Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travel the World: England: Wuthering Heights

Bronte, Emily. 1847. Wuthering Heights.

In my effort to give books a second chance, I finished Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights over the weekend. My question was this, would I love it--or like it even--if I weren't being required to read it. If I could divorce my memories associated with the novel from English class. (Now, before I get jumped on in the comments, I'm not complaining about literature classes. I spent roughly six years studying literature.) But. I have to be honest. I'm still not that thrilled with Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff doesn't make my heart go pitter-pat. (I'd question my mental health if it did). Heathcliff and Catherine? More than a little annoying. I'd be hard-pressed to find a character that I feel sympathetic towards.

The story--in case you don't know--is about a hopeless love affair between two grouchy people. Perhaps grouchy isn't quite the word. Both are tempermental. Both are stubborn. Both are prone to melodrama. Both are selfish. One is more diabolically evil than the other. But neither one is likeable. Heathcliff and Catherine. The novel is about love and hate, revenge, bitterness, cruelty, heartache, greed, power, ambition, and above all manipulation.

I will grant the book this, I didn't fall asleep this go round. One thing that I think really and truly helped me out this time was Bella and Edward. Don't laugh. It was Eclipse where Bella oh-so-dramatically quoted on and on about Wuthering Heights and how the very fact that these two loved each other redeemed everything; it made two unsympathetic people be sympathetic. (The two wrongs make a right philosophy, I suppose.)

I can't believe you're reading Wuthering Heights again. Don't you know it by heart yet?

Not all of us have photographic memories, I said curtly.

Photographic memory or not, I don't understand why you like it. The characters are ghastly people who ruin each others' lives. I don't know how Heathcliff and Cathy ended up being ranked with couples like Romeo and Juliet or Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. it isn't a love story, it's a hate story.

You have some serious issues with the classics, I snapped.

Perhaps it's because I'm not impressed by antiquity. He smiled, evidently satisfied that he'd distracted me. Honestly though why do you read it over and over? His eyes were vivid with real interest now, trying --again-- to unravel the convoluted workings of my mind. He reached across the table to cradle my face in his hand. What is it that appeals to you?

His sincere curiosity disarmed me. I'm not sure, I said, scrambling for coherency while his gaze unintentionally scattered my thoughts I think it's something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart -- not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end...

His face was thoughtful as he considered my words. After a moment he smiled a teasing smile I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality.

I think that may be the point, I disagreed. Their love is their only redeeming quality.

p. 28
The way Catherine spoke about Heathcliff, about love, her tendency to be so melodramatic reminded me so much of Bella. (True, Edward is a better hero than Heathcliff in that he isn't evil incarnate.)

My mind also kept jumping back to Frankenstein and trying to find comparisons between the two. I'm not sure what that was about. Perhaps it was the framework of the story, perhaps it was the harshness of some of the environments, perhaps it was the hopelessness of it all. But while Frankenstein had a soul to it, Wuthering Heights, I felt lacked it.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Janssen 9:06 AM  

Frankly, that scene with Bella and Edward is, like you mentioned, a main motivation for me wanting to read it again. Someday!

Lezlie 9:39 AM  

I'm with you. I read this for the first time a couple of weeks ago and despised every person in the book. "Heathcliffe as hero", even a "dark hero" is a mystery to me. He's horrid.


Kacie 10:08 AM  

Interesting - you're right, it is odd that Heathcliffe and Catherine are ranked with other couples of classic romance. Their story is dark and disturbing. I think that darkness of it is what makes it a good novel - it is well-written and complex. However, I really don't know how you find it enjoyable until you're going through an angsty romantic stage!

Your comparison to Frankenstein in interesting. You're right, Frankenstein has soul, and the magic of the book is that the monster is ever so human, even feminine in his tenderness and emotion. With Heathcliffe and Catherine the humans are almost monsters, dark and evil.

Florinda 11:24 AM  

I can't stand this book for most of the reasons you mentioned, and I always feel validated when someone else doesn't like it either (and like you, I gave it a second chance - still didn't like it!).

Anonymous,  12:10 PM  

I'm not sure if I liked this book exactly, since I read it for a class on literary analysis and we tore it apart, repeatedly. But, I do remember thinking that it was sort of hilarious in all of it's melodrama and insanity. I'm actually sort of impressed that Emily Bronte was able to write a novel in which none of the characters are all that sympathetic.


