Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weathering Wuthering Heights

I swear that there is a Friends reference for any situation you encounter in life. I’ve been saying it for years! And well, the show was on for 10 seasons so it only makes sense that they were able to cover a lot of situations and issues. You want proof? Well, I’ve already referenced friends once on this blog and I’m about to do it again.  Without further ado, the one that relates to Wuthering Heights:

Now that I’ve read the novel I see that Phoebe was indeed correct. The wildness of the moors do mirror the wildness of Heathcliff’s character. The symbolism isn’t subtle and Heathcliff’s character presents little else to land upon. 

Now, it is pretty rare that I read a classic novel and don’t really like it. My mantra has always been “they are classics for a reason” and there is some value in the characters, themes, author’s technique, etc. that will resonate with and impact any reader. And yet, I can’t say that I enjoyed Wuthering Heights or that I will take much away from it. 

About halfway through my reading of the novel I realized that I didn’t actually like any of the characters. Not one.  They were all obnoxious in their own special way and I wasn’t rooting for a single one to find resolve, I just didn’t care. Since that was the case it was difficult to feel invested in the plot or even interested in the ending.  But I forced myself to finish the book, as I often do.
I can’t help but wonder if my apathy was a reaction to the narrative technique that Bronte employed. Wuthering Heights is a story told by Mr. Lockwood, who is not a central character in anything interesting, and is actually just telling the reader about how he was told a story by Ellen Dean, a house-keeper. So, by the time the action of the story is distilled through two narrators it seems a bit watered down. It’s like hearing a story from a guy who once heard a story from another person? Kind of annoying.  Beyond the narrative technique though, each of the unlikable characters had some sort of misguided motivation to destroy their own lives and the lives of others. Even the central, tragic love story couldn’t proceed rationally without being undermined by both Cathy and Heathcliff (the central figures who were supposed to be in love?). 

I think I am probably being a bit too harsh on the novel, it is not completely devoid of worth or skill. The themes of revenge and the destruction that results from singular obsession did come across well and are timeless enough to have some power. Also, the supernatural elements that were woven in actually did make the novel haunting. I’m just not convinced that, that other-worldly element really made the novel eternal in the way that Bronte intended. Although, I think that Stephanie Meyer would disagree with me and that she found the book much more relevant when she decided to reference it repeatedly in her Twilight Series. I see the supernatural connection but if Meyer is implying that the themes in her books and the themes in Wuthering Height are comparable I would say that is quite the stretch.  

The bottom line? I don’t think that I’ve ever regretted reading a book, even one I didn’t enjoy. In the end, reading anything can expand your knowledge base and your perspective on many subjects. In this case, I am now much better equipped to put references to this book into perspective (even if they are from the show Friends).  But I don’t see myself re-reading this book anytime in the near future or without a well-articulated urging from an Emily Bronte champion, if those people exist in the world (and I’m sure they do). But maybe I will revisit it at some point in my life and be able it understand it in a new way, I would never rule out that possibility. 

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” –Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

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