Thursday, 4 August 2011

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte (1847)

Synopsis: Mr Lockwood, a wealthy man from the south of England, has rented Thrushcross Grange in the bleak Yorkshire Moors for some peace and rest. He goes to visit his landlord, Heathcliff, soon after his
arrival. Heathcliff lives in a remote house on the Moors called Wuthering Heights. Lockwood finds Heathcliff and the inhabitants of the house to be very strange indeed. Heathcliff dresses like a gentleman but his manners and speech suggests otherwise. The mistress of the house is only in her late teens and is cold and rude. There's also a man who dresses, acts and talks like a servant and yet he's treated like a member of the family. Due to a blizzard, Lockwood is then forced to stay at the house overnight and discovers items from a woman called Catherine in his room. When he falls asleep, Lockwood has a nightmare in which he sees Catherine as a ghost trying to break through the window. He wakes up screaming and angers Heathcliff when he describes what he's been dreaming about. The next day he goes back to Thrushcross Grange and asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him more about the family of Wuthering Heights. Nelly tells Lockwood that Heathcliff was adopted by the kindly Mr Earnshaw when he was about seven years old. Earnshaw had been visiting Liverpool and had found Heathcliff homeless and living on the streets. Earnshaw took pity on this hungry, dirty, raggedly-dressed, gypsy-looking boy. He decided to bring Heathcliff back to Wuthering Heights and treat him like one of his own children. However, when Mr Earnshaw died, Heathcliff lost his only protector. He was then bullied and beaten by Earnshaw's son Hindley. He was mocked for being a gypsy and was treated like a servant. This filled Heathcliff with anger and hatred. Despite this Heathcliff became best friends with Earnshaw's daughter Cathy and developed a passionate love for her - but Cathy flirted with the wealthy and respectable Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange and planned to marry him instead. Devastated by Cathy's betrayal, Heathcliff plotted revenge. Nelly then tells Lockwood how this even affected the second generation of their families.

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights was one of the first few classic novels that I ever read and also the first Bronte novel I read. Wuthering Heights wasn't initially well-received by the Victorian public in 1847. It wasn't a huge seller and many critics condemned the book as being sordid, vulgar and tasteless. However in 1850 the book was reprinted and it came with a new introduction by Charlotte Bronte. The book began to attract a wider readership and now it's widely regarded as being one of the greatest novels of English Literature. That being said Wuthering Heights still continues to divide its readers. I've read modern reviews which complain about the book not having a point (I very much disagree) and reviews which complain about the book being dark and disturbing (I agree with that last part but for me the book is dark and disturbing in a good way).

It really makes me laugh that often people who have never read Wuthering Heights have this perception of it being some lovely, idyllic romance when nothing could be further from the truth. Cathy actually dies halfway through the book and even before then the book could hardly be described as a beautiful and uplifting love story. Wuthering Heights is essentially a story about how obsession and revenge can ruin lives. I don't think there's a single character in this book that I genuinely liked or cared about. Hindley is a cruel and spiteful drunk who makes Heathcliff's life a misery out of petty jealousy. Edgar Linton is boring and disowns his sister. Isabella Linton is a naive, foolish idiot for thinking that Heathcliff was genuinely in love with her. Joseph is a sanctimonious git who delivers incomprehensible Yorkshire slang. Cathy Jr is whiny and annoying and so is Linton. Nelly Dean is a nosy, gossipy cow. Cathy is a bitchy, moody, selfish, unkind, spoilt brat. And then there's Heathcliff... who I didn't hate. That's not to say that I actually liked Heathcliff mind you! He's clearly the villain of the piece and I would never, ever want to meet him! He's bitter, cruel, vindictive and violent and seems to love nothing and no-one apart from his beloved Cathy. And yet I still think that he's an absolutely brilliant character. He's extremely well-written and complex and twisted.

Whenever I read Wuthering Heights I always find myself feeling amazed at how Emily Bronte is able to make me so interested and captivated in her novel even though I dislike its characters. Wuthering Heights is one of the most gripping and fascinating books that I've ever come across. It has some very interesting things to say about love, desire, passion, revenge, obsession, jealousy and self-destruction. The book is also extremely vivid and gothic and powerful and haunting. It's bursting with passion and emotion and feeling. And yet another thing that I find so fascinating about the book is that Nelly Dean tells the story to Lockwood who in turn narrates the story to the reader. As a friend once pointed out to me, how much of the story actually happened and how much of it has been distorted and twisted by the unreliable narrators? *Okay, okay, I know that Wuthering Heights didn't actually happen at all because it's entirely fictitious but you know what I mean!* Have Nelly and Lockwood exaggerated and over-emphasised certain details? Have they gotten some things wrong? Have they made some things up? Lockwood seems like a clueless, bumbling numpty and even though Nelly is a more informed narrator than Lockwood she's clearly biased. She mistreated Heathcliff when he was a child and she seems to have far too much love and respect for the Linton family. 

I think everyone should read for Wuthering Heights. Not everyone will like it of course but it will never have you feeling bored, you won't forget it, and if you love this book you'll find yourself reading it again and again. Wuthering Heights isn't my favourite Bronte novel. I much prefer Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Those books are better-written, have genuinely likeable characters, and are much more uplifting and inspiring. I still consider Wuthering Heights to be a great book though because, as I say, I just find it so gripping and fascinating. It's such a deep loss that Emily Bronte died so tragically young. Who knows what she could have then gone on to write? I'm going to finish this review with Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights song which is just awesome!  : )

Rating: 4.5/5

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