Cannonball Read #3: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights. Where to begin? The classic romance penned by Emily Bronte is often alluded to, but no one ever tells you the main plot line sucks. The main story takes place between Catherine Earnshaw and an orphaned young boy taken in by her father who is given one name: Heathcliff. He's rough and poor, with a vengeful temperment, and a healthy dose of mysterious birth. This apparently means he's got some gypsy blood because it's the 19th century and gypsy prejudice is a golden literary opportunity. Anyway, the father dies, leaving the two friends to face the snobbish cruelty of Catherine's older brother. As the two grow up, they are obviously head over heels for each other, but Catherine is lured by the civility of the household at the Grange, home of the Lintons. Heathcliff disappears for a few years and Cathy ends up marrying the affable, but far less passionate Mr. Linton. A few years later, Heathcliff shows up to ruin their marriage like the devil he is. Drama drama drama.

The saving grace of the book is the framing device of a stranger renting out the Grange, the closest neighbor to Wuthering Heights. Mr. Lockwood meets the strange household of Wuthering Heights, and subsequently gets the whole story out of his housekeeper, Ellen Dean. And luckily, Nelly has the whole story, having served in both houses at particularly opportune times. And Mr. Lockwood luckily has a sense of humor. He's amused by the whole ordeal, and obviously loves a good story, but has no intention of sticking around these crazy people. Emily Bronte was a genius to include a skeptical perspective because, as much as I love a good tragic romance, the initial one is just lame.

However, the second part of the book is far more engaging. It's kind of like Wuthering Heights: The Next Generation. Here we see Heathcliff wreak havoc on the lives of Catherine and Linton's daughter, his and Linton's sister's baby (Heathcliff marries Catherine's husband's sister, out of spite of course), and the cruel older brother Earnshaw's son. It's slightly confusing and incestuous in a first cousin sort of way, but deliciously so. Heathcliff has gone completely mad, and it's hilarious to read. All my new favorite insults come from him: "You infernal calf," "whey-faced whining wretch," "insolent slut." My new life goal is to use these in real life.

From the reputation of the book, I would have thought the romance was the best part of the book, but Heathcliff is no romantic lead, just some sort of heartless heathen. I wasn't expecting that, basing my knowledge of the book on the 1939 classic Laurence Olivier film adaptation (and when is Laurence Olivier ever short of sympathetic and charming?). And the other half of the romance, Catherine (the elder), is absolutely insufferable.

But in the end, my enjoyment in Wuthering Heights was mostly for the gossipy tone of the framing device. After all, what's more fun than telling stories of the ridiculous people in your life? I got to read the juiciest of all juicy stories with some great moments of drama and superstition wrapped into the prudish visage of 19th century societal norms. That's a pretty good read.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Kelsy,

    I'm a fellow Cannonballer checking in to say that you can call me a whey-faced wretch anytime. ;)