Sunday, February 28, 2010
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte
Musings: My summary above hardly does justice to the self-absorbed and narcissistic leads of Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff. This is another book that I read in high school but have little memory of reading, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Reading Austen for some reason gave me a false impression of all 19th century literature, for while Austen's books are full of polite and chaste relationships, Wuthering Heights is anything but. Instead, it is a close look at psychological manipulation and cruelty.
Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship drives the story. They see themselves as one person in two bodies and are appalled and hurt by others' lack of acknowledgment of their otherworldly unity. Even once married to Edgar, Catherine cannot perceive why Edgar would disapprove of her close relationship to Heathcliff. Catherine describes her relationships with the men: "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever out souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire" (78). Early on, both Heathcliff and Catherine learn how to manipulate others' feelings for their own purposes. In fact, it's hard to know who to hate more. Catherine hurts (and, in my opinion, ultimately kills) herself solely to injure others, and she uses others' affections for her to cause them more pain. Heathcliff is more outwardly hateful, but he punishes generations of Earnshaws and Lintons for the perceived crimes of the parents.
Wuthering Heights is a story that ultimately ends with hope. For although Heathcliff manages to poison numerous people through his perverse pursuit of revenge, his poison is not permanent. Catherine and Heathcliff are consumed by sullenness, spite, and self-absorption, but the novel also shows how those weaknesses in others can be corrected through positive relationships and support. Nonetheless, Heathcliff is clearly the force that carries the novel, so it's difficult to believe a small ray of sunshine in his overwhelming madness.
Because the story is narrated by the families' longtime housekeeper Nelly, the pace is brisk and not bogged down by description. It's a classic book that I found just as compelling as modern novels.