by Emily Brontë
Though I tend to like so-called ‘classic’ novels, Wuthering Heights falls straight into a gap of Shit I Don’t Like. For some reason, I disliked Dickens, and Austen, and most of those authors from the 1800’s. (Calling Emma a comedy of manners doesn’t make it funny, or readable, especially when you’re under the gun, reading for school.) As for Victor Hugo, well, don’t get me started. Actually, when it comes to his books, I think the start is about as far as I got.
On the other hand, I liked Crime and Punishment, The Three Musketeers, and maybe a couple others, so perhaps I’m just unfairly lumping Dickens, Austen, and the Brontë sisters together because a) they’re English, b) they seem boring, and c) I hated being forced to read that stuff in high school. I’ve an open mind, though, and when Wuthering Heights was recently explained to me, it thought it sounded kinda dope. Plus, it didn’t look that long, so I went for it.
The novel follows two families living in two houses in the moors of northern England: the Earnshaws live at Wuthering Heights, while the Lintons live nearby at Thrushcross Grange. The master of the Heights, Hareton Earnshaw, one day brings home a boy named Heathcliffe, who becomes something of an adopted son to Hareton and befriends his daughter, Catherine. The narrative then follows the friendship/romance between Heathcliffe and Catherine, and their relationships to the younger Lintons, siblings Edgar and Isabella, as well as the next generation of Heathcliffes and Lintons and Earnshaws. (Don’t worry, there’s a family tree in the beginning of the book.)
While that’s pretty much the story of Wuthering Heights, it’s told in a somewhat strange way. The narrator is called Mr. Lockwood, whose name you don’t see in the above description. He’s renting Thrushcross Grange, decades later, from an old and bitter Mr. Heathcliffe. Lockwood wonders why the Heights is such a strange place, and his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, tells him the whole story. She’s been there the whole time, you see, either at the Heights or the Grange, and she apparently has a really, really good memory.
I enjoyed Wuthering Heights, once I got into it. I was definitely confused by the first few chapters (Who’s the narrator? Why does Heathcliffe only have one name? Are there really two characters named Catherine and two named Hareton Earnshaw?), but I think we’re supposed to be just as confused and curious as Lockwood, at least initially. And we have the benefit of the family tree, which serves as a framework for Nelly’s story. Once I’d read a good bit, it was pretty engrossing.
Pretty dark, too. It took me a while- maybe half the book- to realize that absolutely none of the characters were likeable at all. Heathcliffe, whom I initially viewed sympathetically, becomes a bigger and bigger dick with every chapter. Catherine, Heathcliffe’s only friend, pretty much tells Nelly that she’d totally marry Heathcliffe, if only he had more money! It seems like we’re not supposed to identify with these characters at all; we’re supposed to revile them. Heathcliffe, after realizing that his romantic aspirations would come to naught, sets out to destroy the Earnshaw and Linton families forever. I found myself wondering not only whether he would succeed, but whether the families wouldn’t somehow deserve what they got.
And Brontë makes it all seem incredibly personal; after all, there were really only two locations in the entire book, as well as a mere handful of characters (granted, many of those characters had the same names). She really gets across the isolation of the moors, and puts the reader in the bubble of these families’ lives. It’s pretty crazy to sit back and remember that the entire tragedy is taking place over the course of decades, and that it impacts literally nobody else in the world. Also, it’s fiction. But it feels so personally tragic, you just forget.
There is one problem I had with Wuthering Heights. Even though I got over the initial confusion, it still wasn’t easy to read. As I’ve said before, I ride the Metro to and from work, so a lot of my reading is done during my commute. Some books are easy to start reading in the middle of a chapter, or even in the middle of a paragraph; others are not. I call this quality ‘Metro Accessibility.’ (Because of the Metro… a joke about public transportation options… and the ease with which one can reach a location via the Metro? Okay. Nevermind.)
Wuthering Heights, while difficult to put down, is not Metro Accessible. The narration is confusing and the language is archaic. If I had to get off the train in the middle of a chapter, it’d be pretty easy to entirely forget what was happening. Of course, there’s nothing I could really do about this; if you read during your commute, you read during your commute. But if I had to do it over again, I’d try to avoid reading it like that, and only take breaks between chapters.
Wuthering Heights is a classic, and definitely worth your time. It’s not a light or easy read, though, so be prepared.