Thursday, March 10, 2011

70. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights (1847) is a story of evil and revenge. It tells the story of Heathcliff and his revenge on the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights and Lintons of Thrushcross Grange. Having been picked from the streets of Liverpool, Mr Earnshaw showed extraordinary love to Heathcliff to the despise of his children Catherine and Hindley. Later when Mr. Earnshaw died and Hindley became the Master of Wuthering Heights he set out to maltreat Heathcliff. Things spiralled out of control when Catherine Earnshaw chose to marry Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange rather than Heathcliff to whom she had become attached, almost sharing a soul, because he was poor and not a gentleman. Overhearing Catherine's decision to marry Edgar Linton, Heathcliff left home. He, however, came at an opportune when Hindley's wife, Frances Earnshaw, had died and the former was moving headlong into deterioration, caring about nothing, not even his son Hareton Earnshaw. This was when Heathcliff's revenge started. Having come into money, he lent a lot of it to Hindley who had become addicted to alcohol and gambling, using the Wuthering Heights and its Estate as collateral. At his death, which Heathcliff perhaps, precipitated, all the estate became his property. Before these events, Heathcliff had deceived delusional Isabella Linton, sister of Edgar Linton, to marry him and the pair had eloped. After marriage, Heathcliff maltreated Isabella till she fled to a different town. Before Isabella's death in exile she bore a son, Heathcliff Linton - a weakling who would survive none. Edgar and Catherine also gave birth to Catherine Linton. Heathcliff hearing of his son's arrival at Thrushcross Grange, after the death of Isabella, sent for his son but not before he had met Catherine Linton. It was this son that he would use to complete his planned revenge. He encouraged a relationship between Catherine Linton and Heathcliff Linton, forcing the former to marry his son under very weird circumstances. It was during this period that Edgar Linton, whose wife had earlier died after delivering Catherine Linton, also died. Married to his son, Thrushcross Grange became the property of Heathcliff Linton. However, later we are to find that the Thrushcross property has also become Heathcliff's when his son died. Thus, he who came to Wuthering Heights, a gypsy and almost a beggar, came to possess it and all the lands around it.

This is a novel of complex relations, almost like inbreeding. The story had two narrators, the primary narrator was Lockwood who had come to rent Thrushcross and had dreamt of the ghost of Mrs Linton (Catherine Earnshaw) after visiting his landlord, Heathcliff. The other is Mrs Ellen Dean, who had grown up with Catherine and Hindley when her mother came to work for the Earnshaws. Mrs Dean narrated the majority of the story. As to how Mrs Dean was able to memorise all the specific conversations and retell it, I don't know and this bothered me whilst I read the story. Also, perhaps I missed it in the reading, I don't know what happened to the first Mrs. Earnshaw. Her name was mentioned twice or thrice. And though Nelly (or Mrs Ellen Dean) was as young as the Earnshaws we never got to know when she herself married. An important event like that shouldn't have passed unmentioned; besides, she was the narrator. 

In this is a story, I never really liked any character. In fact I hated them all. They seemed to be all dullards. Mrs Dean seem to have sown the seed of hatred in Heathcliff right from the onset when he informed him how much stronger he was than Edgar and how he could easily beat Edgar to pulp, when the Lintons came to visit at Wuthering Heights. She also took certain important decisions into her own hands without informing those concern. She was the one who allowed Catherine Linton (Edgar's daughter) to visit Heathcliff Linton, knowing very well that Edgar had warned her daughter not to go there and knowing full well the enmity that existed between Edgar and Heathcliff. She was even the one who escorted Catherine Linton into Heathcliff's home at Wuthering Heights before he could imprison them and force Catherine to marry his son; a son he so much despised. Catherin Earnshaw herself was the worst culprit in this cycle of folly. She loved Heathcliff the most, yet did not marry him. Most of her speeches almost sounded delusional, especially when she was quite prepared to see her husband beaten by Heathcliff. It almost sounded unreal. Heathcliff's detestation is obvious. He was manipulative and wicked and seemed to thrive on evil. He never forgave anything and revelled in his nefarious achievements. His so-called love for Catherine, to me, borders on insanity. He really was insane, drunk with wickedness. Cathy (Edgar's daughter) was a little likable and he knew not most of the events leading to the enmity between her father and her 'uncle', though when she got to know it she behaved well except that she was too full of herself to trust her own ability, causing the death of her father.

Another thing I detested, which made me nearly abandoned this book, was Joseph's dialect. I could never understand anything he said, until I searched for and printed a transcription of this speeches. If there is an international version, I wish I had read that one or one in which the translation was part of the book. 

Though it ended on a sound note, after many had died including Heathcliff, and after Catherine Heathcliff had married his cousin Hareton Earnshaw, I did not like this book as much as I did Pride and Prejudice. I hope Jane Eyre would be very different as I have that on my shelf though it is not on any challenge list.
___________________
For the Top 100 Books Challenge

16 comments:

  1. Oh, your reactions to this book were much like mine! I hated them all and thought that Heathcliff was a master manipulator and a very evil man. Catherine was also codependent and just a mess as far as I'm concerned. And the kidnapping and forced marriage, Oy, what a brute Heathcliff was. Although I hated everyone in this book, I found it to be entertaining in a very scandalous sort of way. It's a very polarizing book, and I think you did an amazing job with your review. Read Jane Eyre, that one will uplift you and give you heart.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had a very strong sympathetic connection to one particular character in WH.

