Wuthering Heights

Book online Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights



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Comment 1:

When my book club picked Wuthering Heights, I had the vaguest of notions of what it was about. A romance in the moors, I thought. I recalled a movie trailer from the past, people standing in the rain, staring at each other with smoldering eyes; people standing in the fog, staring at each other with smoldering eyes; people staring at each other, staring, staring, staring. Also a snippet of dialogue popped into my head, overwrought and purple, the twist of phrase that sends teenage lit nerds into paroxysms: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”My book club is composed of six guys. We started the book club because we were tired of our wives having all the fun and drinking all the wine at their own gatherings. After our second time cycling through the club, with each member picking a book, Adam’s wife pointed out that we’d yet to read a female author. Adam decided to remedy this by picking Wuthering Heights, which had struck some kind of chord with him in high school. Based on my recollections, as noted above, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. I believed in romance once, a long time and two kids ago, but it’s hard for me to get excited about notions of love resembling the eternal rocks. Lucky for me, this isn’t anything like a typical love story. Wuthering Heights is set in the bleak, chilly, forlorn Yorkshire moors. The story begins in needlessly-complicated fashion with the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, a man named Lockwood – who narrates in the first person – going to meet his landlord Heathcliff, who lives at Wuthering Heights. Lockwood is taken aback at the odd characters he meets at the Heights: the rude, taciturn Heathcliff; a young woman; and a strange young man who appears to be a servant. There is a snowstorm and Lockwood is forced to spend an uncomfortable, nightmare-ridden night at Wuthering Heights. When Lockwood returns to Thrushcross Grange, he asks his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, about the strange goings-on at the Heights. At this point, Nelly takes over the first-person narration to tell the bulk of the story. (In other words, this is a Conrad-esque nested narrative, where there are stories within stories within stories. Frankly, I find this literary technique irritating and confusing. Just use the third-person! It’s much more believable!) Nelly’s sprawling tale begins as a love affair between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. It was Catherine’s father who came upon the homeless Heathcliff while on a trip to Liverpool. He brought Heathcliff back to Wuthering Heights to live with him, Catherine, and Catherine’s brother Hindley. Heathcliff and Hindley don’t like each other, but Catherine and Heathcliff do. A neighbor named Edgar Linton joins this crowd, wooing Catherine. At some point, Heathcliff runs off, Edgar marries Catherine, Heathcliff returns, and the melodrama begins! At this point, I’m going to stop with the plot points. For one, I’m not SparkNotes, or CliffsNotes, if you’re of a certain age (and no, I won’t help you write your term paper). For another, I can’t keep the convolutions straight myself. This is a tangled book, filled with characters who are similarly named (Heathcliff and Hareton, Lindley and Linton, Catherine and Cathy). Suffice to say, there are EMOTIONS involved. Very strong emotions. As in character-in-a-Russian-novel strong. Wuthering Heights is one of those Romantic novels in which spiritual or emotional illness will manifest into a physical illness that can literally kill you. My initial emotion, since we’re on the topic, was one of dislike. I didn't like Wuthering Heights. I did not like the long, tedious introductory chapters narrated by Lockwood. I did not like the characters who all – with the exception of the saintly Nelly Dean – came across as either cruel, stupid, or both. I hated the character of Joseph, an old coot with a religious bent who speaks in an indecipherable colloquial dialect. (At first, I used the annotations at the back of my Penguin edition to translate Joseph’s mutterings. Eventually, up against a book club deadline, I started skipping everything he said). I did not care for the hyper-passionate dialogue, or the occasionally murky prose. The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to respect Wuthering Heights. It is exceptionally sinister, with long sections of the story an epic mind-f—k coordinated by a vengeful Heathcliff. It is psychologically dark, if not especially deep. It is a work of fiction that demands discussion, and explodes with dozens of meanings depending on who is doing the reading. No one will ever know what Emily Bronte intended when she wrote Wuthering Heights. She died shortly after publication, and due to her gender, and her famous sisters, it was sometimes hard to convince people she even wrote it. Regardless, it is a work of imaginative genius. I’ve always loved reading but I’ve always hated being told what to read. It’s my only real authority issues. Even in book club I sometimes get sulky and resentful when certain titles are chosen. I trace this issue back to all my English classes, and all the turgid “classics” I’ve been assigned throughout the years. When I finally finished my last class in a pedagogical era that lasted twenty years, the first thought I had was I can read whatever I want! (True story: after I finished the bar exam, most of my classmates gathered for an epic drunk. I stayed home and fulfilled my dream of reading a book while eating Pizza Hut pizza). Every once in awhile, I’d try to throw a classic into my reading list, mainly for that sense of intellectual superiority that comes with being highbrow, if only for a fleeting moment. The younger, mid-twenties version of myself still felt a residual resentment. I’d read something like Moby Dick and almost be angry at it. Angry at its difficulty; angry that people thought it was so good, and kept saying so, when it was self-evidently so ponderous and syntactically tortured. Now I’m coming to realize the value in wrestling with a book. For the most part, I still value a certain level of clarity when I read, because reading is fundamentally about communication. But the older version of myself can appreciate that extracting the meaning of something is worthwhile in itself. So I fought with Wuthering Heights, and the battle ended as a draw. And unlike Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights did not end up in the fireplace.

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