I noticed a discussion on AW regarding whether Wuthering Heights was a love story or not. This prompted me to repost this book review I wrote last summer:
It’s been called the most passionately written novel in the English language. The love between the foundling Heathcliffe and his foster father’s daughter, Catherine, turns to hate when she forsakes him (and herself) to marry for money.
Many people open this novel with false expectations. This usually comes from having viewed the classic film version starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. As gorgeous as that film is- it is not the book. Not only is the second half of the story missing- the characters and themes are also greatly watered down.
In the film, Heathcliffe is the tragic hero- heartbroken and brooding over the woman who left him. It never goes into the horrific emotional and physical abuse he unleashes onto the second generation. Catherine is portrayed as a spoiled, narcisstic child. The film doesn’t dare go deeper into her troubled psyche which causes her to will her own death.
Emily Bronte dared.
Charlotte Bronte said, ”liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.”
Indeed, much of Emily’s poetry deals with personal freedom.
One of her famous lines from a poem is:
“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
it vexes me to choose another guide.”
Catherine commits suicide the moment she allows societal opinions to dictate how she should live. It takes her body some years more to follow.
The last lines of Emily’s poem, Light up thy Halls- seems a forebearer to Heathcliffe’s grief and rage:
“And yet for all her hate, each parting glance would tell
A stronger passion breathed, burned, in this last farewell.
Unconquered in my soul the Tyrant rules me still;
Life bows to my control, but Love I cannot kill!”
Many critics claim the second part of the novel- concerning the relationship between the second Catherine and Heathcliffe’s adopted son, Hareton, is weak. Is it less passionate than the first part? Yes. Weak- no.
The first part of the novel is a thunderous storm. The second part details the breaking of the clouds- and at last- the calm.
What Heathcliffe and Catherine did wrong- Hareton and Catherine the 2nd, set right again.
Nature restores itself.
Wuthering Heights is not for everyone. While it is a love story, its dark themes of vengeance, abuse, madness, and necrophelia- is not of the Harlequin sort.
People hate this novel with the same passion others love it.
Emily probably doesn’t care.
It is doubtful anyone ever forgets it.