Classics Challenge: Wuthering Heights
Image from Penguin
This is probably the book we were both most looking forward to reading so it’s a shock that it’s passed us by for so long. Most people have heard of Wuthering Heights and its two main protagonists, Heathcliff and Cathy, even if it’s through the Kate Bush song (it’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it?). This tale of two houses separated by wild moorland is small in setting but epic in ambition. And it’s definitely not a romance.
“The entire world is a collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her.”
This book is not an epic romance. Heathcliff is not a romantic hero. This story is not what I had been led to believe it was. This is more of a gothic horror. This is a whole lot of twisted misery. This is a dark obsession that absorbed two people and everyone else who touched their lives, and you know, I’m ok with that.
Wuthering Heights is about love, which might be why if you’ve never gotten around to reading it, you'd have shelved it in the epic romance section. However it’s not about a declared love that unites two people and makes them stronger, better people. It’s about a dark, bitter, obsessive love, tinged with anger and regret, that doesn’t really exist in reality, but is buried underneath both of their skins, a poison, destroying them, changing them and inevitably stopping them ever really living or being truly happy.
Quite honestly I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that I love this book, but that doesn’t stop me fully appreciating it. I admire that, somehow, between two houses on a moor, a whole universe exists. It’s an intense story with very impressively vivid characters, considering you never hear their story first hand. In Wuthering Heights, if you’re willing to just go with it, you can watch on in horror as history repeats and twists in on itself, and people slowly destroy themselves and each other. Sometimes people in your life are so bad for you and no matter how something deep in your soul might reach out to them, you have to leave them behind if you want to be a whole person on your own. We’ve probably all had at least one of those kind of relationships, but hopefully, unlike Heathcliff and Catherine, we don’t tie ourselves to that person, but eventually manage to let them go, rather than continuing to dig up history (quite literally in Heathcliff’s case).(4 / 5)
I came to this expecting a love story and I’ll admit I underestimated it. For all it is, Wuthering Heights is not a love story and Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is far from a romance.
This is, at its heart, a story of a relationship. But these are not star-crossed lovers doomed to never be together by circumstances out of their control - the fault here is very much in their hands. Both Catherine and Heathcliff are bitter, cruel and self-absorbed, and theirs is a relationship of obsession; an arrogant, violent and possessive game that ripples out across the small world they inhabit. Heathcliff’s behaviour is particularly hard to witness, his whole life motivated by his obsession with Cathy and revenge on those who wronged him, although there's little to redeem Cathy's spiteful, dramatic behaviour either. The people around them aren't much better, all either weak, violent or bitter as a result of their surroundings.
I loved this book.
From a simple premise, Emily Brontë has created a sweeping gothic tale of two houses separated by the moors but irrevocably linked. Reading it is, in places, a challenge; it's dark and spiralling with very little hope and a lot of misery. And that's what makes it so indulgent and refreshing. You aren't supposed to like these characters because they are not likeable people, and that's ok.
As a literature nerd, I also found the narrative structure really impressive. We learn the full story of Catherine, Heathcliff and the people around them through a conversation between the current tenant of Thrushcross Grange, Mr Lockwood, and the housekeeper Ellen Dean. Stories within stories can often become confusing, mixing time periods and conversations clumsily, but that’s not the case here; each person's account slots neatly into the others without losing pace. For me, it also added an extra interesting dimension. There's a sense of Chinese whispers to the structure - going on the words of others, shared from person to person - that turns the story into something more mythical. Given the supernatural tinges in places (are they really roaming the moors?) and Ellen's close relationship to those involved, it left me wondering: how much of what our narrators tell us about these people should we really believe?(4.5 / 5)
We both read this in different formats but we've used a gratuitous shot of the Penguin Vintage Classics Bronte edition because PHWOAR.
Missed any reviews? Catch up on our classics challenge so far.