Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Wuthering Heights'

by Emily Brontë
Fiction/Classic, 1847
Penguin UK, trade pb, 392 p.
Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: of the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and her betrayal of him. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance is now visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.
I’d had this sitting on my shelves unread for quite a long while, but the timing felt right to give it a try. This definitely seems to be one of those books that people either love or hate, so I was curious how I would feel about it as I finally set out to read it for myself.
‘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 our 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.’
Well, I still don’t understand the people who consider it “so romantic!” because to me it was a tale of obsession, pride, revenge, but never romance. I think Emily’s sister Charlotte described it well in the preface to the 1850 edition when she refers to “perverted passion and passionate perversity”. Despite never actually liking any of the main characters though (they really were quite a selfish, arrogant lot!), I’m glad to say I really enjoyed it! I especially loved the gothic mood of it with the lonely moors invading all aspects of their lives, isolating them and creating the claustrophobic atmosphere of such a limited social circle. I also enjoyed the structure of the novel and the choice of narrators, and overall I found it a well-written, engaging story. A perfect autumn read!
‘Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is – an unreclaimed creature, without refinement – without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day as recommend you to bestow your heart on him!’
The only other Brontë novel that I’ve read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and contrary to the many who love it, I thought it was just ok. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then that I liked Wuthering Heights as much as I did since people seem to tend to prefer one over the other. I’d love to read something else by Emily; it’s such a shame that she never got a chance to write another novel. Next I'll have to read something by Anne. I have The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and it'll be interesting to compare to the novels of her sisters. I'm also very interested now to read more about the lives of the Brontë sisters. Any suggestions?

Brontë Parsonage Museum and Brontë Society

My Rating: 4/5
(#48 for 2008, Herding Cats Challenge, 1% Well-Read Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously)

Reminder: If you have read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

20 comments:

  1. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books, but so is Jane Eyre - I guess I'm just a bit odd that way. :)

    I would never categorize WH as romantic though; obsessive and passionate would be my words of choice. JE on the other hand is incredibly romantic but not in the traditional way.

    I have yet to read anything by Anne so I look forward to your comparison!

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  2. While I like "Jane Eyre," I like Charlotte's "Villette" even more. And I too like Emily's novel just as much as I do Charlotte's. I would add Anne's "Tenant" to this list as well -- it's as good as her sisters' books.

    I've read things here and there through the years about the Brontes - they are a fascinating family - but nothing comprehensive, so I too look forward to hearing any suggestions.

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  3. Wuthering Heights is my favourite Bronte book too. It's been a long time since I read it and Jane Eyre. I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a few years ago and loved it. I'm not sure about a biography but you may find info on the Bronte site http://www.bronte.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=35

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  4. I was disappointed in both Jane Eyre and Wurthering Heights. I think probably that was due in part to the extensive praise I've encountered regarding each of them. Unfortunately, I happened to watch the PBS film of Jane Eyre, so I knew what happened before finishing the book; that really spolied a lot of it for me! As to Wuthering Heights, much like Crime and Punishment, the climax of the story seems to come in the first third of the book! Then, we have to wade through the rest of the pages and their inspection of the heart. After awhile, I got a little tired of it all.

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  5. On another review:
    I will be looking forward to your review of Amelie Nothomb. Aspecially her writing style which is unique in some way. I like her so I am bias.

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  6. I don't get why people labeled this book as "romantic" either. I am one of the few people who didn't care for the book. I loved Jane Eyre though. However, I think besides the sister link, it's comparing apples to oranges.

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  7. You know, I haven't read either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights since high school; I disliked Jane Eyre when I read it (but since then I've seen the miniseries, which absolutely blew me away; have been meaning to reread it), and I loved Wuthering Heights. I thought the 'romance' was enthralling, but more in the 'look, it's a flaming car wreck!' kind of way than the 'I wish I had a Heathcliff of my very *own*' kind of way. In fact, if I'm remembering correctly, we had to write reading journals for my high school English class that year, and I wrote something along the lines of 'when we get glimpses of the more sympathetic side of Heathcliff's character, sometimes I want to give him a hug. Except he'd probably beat me and hang all my pets.' The teacher wrote in the margin, 'thank god you wrote that second part'. My poor English teacher; I can imagine her getting all sorts of swooney reading journal entries and despairing.

