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Jul 22

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I was supposed to have read this in high school, and I read just enough of it at the time to go “boooooarrrring!!” and fake my way through the rest of the semester. So now that I’m an adult and more tolerant of difficult literature, I decided to give it a go. Also, it was free. I couldn’t remember much of it from high school except that it seemed an awful lot like Deliverance, but set on the moors.
One of the most striking things in the first part of the book was how much dogs played a part. Later on they are not as present, but the first few chapters are so much with dogs and about dogs. Heathcliff’s dogs set upon Mr. Lockwood. Catherine Earnshaw is attacked by the Lintons’ dogs, and has to stay at Thrushcross Grange. The Linton children also have a pet spoiled lapdog that they nearly break as they are cosseting it. The characters, too, seem dog-like. Heathcliff would be the abused pit bull that mauls the neighbor’s kids. Catherine Earnshaw would be the purebred spaniel, too smart for her own good and not allowed to do anything challenging so she destroys herself out of boredom. Isabelle and Edgaar Linton would be like those horribly ugly tiny dogs that need a special diet and can’t go outside without sweaters. They’re all broken, twisted, inbred curs, alternately pitiable and dangerous.

I read somewhere that the book Twilight was based off of this book, and I’d heard it described as the original gothic romance. Gothic, yes. Romance, no. This book is not romantic at all. Heathcliff as a Byronic love interest? Ewww. Walder Frey would make a better husband than this guy. Heathcliff is a monster, and not a good monster like a blue one that eats cookies, but the kind of monster that ends up on death row for beating his girlfriend’s toddler to death. He does, I’ll grant him, have that trait which all women find desirable: Genetic dissimilarity.

Heathcliff is a horrible person from beginning to end. He starts out as a bad seed, turns into a manipulative little weasel, and blossoms into the psychopath next door. He “loves” Cathy, but it’s not like anything I’d call love. Cathy is also an awful, horrible person. She’s a maniupulative little minx who uses her good looks to turn Heathcliff into her personal guard dog. She manipulates her husband, who is in terror of her nasty histrionic personality. Not that the other characters are much better. Cathy and Heathcliff’s brother H.Earnshaw is a nasty abusive drunk who nearly drops his own son off a balcony while carrying him around looking for a knife to cut the boy’s ears off with. Heathcliff accidentally saves the son (Hareton) but then rails in regret that he did so.

Yeah, these people are charmers. You can describe most of the people with just three adjectives Stupid, weak, and evil. Cathy is weak and evil, Isabelle is weak and stupid, Edgar is weak and weak, Heathcliff is evil and evil, H. Earnshaw senior is stupid and evil, H. Earnshaw junior is just stupid, Heathcliff’s son Linton is weak plus stupid plus evil, but mostly weak. The only character I liked was Ellen Dean, the narrator. I wanted to shout at her, like at a character in a slasher fic “Get away from these people! No! Don’t go in the house! Run!”

Some will argue that it’s a romance because Heathcliff is haunted by Cathy forever. Yes, he was haunted, but it could be because he killed her. I don’t know if he did or not, she was pretty stupid and self-destructive and had been sleeping with the window open in winter. Let’s just say he shows up, after being asked not to, sees her, holds her so tight she’s almost crushed, and that night she gives birth two months early and dies. Pretty suspicious. I can’t say I was sad, I was just glad that she died. One down, several to go.

Bronte’s book is considered a classic, and I do think it deserves that. It’s definitely compelling. She managed to have a gothic horror with no supernatural elements and very few unnatural deaths. Some of the 18th century details were frustrating, like how Cathy’s pregnancy is so obliquely hinted at so that when the was suddenly a baby, I was like “whaaaa…?” Others were kind of cool, like when someone drinks out of a saucer (people used to do that!) and when someone wakes Ellen up after her “first nap” because of course if you go to bed at sundown in high latitudes in winter and wake up at dawn, you can’t really sleep the whole night through, so you wake up in the middle of the night, after your “first nap” I’d read about this in a book on sleep, but this was proof straight from the time, and made me geek-out a little. I liked the language too, once I got used to it. There were ways Bronte had of putting things that you couldn’t express as succinctly in modern speech. For example, in one scene when Heathcliff finally leaves, she says “he delivered us from his luckless presence.” Nice.

I know that the readers were supposed to feel happy for Cathy Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw when she finally inbred her way back into her mother’s maiden name and supposedly lived happily ever after, but I have a modern woman’s sensitivity and the cousin-marrying grosses me out. Also, I didn’t much care for the “good” characters, except Ellen Dean. Cathy junior is not as detestable of a character as her mother, but I didn’t root for her except to hope she wasn’t killed/raped/maimed by Heathcliff. She’s a spoiled, socially-challenged, bratty, entitled rich girl. The fact that she’s not overtly evil is hardly a recommendation. Lockwood basically says that she’s pretty enough, but her character does not meet with Mrs. Dean’s estimation. I think he hit the nail on the head. This might make a better movie than a book, because you’d have sympathy for her if you could find a stunning actress, but in a novel, her only charm is her personality, which is sadly wanting. I knew I was supposed to be glad that she married her surviving cousin, but my real happy ending came when Heathcliff died. Sadly, Joseph lives. He was number three on my list of characters in this novel who needed to be strangled and thrown into a bog. (Yes, I did fantasize about a Dexter/Wuthering Heights crossover.)

As a window to 19th century life? Fascinating. Trigger warning, because anyone who’s been raised in an abusive house will probably read incestuous rape between the lines. As a horror? Creepy and horrible. As a romance? Um…no. Nope. NO. No. Yuck. Bronte isn’t the 19th century version of Stephenie Meyer, she’s the 18th century version of Gillian Flynn. Sick people doing sick things to victims who aren’t themselves all that innocent. Gross and horrible and so messed up you’ll think about it for days. Pass the popcorn.

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1 comment

  1. ZT

    Great review. I was forced to read WH in high school too, and I’d forgotten just how depraved it was.

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