Keira of LoveRomancePassion 1:39 PM  

Aha! You were brave then to reread this book. I read it in HS English lit and felt the same way you do (now). I couldn't bring myself to brave it again despite Meyer using it in Eclipse. I did like Meyer's take on WH and Bella comes off very Catherinesque at times (honestly she should have just kicked Jacob in the groin and called it good but that's another post another day). Still - it's not a novel I'd care to revisit not when there's so many other great books to read.

Zibilee 1:44 PM  

I didn't hate this book, but I definitely hated most of the characters in it. I too found the characters grouchy. I also thought both of them were extremely manipulative people. I read this because it was a classic, and I am trying to fill in that void, but I didn't like it. I have heard that most people either love or hate this book.

Jessica (The Bluestocking Society) 2:42 PM  

I very vigorously concur that this book lacked soul. I wasn't forced to read this in school; I read it on my own a few years ago. I pretty much loathed everyone in the darn thing. I couldn't get past everyone's selfishness to see the "love" story.

Anonymous,  2:59 PM  

I have finally found my literary equivalent--Catherine. Grouchy. Selfish. And all the rest.


Nymeth 5:02 PM  

(I'd question my mental health if it did). -->lol! I'd question mine too :P

I read this some ten years ago and I didn't like it at all. But I kind of want to re-read it. First because I know that now I'll be able to appreciate things I didn't before, like the writing. Secondly, because even though to be honest I suspect I still won't like it, at least it'll be an opinion I formed as an adult, and I'll be able to hold on to it firmly and stubbornly :P

Ali 7:14 PM  

Interesting comparisons! I read this so long ago that I honestly can't remember if I liked it or not and for years got it mixed up with Jane Eyre. (I know! But at least I've since reread Jane Eyre so I don't get them confused anymore!) Your review makes me want to read it again, so I can say definitively what I think, one way or the other.

Serena 7:54 PM  

Despite the fact that these characters are unlikeable, etc. I love this book.

Amy 9:23 PM  

Yup, don't like this one either...glad to see so many of my other favorite bloggers don't like it. ;)

Stephanie 6:43 AM  

I tried to read this a couple of years ago, and finally just put it away. I was under the misguided impression that Wuthering Heights was this great love story with beautiful people. Sheesh. They were either horrible, nuts or both!!

I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking that. I know I will pick it up again one day, mostly just to finally say I read it.

Sarah 1:37 PM  

I'm reading Wuthering Heights for English class right *was* reading it. I recently just strated "winging it." This book is so annoying in so many ways!

Sadako 2:30 PM  

It is pretty Bella esque, I suppose, but I think it works b/c Catherine herself is pretty screwed up...too screwed up for anyone but Heathcliff. I actually had to read it for school but read it for fun like the first week of that semester so I ended up really loving it.

Sandra 7:14 PM  

Goodness, I've never read it because I hate romantic novels-of any period. But I put it down to read it for the 18th and 19th century women's challenge and now I'm wondering if it's worth it. Until now I've only ever heard that it was everyone's favourite book and why haven't you read it yet? Your reader comments are interesting. I'll have to think about it-it's a veritable tome too.

Anonymous,  3:41 AM  

I think I pretty much loved this book.

Primarily for the writing, and the general atmosphere, and the spookiness in parts.

Also, I appreciate the fact that Catherine is not sugary-sweet. Most women in novels of that period sound extremely dated to me (example: Jane Eyre = simpering miss).

I also suppose that it is a cultural thing. Most Americans I know don't like Wuthering Heights.

But Britishers (and people from ex-British colonies) tend to love it.

Laura's Reviews 3:14 PM  

I reread this book in January for the same reason as you - the constant references in Eclipse! I also found that Heathcliff is definitley NOT the romantic heroe that he is made out to be in pop culture. Although the book has not too many likeable people in it, I still liked it. See my review below.

Becky 10:33 PM  

Wow, I just finished reading this book this week and I feel about it the same way you do. Here is my review of it:

So many people I have spoken to love Heathcliff. They have said that they feel sorry for him because of his horrible upbringing. Whilst I accept that he has had a horrible upbringing and had his heart broken, everything that he does removes all sympathy from him.

One of the most interesting things i found about the novel was that it made me think of the nature vs nurture debate - were Heathcliff, Catherine, Linton and Hareton all who they were because of their innate characters or because they were made that way because of their upbringing? Just something that it made me think of.

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