Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847, 385 pages, Vintage Books)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1818 to 1848) is the 5th novel by a Bronte sister I have read this year.   Emily was the middle sister, with Anne the youngest and Charlotte was the family big sister.   Wuthering Heights is on nearly every list of 100 best novels ever written, some times at a mark well above the top 50.   The lead male character, Heathcliff, is the forerunner for the troubled brooding "bad boy" hero of surely 1000s of novels in many languages.    Wuthering Heights has been made into a movie numerous times.    It was the only novel ever published by Emily.   (I read somewhere that Charlotte found a completed  manuscript after Emily's death at thirty but destroyed the work as of inferior quality.)  
The name of the novel comes from the name of a mansion in the moors, "Wuthering" is an old  fashioned word used in the Yorkshire region of England to mean bad weather.    For those not quite sure what a moor is here is  a description from Wikipedia:
Moorland or moor is a type of habitat found in upland areas, characterized by low growing vegetation on acidic soils. Moorland nowadays generally means uncultivated hill land.

The basic plot of the novel is well known, even many who have never read it and never will know the plot.   I do not feel any need to retell it here.   I will just try to say what I like about the novel and what did not quite work for me.

I love much of the style of the writing.   It is very different from that of Anne or Charlotte.    Somehow the language of  Wuthering Heights seems older, darker and deeper.   I enjoyed much of the atmosphere of the book.   I enjoyed the quirky nearly dysfunctional characters that populate the novel at all levels.   I enjoyed learning about the childhood of the characters.   Emily is very insightful in showing how a troubled childhood can shape people in a way that fits them best for the shadows of life.   I think Emily understands the power such people can have on those with no firm anchors in life.  In this maybe Wuthering Heights is also in the tradition of Vampire Romances and helps us understand the power of these narratives and to   understand in part why the vampire is such an attractive icon  to many.   I liked the minor characters a lot.    With  dark mansion, the moors, a troubled brooding hero with a mysterious past and some ghosts thrown in Wuthering Heights is solidly in the mood of a gothic novel.   The plot action of Wuthering Heights is not told in nearly as straight forward a way as Jane Eyre or Anne's two novels.

In the book blog world Jane Eyre is nearly universally loved.   I have seen a lot of posts with Jane Eyre  listed as a favorite book.   Wuthering Heights gets mixed reactions as I see it from my brief research.   Some do not like the feel of the prose (I personally do not like "country" dialects in conversations and there is a good bit of this in the work).    Some do not feel the character of Heathcliff  is as well done as that of Mr. Rochester.   Some feel that the plotting is confusing and hard to follow.   Others see it as the deepest of the work of the Bronte sisters and see Catherine and Heathcliff as the best pair of literary lovers of the first half of the 19th century.   I enjoyed all the references  to reading in the novel.   (All of the sisters and Branwell were for sure into the reading life.)  

As a personal note, and I am sure I am not alone in this, I could not help but think of another now better know Heathcliff as I was reading Wuthering Heights.   Wuthering Heights a great cultural treasure and a very important book in literary history, not just in England.    I subscribe to about 300 book blogs and they are full of reviews of novels with a Heathcliff type man on the cover, often with his shirt undo and his hair flowing in the breeze.   The question then becomes, no offense meant by this, are the Brontes books of primary appeal to women?    If one of my three daughters brought home a Heathcliff or Mr Rochester as a future husband I would be very upset.   I am sure my wife would be terribly worried that the youthful passion of our daughters had blinded them to a man that will ultimately hurt or even destroy her.   I have enjoyed some back and forth comments concerning Jean Rhys's account of the character of  Mr Rochester in  Wide Sargasso Sea following my posting on that work.     Perhaps the majority opinion is that Jean got him wrong.  (I think she got him right but I will reread Wide Sargasso Sea this year as I read it prior to my reading of Jane Eyre.   In terms of literary quality that does not matter but given the huge import of the books of the Brontes it seems a question worth pondering.   I will come back to in the last quarter of the year.)

Any body interested in the 19th century novel (most have probably already read it) should read this book.  I am in the process of reading all seven of the Bronte novels in close order.   I have two to go, both by Charlotte, The Professor and Shirley.   The advance notices I have picked up are not that good on them, (boring, obvious first novel etc) but I like a sense of completion and there are only seven Bronte novels anyway so I figure I should read them all.

I am reading this work for these challenges:

Typically British Challenge-now complete
All About the Brontes Challenge-level two now complete.
Gothic Novel Challenge
Mutual Reads (Victorian Novels)

Mel u


Suko said...

Excellent review, Mel. You are becoming quite the Brontes scholar. I read Wuthering Heights many years ago in school, but feel as if I'd read it at a different, deeper level now.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Hi Mel - thanks for posting a fantastic and though provoking review on this book. I am a Wuthering Heights fan and agree with you that the language and atmosphere is so much darker than other Bronte writing - the characters are rootless and strangely frightening. Oddly enough - I had been planning to reread Wide Sargasso Sea this year after getting into a bit of a discussion of it with somebody - I think that Rhys writing is excellent.

Love your blog!


Carol Fleserieu-Miller said...

I read some of the Bronte sisters' novel when I was younger. Your thought-provoking review makes me want to take a look at them again. Thanks for your excellent review.

LuAnn said...

Wuthering Heights has always been one of my favorite books. I used to read it at least once a year. Yes, it probably is more appealing to women than men and most men aren't fans of the movie version, either.

claire said...

I get the sense of completion thing, which is an issue of mine as well. I've read 3 Brontës but Wuthering Heights has been my favourite since adolescence. Not that I am romantically drawn to Heathcliff himself, but the overall feel and atmosphere of the book, while I was very young, seeped into my bones, methinks. It was one of the first classics I've read and had such a hug influence on me as a reader, on what types of books I grew to love afterwards. I will never probably choose a man such as Heathcliff but the feeling that this book gave me was such a gift. I love Emily B for that.

Bethany said...

Mr Rochester and Heathcliff are the original bad boys. Is Heathcliff a hero or a villain? I love me the anti-hero type.

I don't particularly recall much country dialect in Wuthering Heights, least not nearly as much found in Hardy's work etc.

But YES. This book is drama, is Gothic, is romance, is thriller is all these wonderful things rolled into one.

And people these days read Twilight...

(I first read Wuthering Heights as a young teenage girl - so my feelings towards the book are very fanatic too!)

ds said...

My feeling is that women tend to favor the Bronte novel whose leading female character most reminds us of ourselves, especially if we read the book when young. So I have always preferred Jane Eyre--plain and studious--to the wild, willful & beautiful Catherine Earnshaw. Wuthering Heights is a wilder book,and Heathcliff is the original "Byronic" hero. You've hit on something about the structure of Emily's novel, though. It is like a series of nesting boxes, each one smaller (more suffocating?) than the last.
Someday I hope to get through all the Brontes, too. Thank you for this.

Whitney said...

Ah, Wuthering Heights, one of my favorites. I love Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff, but I'm not sure if my parents would approve if I brought either home, maybe Mr. Rochester in time...

I have an award for you!