Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

I have no patience for drama.  Anytime someone tries to bring it into my life, I shut down emotionally and then I shut that person out.  I think it’s a waste of time and energy.  Want to compare me to your ex-girlfriend?  Not on my watch.  Want to complain for the millionth time about your boss?  If you’re not going to do anything about it, then I don’t want to hear it.  Wish you could loose weight, but just can’t get there?  Put down the potato chip, then we’ll talk.  I think people who are happier with something to complain about are a waste of space and time in my life, and I’d rather they not be there.  So, what does all this have to do with my latest read?  Well, as it turns out, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, is nothing but useless drama.

A ‘quick’ re-cap of the plot: The Earnshaw family takes in a young orphan, Heathcliff, when the children, Hindley and Catherine, are in their early teens.  Hindley takes against Heathcliff in a big bad way, but Heathcliff and Catherine become inseparable.  When Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley inherits, his treatment of Heathcliff gets even worse.  By a twist of fate, Catherine meets the son of one of the neighboring manors, Linton, and being unable to do what her heart really wants which is to marry Heathcliff (because of his lower station), she marries Linton.  Heathcliff, heartbroken, disappears for a few years.  The night that he leaves, Catherine is so upset she develops a serious ‘fever’ that will forever impact her health.  When Heathcliff returns, the fight between himself and Linton so upsets Catherine that she has a relapse which eventually kills her.  During all this main drama, Heathcliff marries Linton’s younger sister, who leaves him, and later has his son, and Catherine has a daughter by Linton, only to die shortly after she’s born.  Heathcliff spends the rest of the book pining after Catherine, plotting to have his son marry Catherine’s daughter, to reduce the Earnshaw and Linton heirs to a lower station that he was originally in, and to destroying the happiness of everyone around him.  Ugh.  So much useless drama.

I have no patience for any of these characters.  Catherine is a spoiled brat who doesn’t really have a heart, and is literally feld by a long drawn out temper tantrum.  Heathcliff is just a monster.  Linton is a weak man who lets his heart take a beating and comes back for more time and again.  Catherine’s daughter is just like her mother, but worse because there’s a certain naïveté that makes you roll your eyes non-stop.  Heathcliff’s son is little more than a toddler in a young man’s body because he was so coddled by his mother.  The saving grace of all the characters is Ellen Dean, the long-time family servant, but even she’s got moments that make you wonder what the hell she’s thinking.

The worst part, to me, of the whole book, has to be Catherine’s cause of death.  The night Heathcliff leaves, she waits up for him all night, part of it outside (and in the rain).  The next morning, she’s developed a fever.  This is a completely reasonable expectation.  What’s not reasonable is the local doctor diagnosing her with a nervous condition as a result, which means she should not be upset by anything for fear of causing a relapse.  Then, when Heathcliff returns and a fight ensues between her and her husband, she locks herself in her room for three days without taking any food and very little water.  This causes a massive relapse of the nervous condition and when she recovers from this fever, she’s little more than a blithering idiot.  When she gets a visit from Heathcliff and they finally confess their love for each other, she goes almost catatonic, goes into premature labour, and dies later that night.  Why authors of the era thought that woman had such weak constitutions, I’ll never understand.  And Brontë, a woman herself, should have known better… But, Catherine is one of those women that we all know – she loves drama, seeks it out, and it eventually did her in.  As a reader, I fully feel she deserved the end she came too.

For all these complaints, Wuthering Heights isn’t a bad read.  The plot moves along at a good pace, and as much as they are unlikable, the characters are still quite engaging.  There’s only a little of the religious moralizing that makes some of the ‘classics’ impossible for me to get through.  I know, I just went on and on with complaints, and in the end I’m saying it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read.  But, for all the hassle around my problems with the characters, that I can still admit that it’s a good read shows how good the author was at her craft.

So, final verdict?  Read it if this is your type of book.  Wuthering Heights is closer in tone to Jane Eyre (which makes sense, as it was written by Brontë’s sister) than Pride and Prejudice, but what it lacks in light-heartedness, it makes up for in an engaging plot line.  However, don’t bother to read it if you not a patient person.  Getting through all of Catherine and Heathcliff’s crap, then their children’s crap, can be exhausting.  If you’re at all like me and hate drama, the fact that you can’t reach into the pages and smack a few characters upside the head to knock some sense into them might not make for an enjoyable read.  But, regardless of all that, Wuthering Heights is a major part of the western literary tradition and zeitgeist, and is worth a read.  

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