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  8. It's the characters in Wuthering Heights that make me crazy. They just make such destructive decisions all the time, and I don't have the patience, I think.

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  9. Heather - I'm sure that's not strange at all! It was totally a generalization on my part, and actually what I've most noticed is people that don't like Wuthering Heights do like Jane Eyre.
    I'm not sure when exactly I'll get to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Hopefully sometime next year.

    Teresa - I'd like to read something else by Charlotte too, so I'll have to add Villette to my list.
    From reading WH, and the introduction and extra stuff I thought it was interesting how Emily's personality seemed to come through in her writing and how different she seems from Charlotte.

    BooksPlease - I'm so glad I finally read Wuthering Heights. Thanks, I'll check out the Bronte site, but I do think I'd like to read a book about them at some point too.

    Bellezza - I was disappointed when I read Jane Eyre. I, too, knew generally how it ended so there wasn't much surprise. I went into Wuthering Heights not really expecting much so maybe that helped? I know what you mean about Crime and Punishment. I read it a few years ago and don't think I was ready for it.

    Sylvie - I'm quite enjoying the writing in the Amelie Nothomb book. What's your favourite of her books?

    Teddy Rose - I agree that the sister's styles are completely different and the books aren't anything alike!

    Ashley - LOL. Funny story about your high school assignment and the teacher's reaction. There were a couple of rare moments in the story when I almost felt sorry for Heathcliff but he was just so cruel any sympathy I felt quickly vanished.

    Renee - There were a few times I wanted to just shake them, lol. But somehow I couldn't stop reading either.

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  10. I don't understand why people refer to Wuthering Heights as "romantic", either. I thought it was actually very unromantic -- obsessive, yes. I do love Jane Eyre, though. It's been so long since I read it that I probably ought to reread.

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  11. Nancy - Yes, definitely not romantic. I did enjoy the story though and I'm glad to have finally read it. Plus now I'll be able to fully understand Heathcliff references in other works. :)

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  12. I wonder if some of the people who call WH romantic are using the term in the lit-crit way, that is, a work that puts emphasis on emotion and nature, as opposed to reason and intellect -- in that sense, WH is very romantic! ;)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism

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  13. Yes, I certainly wouldn't call it romantic either. I wonder if my reaction to it had to do with the fact that I expected something completely different.

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  14. Teresa - You're very right, there is that definition of romantic! I'm curious to see a film adaptation now to see how they portray the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy.

    Nymeth - I went into it not really knowing what to expect so that most likely helped.

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  15. I tried to read this novel three times unsucessfully. The fourth was the magic try apparently. I read it when I was in NC and like you I never found it particularly romantic. I think that's probably what makes it such literary success, though, is that it's so edgy. I think Charlotte was right on the money with that perversity comment.

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  16. Andi - Edgy is a good word to describe it. Glad you finally got through it on the fourth try! :)

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  17. This book was a very strange combination of loving the prose but being annoyed by the story and wanting to give just about every single character a good hard kick in the shins.

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  18. Fyrefly - Oh I can relate! I loved the storytelling but really did want to shake some sense into the characters sometimes! LOL. :P

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  19. This book was more a tale of revenge than a love story. Charlotte Bronte was a better writer than Emily, but had a limited imagination. All of her books were inspired by her infatuation with Constantine Heger, her teacher and colleague who was a married man. Judging from the superior plot and writing style of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte would have surpassed her sisters had she lived longer than the two.

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  20. Nomen Arcanum - Emily certainly seemed to have had a vivid imagination. I hope to finally read Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall next year. And I might give Jane Eyre another go sometime as well and see if I feel differently about it the second time around.

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