Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Wuthering Heights

I don't know how I made it this far in life without reading Wuthering Heights, but I did. I haven't even seen any of the movies. Of course, I've known of "Heathcliff and Cathy" for years and years, partially assisted by the Kate Bush song. I always assumed it was a tragic love story with moors involved, and no-one ever bothered to disabuse me of this notion.

For, now that I have "read" Wuthering Heights (via audio), I find that I was mistaken. It is not a love story. In fact, there is very little love anywhere to be found -- although I was right about the moors.

I expected the story to be bleak -- and it was. I expected to find tragedy -- and I did. But I also expected to find the character of Heathcliff at least partially sympathetic, a misunderstood anti-hero, perhaps. And I expected to care passionately about him and Cathy and their unrequited love. On both these counts I was disappointed.

What makes this book a classic? Instinctively, I can feel that it is, but I can't pinpoint why. Instead of being misunderstood, Heathcliff is blatantly inhumane, consumed by his plans for revenge on a character who dies very early on. Cathy is selfish and frivolous and far better off with her husband who is far more sympathetic than Heathcliff. I simply didn't care. What is more, Cathy dies halfway through the book.

I cared far more for the younger Cathy, one of the victims of Heathcliff's revenge, and rejoiced at her happy ending. And I disliked Heathcliff all the more for his treatment of the younger Cathy and his own son, Linton.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, for I did. It was beautifully read by Michael Kitchen, and although I found it intense at times, requiring me to take a break, it kept me wanting to know the end.

Moreover, as a writer, I was fascinated by the construction of the novel. It is narrated by Mr Lockwood, who plays no part in the story, but who recounts the story told by Nelly Dean, a servant/housekeeper. Nelly is the true narrator of the book, but even she recounts stories told by others, so that at times we have a story within a story within a story -- all in the first person. I have to wonder why this construction was selected, because it made it very confusing at times.

Anyway, now it is done. After all this time, Wuthering Heights is no longer a mystery (well, the story isn't, at any rate!). I do wonder what inspired Emily Bronte to write such a bleak story, and what she was trying to say, exactly. And I wonder what made Heathcliff and Cathy into one of the emblems of star-crossed lovers, for I am not too sure they deserve it!

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