Friday, April 13, 2018
Wuthering Heights (Penguin Classics) Paperback by Emily Brontë (Author), Pauline Nestor (Author), Lucasta Miller (Preface) (Penguin Classics) (IBRClassicsReview)
I heard once that you know everything about a person if you just know their answer to this question: “Wuthering Heights” or “Jane Eyre”? Personally, I like them both. A lot, as I discovered when I finally put down “Wuthering Heights” after reading far later into the night than is good for me. Maybe I had a few issues with the frame story, and maybe I wasn’t quite into it when it first started, but I eventually found this book harrowing, creepy, and even amusing at times – who could help but laugh at ridiculous Heathcliff and histrionic Cathy?
However, if I were Mr. Lockwood, I’m sure I wouldn’t find anything to laugh at. Lockwood is a tenant of Mr. Heathcliff, the master of Wuthering Heights and technical owner of the smaller house next door, Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff is a formidable man that doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything – except for the ghost that haunts Lockwood’s dreams the first night he stays at the house. Upon questioning the housekeeper, Ellen Dean, Lockwood becomes engrossed by the family saga that reinvented the notion of family sagas: the fierce entanglement of the Earnshaws and the Lintons, with Heathcliff and his beloved Cathy at the center of it all.
I won’t mention much else because saying anything at all about this book is as good as saying too much (and also because I had the plot spoiled for me prior to reading and don’t wish it on anyone else), but I will put in one thought of my own: “Wuthering Heights” is not supposed to be romantic. It’s almost a “Romeo and Juliet” scenario; people get so wrapped up in the strength of the leads’ relationship that they don’t realize that it’s meant as ridicule, not endorsement. Romeo and Juliet were nutty teenagers with raging hormones, and Heathcliff and Cathy are narcissists who use each other to feed their egos. (But only up to a certain point . . .) There are likeable characters, sure, but they’re nowhere near as memorable or fascinating as the twisted lovers at the heart of the story. Which isn’t a bad thing – it gives you someone to root for while letting you focus on what a romance SHOULDN’T consist of.
My only real problem was the frame story – or, rather, the presence of a frame story at all. Lockwood really isn’t good for anything except plying Ellen Dean with constant questions, and he gets so little page time and is so uninvolved in the doings of the other characters that I wonder why Emily Bronte made him the narrator at all. If you ask me, he should have been just a minor character tucked away in some other part of the story, if that. But that doesn’t take away the fact that this book is that rare combination: both good and a classic. It’s not exactly a feel-good book, yes, and I still prefer “Jane Eyre” ever so slightly, but I have a lot of respect for a book that can both keep you up at night and make you think. And “Wuthering Heights” definitely is that book.