Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Wuthering Heights": A Review

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Wuthering Heights should have been titled “A Love Story that Nobody Should Try to Emulate.”  Because there are a lot of bad role models in this book.  It’s almost as bad as Romeo and Juliet’s “romance” in which six people die and we’re supposed to find solace in the reconciliation of two rival families, as if that makes all the needless death better.

The story opens in medias res with the narrator, Lockwood, stumbling into the midst of the real main characters like a sheep might stumble into a nest of furious hornets.   His landlord, Heathcliff, is mean.  Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law, Catherine, is mean.  His maybe-kinda-ward Hareton looks mean.  It is, as Lockwood describes, a country for the misanthropic.

Lockwood makes things even worse by attempting to figure out how these characters are related—an endeavor which is laughable, as anyone knows who has read Wuthering Heights and still doesn’t understand why there are only about three families in the England this novel describes.

While it probably won’t answer all relationship-related questions, here is a genealogy to help explain matters:

 
Source: http://wuthering-heights.co.uk/images/trees/genealogyplan.jpg

 

Lockwood takes up residence in Thrushwood Grange, a house four miles away from Wuthering Heights.  There he asks his housekeeper, Nelly, for some background on Heathcliff et al.  She is only too happy to oblige—probably she was getting out of scrubbing out a privy or something.

It turns out that Heathcliff was adopted by a man named Earnshaw, who had two children of his own.  His son, Hindley Earnshaw hates Heathcliff.  His daughter, Catherine, comes to love him.  Confused yet?  It gets better. Hindley goes off to college, gets married, and has a son named Hareton.  When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights and the authority to make Heathcliff’s life miserable—which he immediately does.  Catherine and Heathcliff grow into a couple of intense young adults, undeterred from their love for one another even though Hindley tries to keep them apart.

Then Catherine is injured on the moors and taken in to the nearest house—Thrushwood Grange—to recuperate.  The lady of the house, Mrs. Linton, uses this opportunity to civilize Catherine.  During her stay Catherine meets Mrs. Linton’s son, Edgar, with whom she immediately becomes infatuated.  Following her ambition for higher society and forsaking her passion for Heathcliff, Catherine marries Edgar. 

Persecuted by Hindley and abandoned by the only friend he ever loved, Heathcliff disappears, only to return shortly after Catherine’s marriage.  He then sets his mind to revenge.  Instead of going on a rampage with an axe like any decent psychopath, Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella, making himself a part of their family.  From this point on, Heathcliff basically impolites people to death:

Catherine goes first of a Victorian Brain Fever of Convenience—but not before giving birth to a daughter, who is also named Catherine for your reading confusion.  Hindley  also dies, leaving Heathcliff as the sole heir to Wuthering Heights.

Isabella grows a spine, runs away from Heathcliff to London, and gives birth to a son, whom she names Linton for your added reading confusion.  (Seriously, Emily, why couldn’t you think of a few more names?)  Too bad for her, Isabella dies, leaving Heathcliff to impolite his sickly son to an early grave.

Catherine Jr. becomes infatuated with Linton despite his sickliness.  This is a poor choice on her part, since Heathcliff decides to get the ultimate revenge on her father by kidnapping her, forcing her to marry Linton, and thus making her father so upset he dies.  This plan is surprisingly effective.  Then Linton dies, possibly just to escape his father’s wrath.  The only people left standing are Heathcliff, Catherine Jr., and Hareton. 

Upon hearing this horrific tale, Lockwood bales out of his tenancy and runs off to London.  Later, realizing he’s the narrator and he just abandoned the main plot, he returns to ask Nelly about further developments.

Lucky for him—and everyone—Heathcliff has died, having gone progressively crazy and speaking of Catherine’s ghost.   The last pair standing, Catherine Jr. and Hareton, have inherited both Thrushwood Grange and Wuthering Heights.  They have also fallen in love and are engaged.  Yay!  Happy ending!  And it only cost, what? Nine lives?   

When I read this book as a teen, I couldn’t get past all the first-person narratives that nestled inside each other like Russian dolls.  Is this Lockwood fellow reliable?  What about Nelly?  Couldn’t she just be making the whole thing up?  How would she know the story in such detail, anyway?

Granting that both narrators are reliable, there’s the question of Catherine.  Is she a ghost?  Is Heathcliff insane?  But if Heathcliff is insane, how did Lockwood have a dream about Catherine his first night in Thrushwood Grange, before he had heard anything about her?  Ooo…spooky, right?
 

 

Recommended Reading Age: High School

Parental Notes: Overcomplicated narrative structure, annoying female characters, maybe-ghosts, and general thematic creepiness.

Availability: Free on Kindle, this book has no lack of choices when it comes to hardcover:  Barnes and Noble has two special copies: a Leatherbound which I think is a bit garishly colored and a Barnes and Noble Classic, also offering the Penguin Classics copy which is my favorite. 
 
Adaptations: I am way behind the times in watching the newer adaptations.  The most recent—and only—version I’ve seen is the one starring Voldemort before he lost his nose. Now we know why he went evil.  Too much confusion of which Catherine he was in love with, and too much rejection from her to deal with.  It’s almost enough to make me read/watch Parry Hotter, with all this added psychological  background subtext to the villain.

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