Monday, November 1, 2010

Wuthering Heights

In my last entry, I heavily emphasized the strengths of feminism, and then I realized that I had not yet written an entry about a Classic book by a female author.  What a crime to Classic Literature!  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is my favorite book written by my own kind.  And since we just celebrated Halloween, the dark and eerie nature of the plot seems to fit right in with this time of year.

Every Christmas and summer for the last four years, a good friend and I have given each other reading assignments.  We have different tastes in literature, but we both love to read.  It's a great way for each of us to broaden our horizons.  When she told me to read Wuthering Heights a couple years ago, I must admit that I felt a bit reluctant.  I assumed that it would be another frilly, fluffy romance about socialites and witty banter.  I expected a predictable plot and a neat, bow-tie ending.  Boy was I wrong!  In fact, if you reverse those descriptions completely, you'll get a much better picture of this fantastic novel.

The story of Catherine and Heathcliff is the most riveting love story I've ever encountered.  I could not tear myself away from it.  They are both quite flawed characters, but that's what builds the tension.  There are so many moments in which the two just barely miss each other in some way or another.  As a reader, this can be very frustrating, and some people may view their feelings of frustration throughout the novel as a weakness in the story.  On the contrary, I think this is the strength of the story because it compels us to keep reading.  Through our frustration, we are engaged and attached.  We don't read it passively or even clouded in the bliss of peaceful reading.  It is meant to be a painful, frustrating read because it's painful and frustrating for the characters too.  It is, after all, a dark story.  Yet even when the odds are stacked against them, there's an undeniable pull you can feel that Catherine and Heathcliff have toward each other.  I will resist saying more about their relationship so I don't spoil it for you if you haven't read it. 

I especially love the character of Heathcliff.  He is so complex, full of moments that make you love him and moments that make you cringe.  He does not follow a particular framework of "good" or "evil," for he exhibits features of both almost equally.  He often acts out in anger, but there is a genuine, vulnerable sweetness deep in his heart.  And only Catherine can tap into that sweet spot.  I found myself completely forgiving of him, rooting for him, and hurting with him.  Not everyone will feel this way, but I was a sucker for him.


Now this is one book that I fully intend to reread.  I'm sure that there are layers of meaning in the text that can be found in symbolism if you look closely.  For example, the children of the story add an interesting dimension to the novel.  They get so strangely mixed up in both their names, family lines, and personalities that it can be hard to keep track of them.  I'm sure that this confusion was created intentionally, and I would love to study the children in detail to figure out what they reveal about the adults.  I also think it's a fascinating narrative structure.  The story is told through the perspective of the only character who wasn't really involved (Lockwood).  Nevertheless, he's still a character interacting with the others in the story.  Of course, this challenges the veracity of the events because we can only see them through a certain level of subjectivity.  (Familiar theme, once again).  I do not think we should be deceived into thinking that this has no relevance on the story.  Nelly, the housekeeper who dishes on the past, must be an important key in the understanding of all the characters.  Maybe I should have saved this entry for later because I don't have a great theory right now of what that "key" is. I hope you all can fill me in on some of the depth and various messages you discovered in your reading of this book.  I'd love to hear it!

8 comments:

Gabrielle said...

Like you, I thought it would be another fluff piece but I was wonderfully surprised to find out it wasn't that at all. As soon as Catherine's ghost appeared I was hooked. I read it in one sitting, curled up in bed, drinking cup after cup of tea while a blizzard raged outside. I can't imagine reading this in the middle of summer. You definitely need the appropriate weather to enhance the gloom.
Unfortunately I can't say much else other than it was a great reading experience. Sometimes it's nice to just throw yourself into a book. Maybe Wuthering Heights needs to be read twice:once to enjoy the drama and romance, and a second time to appreciate the novel's many layers.

Jillian said...

I loved reading this, because I'm a third of the way through and WANT to love it but don't. I like hearing from those who DO love it, because it offers perspective into what I'm missing...

Amy said...

Gabrielle, I read it in the winter too! Maybe you should wait until December to read it, Jillian. :)

But on a more serious note, I tracked your earlier conversation with bloggers about Wuthering Heights and was fascinated to hear all these different perspectives. That's the beauty of blogging! As I tried to illustrate in this entry, I love Catherine and Heathcliff because I believe them. I do not like traditional Jane-Austen-style love stories with romantic characters and predictable endings. And I would not list Catherine and Heathcliff as the most "romantic" couple of all time, because there's so little of what we modernly consider "romance" in the novel. If you're looking for that, you're not going to find it and you may be disappointed. On the other hand, they both have faults, and yes, they can both be frustrating. But they love each other because they've shared a bond since childhood. They understand each other in a way no one else can. Catherine fell to society's expectations and rationalized that it was the best option for everyone. And in a way, she's right, because her relationship with Heathcliff would probably be tumultuous. But they fit together... they just do. And that's the romantic notion - that a couple can fit in this way. I love the darkness because it keeps me interested.

I encourage you to keep reading and don't try so hard. Just take it in and do your best to remove expectations. Ok, maybe that's impossible, but try to at least think of them as unique and flawed characters rather than archetypes. I do hope you finish it (in December!) so I can hear your final thoughts. Thanks for the post!

bibliophilica said...

I like this book too but wanted more to comment on what you said about how you and a friend give each other reading assignments twice a year. I think this is great - when readers are 'forced' to read outside their normal scope. I think it is so rewarding when we are willing to be led into "uncharted waters" by a trusted friend. This concept is one of my book club's "terms" that all members are "required" to agree to upon joining. :)

Amy said...

I completely agree. With this particular friend, I know that both of us have read outside of what we would normally choose and come away better for it. Plus, it's nice to have someone hold you accountable for a reading assignment, which is the goal of book clubs too. And all book lovers want to recommend books for their friends to read, and this is one of the few times that you know that person will follow through with your suggestion. I'm glad you take part in this too!

Brian Bither said...

Wow. That is the first time I have ever had interest in reading this book. I think I have too many negative connotations with the last name "Bronte"... (I may get some backlash for this.)

Jillian said...

Oh, I've just seen your return remarks here. :-)

I did finish it over the weekend, and DID love it:

http://jillianisreading.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/on-emily-bronte-and-her-unlikable-cast-of-characters/

http://jillianisreading.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/book-21-wuthering-heights-by-emily-bronte/

I love blogging too, for all the perspective. :-)

Amy said...

Jillian, I just wrote a longer response on your blog, but I am SO HAPPY that you came around and now love this book.