1847 Wuthering Heights

18 November 2009

Written by Emily Bronte, sister to Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), Ann (author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), and Bramwell.  The Bronte family is very interesting.  They lived on the moors, a wild and desolate place in England, separated from most other places.  And what little society they had, the Brontes, and especially Emily, did not associate much with.  Their father was a pastor, and they lived in a house surrounded on three sides by a graveyard.  When the children were small, their father brought home a set of toy soldiers for Bramwell.   The girls all got involved and soon the four children had made up names, kingdoms and stories for each soldier.  They played out stories and wrote them down.  And they continued this into their twenties.  None of the Bronte children lived past their thirties.

Wuthering Heights is a gothic romance.  Even more gothic than Jane Eyre.  And probably about as gothic as I care to get.  When Wuthering Heights was first published, it did not find much favor with the critics.  ”One of the most repellent books we have ever read”, “horrible to people who have not iron nerves”, “the book is revolting”, “It is a fiend of a book…the action is laid in Hell”.

Harsh?  Yes, but on the other hand, the book has never been out of print.  I really enjoyed it.  The characters are not exactly likable, but they are intriguing.

This is a book about the love of two men for the same woman.  The poor orphan boy that she grew up with, and the rich, spoiled neighbor boy.  Heathcliff, the orphan, is dark, brooding, physically strong, domineering, patient with his afflictions, but also bitter and vindictive because of them.  Edgar, the neighbor, is blonde, sweet-tempered, gentle and non-confrontational.  Heathcliff’s love for Catherine is passionate, but selfish.  Edgar’s love is deep and true.  Catherine loves them both.  She isn’t much to be pitied, though, being extremely selfish and immature.  Her under-developed moral character is not strong enough to face the challenges she is called upon to bear, namely choosing between her brother and Heathcliff, and later Heathcliff and Edgar.

Heathcliff has been called both the hero and the villain of the story, but I don’t know if I agree with that.  I don’t think Edgar quite gets his due.  On the other hand, there is a connection between Catherine and Heathcliff that isn’t there with Edgar.  Catherine also has a brother, who is cruel.  All three of the men in this story go through terrible personal tragedies, and their individual handing of them draws an unmistakable comparison between them.  The only one who ends up in the least bit happy and content is Edgar, who is considered the weakest of the lot, and ridiculed by the other characters and the narrator.  He has a difficult time of it, but he suffers his hardships with moral strength.  The other two, already setting out down roads that end nowhere but misery, were knocked about by the winds of the storm until it ultimately destroyed them.

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