Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wuthering Heights

So, I read Wuthering Heights when I was a kid - I was a real Brontë-head back in middle school/high school and read Jane Eyre a perhaps excessive number of times. I read Wuthering Heights once or twice but I have a terrible memory and really couldn't remember a thing about it.

EXCEPT, I had this vague recollection that Heathcliff was a romantic, if broody, somewhat recalcitrant character. So, it was with no small amount of excitement that I began reading Wuthering Heights again, as if for the first time. And, it was very amusing and clever and mysterious and dark. I kept wondering, when does the romance start?

I'll remind you how the story goes in case your memory is as bad as mine: the year: 1801. Mr Lockwood rents a house from Heathcliff, who lives in the house next door, Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is extremely rude company and lives with this weird gaggle of unhappy people. Upon spending the night at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood hears nothing less than a ghost outside his window, Catherine, who tries to grab him through the window and he cuts her and blood gets all over the place and everything. Lockwood freaks out, Heathcliff calls out to Catherine, "Come back to me!" or something and Lockwood splits.

Back at his rental, he gets the whole story from his maid how Catherine grew up in Wuthering Heights with her brother, and one day her dad brought home this "gypsy", and they named him Heathcliff. Catherine and Heathcliff were bosom pals, and probably would have gotten married one day, except for some reason Catherine married her cousin who lived in the rental. Only back then it wasn't a rental. Heathcliff doesn't take that well, and basically enlists on a long campaign of revenge that destroys everything everyone ever loved or knew. Among the terrible things he does is beat the hell out of people, practice child abuse, kidnap, force two women into unwanted marriages so that he'll control their property, kills at least one person, and also hangs a dog.

Why I had the impression that the story was romantic, I'll never know. It's really quite disturbing that it has that reputation. But, I did think that Emily Brontë, like Jane Austen, makes a powerful social commentary on the detriment of England's property laws as effected women. Women could own or inherit nothing, so they were under extreme pressure to marry well (as we see in Austin) and completely at the mercy of either husband or father (as we see in E. Brontë). Heathcliff first hoodwinks Catherine's sister in-law into marrying him and she is completely without power to divorce while he takes over her property, and later, he forces Catherine's own child (also named Catherine) to marry his child (in order to gain more property.) She also is unable to divorce.

I think Brontë wove a very clever Gothic ghost tail, and, for the most part, I couldn't put it down. During a dull bit in the middle, I tried to imagine myself reading it in the mid-nineteenth century with no tv! No Internet! No Sudoku, even! Probably if I was sitting around, reading Wuthering Heights out loud with my husband every night, I would have been pretty enthralled. And, we would have gone to bed feeling pretty smug about our relationship.

Of course, we always do that. We're no Heathcliff and Catherine.

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