    Jane Eyre really is quite different, but you will see how Charlotte parodies or even "corrects" her sister's novel in various ways.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I also don't care much for Wuthering Heights. My favorite Bronte book is The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. I hope you do enjoy Jane Eyre.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Zibilee, it was almost as if every character was enabling Heathcliff to achieve his aim. Yes, I would read Jane Eyre sometime in the year. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  5. @AR: Thanks for your comment. That's a nice way of looking at it. Never thought of it that way. Yet, I know evil happens and the circumstances in Wuthering Heights isn't far-fetched. It does happen in different forms.

    I would definitely read JE. I know I would, in the course of the year.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Kinna, now that I have read it I can argue with friends on it. Simple. Hope to enjoy JE

    ReplyDelete
  7. It was one of my favourite classics in my teenage years, but I have not reread it since. I think I'll will in the next few months, since I'm also planning to write a little something on a topic that is somehow connected: Jane Campion's "The Piano", which plays with and subverts many topos of Romantic, Gothic and Victiorian literature. If you haven't seen this movie you should! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow Stefania! and you could tolerate all those nonsense that the characters were aiding subtly or otherwise? My heart boiled and somersaulted. It wouldn't lie down calmly.

    I haven't watched it. The Piano? Let me write it down. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  9. What can I say? I was sixteen and all I saw was a "dark love story" which suited my temperament at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Stefania our preference for books or our loud for books changes with age. I know i'd have loved this sometime ago. There was a time when i'd only read books that do not portray that hale and hearty world. I never read love stories though i still don't read them now. My issue was i wanted to move with one character but there was none . But i agree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have reread the book. It is true that there is no character you can sympathize with, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. For me it was as Zibilee said: the evilness and selfishness of the characters made me curious about the story in a morbid way. Yes, it is an unlikely story, with all those polarities, but all of Dickens' coincidences were unlikely as well and this does not make him a worse author (to me). What is fascinating to me is that the daughter of a clergyman, who lived a secluded life and had only access to her father's library could come out with such a weird and dark story. Also, what did Emily Bronte mean with this story? Why were Heathcliff and Catherine that way? Was their love like that of brother and sister or did she conceive it as a sexual attraction?

    By the way, there is a famous essay that states that the real villain of the story is Ellen Dean, I think for the same reasons you quote! Have you read that?

    PS: The Yorkshire dialect! I have an Italian version so I didn't experience that, but don't you think that it gives more authenticity to the story? Maybe to counterbalance Mrs Dean's language, which was so ordinary.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree with you that the book is interesting in some kind of morbid way. What I wanted was to get a character who would soothe me after I have been bombarded with evil from all the other characters. After they have smashed my head and mangled my mind. Yet, I found that each person who appears worsens my heartbeat. Pushes me into a corner. But why not the world have seen worse people than Heathcliff. Let's just take a glance through time and we would discover more Heathcliffs.

    I believe after reading and listening to all the kind of love professed by the bible, she decided to sum it all up and multiplied through by negative. She asked herself, what if people hate rather than love and what if in love there is hate, as exhibited by Heathcliff towards the daughter of Catherine. I also believe that both were cowards to face each other. Why didn't Heathcliff express his love towards Cath even when she had told Dean she prefers Edgar? If he had convinced her he would have won her. But he did not. She also prefers to follow people's thought rather than her heart. They were both timid.

    I haven't read such an essay. As a non-literary person, I leave such deep essays to the literati such as yourself. However, a careful reading shows that Ellen Dean is to be blamed for everything that happened. Though she might not have directly done it but she showed the ways in which they should/could be done. She told Heathcliff he's stronger than Edgar; she took Catherine's daughter to visit Heathcliff Linton when Edgar does not agree; she made/took decisions that weren't hers to make/take.

    Yes, the dialect makes it authentic. I am currently reading Beloved and Toni Morrison uses the old black American dialect. The problem was when I first encountered it and couldn't read it. It was later that I sought help from the net. In fact I really enjoy it when I read pidgin English in novels.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I understand what you mean and I think it's interesting what you said about the Bible. It could be accurate (there are no certainties about which was the inspiration to write "Wuthering Heights").

    Heathcliff is often compared to the devil, but Catherine is not an angel altogether. I hated her most of the time! Her daughter is somehow better, but she can be annoying too. I also think that Heathcliff was a coward and should have faced Catherine.

    Her sister's novel, "Jane Eyre", which you say you're going to read some time soon, I find a more conventional love story but there are some details that bother me. I'll tell you when you have read it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Don't you think that, per behaviour (modus operandi), if we are to compare any character to the Devil it surely would be Ellen Dean? Not in the outward appearance as we perceive the Devil to be but in subtly nudging innocent individuals and those with the potential to do harm to actually do harm. Yet, it was Heathcliff who manifested it fully. And yes Catherine was no angel. Her daughter was naive and and shallow-minded. She saw everything from only one perspective: Good. How can Heathcliff, who is an uncle, be wicked? etc. And it is this behaviour that made her annoying.

    I would be glad to have such a discussion with you after reading Jane Eyre.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mmmh, I wouldn't say that Ellen Devil can be compared to the devil, not even because of her behaviour. In my opinion she is the character that Emily Bronte needed to make the two otherwise-estranged families interact. I think of her more as a literary device than a real character, but I see what you mean.

    Here's that essay anyway, if you still want to try it.
    http://livingston.schoolwires.com/139620929192030233/lib/139620929192030233/_files/Ellen_Dean_as_villain.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  16. I wouldn't counter this and I think perhaps that description would be too harsh on her. However, I was referring to her rather subtle and unknown way of acting.

    thanks for the link...

    ReplyDelete

Help Improve the Blog with a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Featured post

Njoroge, Kihika, & Kamiti: Epochs of African Literature, A Reader's Perspective

Source Though Achebe's Things Fall Apart   (1958) is often cited and used as the beginning of the modern African novel written in E...