Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is about two generations of would-be lovers who never manage to connect. Chapters 23 and 24 of the second part contain some of the most insipid banter imaginable between two young people--a 17-year-old girl who speaks with the maturity of a 9-year old, and a somewhat younger terminally afflicted boy. The first section of the novel is, to me, stronger than the first, which tells the doomed story of Catharine and Heathcliff, while the second tells about the doomed relationship of their offspring. Heathcliff himself, who plays a major role throughout the novel, is by the second such a dark, malevolent villain that he hardly seems real.

Class and gender conflict are issues here. Romantic love is an issue too. Are we to see Heathcliff in some sense as a monument to love, driven to near insanity if not beyond by his grief over the loss of Catherine? And is Catherine’s insanity the result of disease, grief over her inability to be with Heathcliff, or over her unhappy marriage to Edgar Linton. The characteristics of these individuals are not adequately justified in the novel, and romantic love, if it is shown to be anything, is destructive and death dealing.

Sadly, there is not much of relevance to modern readers in this novel published in 1847. Women are weak and fragile vessels whose passions can ruin them—they’re incapable of ruling their lives. Men are, well, simpletons and dullards. The narrative is melodramatic, with irrational transitions and actions. The tragic force at work here is class, and neither Catherine nor Heathcliff possess sufficient will to overcome it.

Perhaps I should give Wuthering Heights another chance, at some other time in my reading life.

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