Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Society's rules mean nothing in the face of love

As a child, Catherine Earnshaw, wild daughter of an ancient family, runs across the dangerous deserted beautiful moors with her companion, the foundling gypsy Heathcliff. The two get into mischief, but also into something else - a bond which cannot be broken even by death. Catherine’s brother dislikes the upstart Heathcliff and, once his protector dies, treats him despicably. After Heathcliff disappears, Catherine marries Edgar, the effete young gentleman from the adjoining estate. When highly sensitive Catherine is at death’s door, Heathcliff returns to exact a terrible vengeance on anyone (as well as their heirs) who ever humiliated him. Christian morality, however, is restored at the end of the book. For the most part.

 Weird, weird, weird. I hated this book as a teenager partly because I couldn’t figure out the dialect and partly because Heathcliff and Catherine are so – awful. This time, I deeply admired the noncomformity of it. The opening scene is the upside down madhouse of Wuthering Heights as seen through the narrative eye of the ninny tenant Lockwood. Most of the rest of the story is Lockwood relating the words of Nelly Dean, the shrewd housekeeper who happens to be present at most plot events, or Lockwood relating the words of Nelly Dean relating the words of someone else, (usually a young woman Heathcliff has abused.) The relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff stands outside Christianity and any kind of Victorian morals. Nobody in the book claims to understand it. I’m not even sure you can call it love – it’s almost like Heathcliff and Cathy are the same person.

The book is well plotted. Or at least not as ill plotted as Jane Eyre. For the most part, the characters’s motivations are sound. The story is broken up by pretty descriptions of nature and the moor. We see the ghost at the beginning, and never again thereafter, only guessing at her presence by Heathcliff’s actions. He truly is haunted. I found a lot of the story pretty spooky, especially the bit where young Catherine is abandoned to tend her dying husband with no assistance whatsoever. Heathcliff and Catherine's eternal love is not constrained by society.

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