoming his imminent death, because he's conscious of his actions.  Actions that derive from his unrequited love for Catherine - that simple... How can I dismiss this character, when he embodies the abyss of human soul?

Then, there are the female characters:  Isabella, Catherine and Cathy (Catherine's daughter): all are spoiled, and have to have their own way, even if it is to their detriment:  Catherine is a case of identity crisis - a rough girl in the beginning, she meets the Lintons and is suddenly transformed into a gentle lady in no time.  She can't escape, however, her primal background and is constantly torn between nature (i.e. Heathcliff) and nurture (Edgar Linton, whom she'll marry).  She is still the one character I haven't fully comprehended, for the simple reason that I can't justify such a lack of decision-making.  Isabella, who on the one hand is truly the romantic, regards Heathcliff as a tragic hero (but on the other hand, she also wants to show Catherine that she can get Heathcliff for herself...).  Isabella was definitely not my favourite, as she continues to believe in the tragic nature of Heathcliff even married and abused in Wuthering Heights (slightly silly romanticism for my taste).  And then Cathy, who is the picture of her mother Catherine, taking advantage of everyone around her, while at the same time succumbing to Heathcliff's abuse.  She marries Heathcliff's son, only to marry Hindley's son later on (presumably finding happiness at last).  Since I know where her genes come from, a character of lesser interest...

A separate note on my favourite character: Nelly, the housekeeper.  She epitomises the steady, constant force that is behind even the more spoiled of characters.  She remains in Wuthering Heights even after all the abuse has destroyed the place.  She is the one who can discern the true nature of all the villains and she's the one who will remain their friend until the end.  In the whirlwind of all emotions, I was glad there is Nelly to bring a note of calm and order to the world...

Did I enjoy the book?  Yes, indeed!  Especially when I know that Emily had the least interaction with situations of extreme emotions, I can only wonder that her imagination ran so wild in this book.  The descriptions of the moors, which are catalytic to the gothic feeling throughout, the highs and lows of human emotion that is responsible for an avalanche of tragic situations - Emily has the ability to place me directly to the centre of all this, so that I can experience first-hand the darkness that can overcome all good intentions.  And which leaves so many questions unanswered...
 

Also read for the Gothic event at the Classics Club, hosted by Delaisse

6 comments:

  1. Great review! Had you read it before? I find each time I read it I find more to love and wonder about!

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  2. I last read it some years ago, meaning I remembered the main storyline, but not much of the book... You're right, the focus each time is on different parts, which shows the great talent of the author!

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    1. It really does. I can't wait to re-read it. I just got a gorgeous 1960s copy that I'm in love with from the local Library sale this weekend.

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  3. Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

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  4. I read this for the first time a couple years ago, and I just didn't love it. I don't get it. Which means one thing - I will be re-reading it at some point! -Sarah

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    1. In general, I've found that my perception of books changes over time, so it's always a good idea to re-read them!

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