Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Genre: Romance, Fiction, Classical Literature

Rating: 3

Synopsis:

Emily Brontës only novel, Wuthering Heights remains one of literature’s most disturbing explorations into the dark side of romantic passion. Heathcliff and Cathy believe they’re destined to love each other forever, but when cruelty and snobbery separate them, their untamed emotions literally consume them.

Set amid the wild and stormy Yorkshire moors, Wuthering Heights, an unpolished and devastating epic of childhood playmates who grow into soul mates, is widely regarded as the most original tale of thwarted desire and heartbreak in the English language.

Review:

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights has been hailed as a literary masterpiece for well over a century, and its structural beauty is certainly not something to be scoffed at. However, the over dramatization of the theme of love and loss detract from the novel’s overall worth, and ultimately estrange the reader from the story.

Wuthering Heights is a seventeenth century classic romance novel, whose plot centers on the wild and whimsical Catherine Earnshaw and her daughter, Catherine Linton. The elder Catherine is an untamable girl whose fleeting heart falls for two men – her pseudo brother, the fellow free soul Heathcliff, and the delicate, refined neighbor, Edgar Linton. When she chooses to marry the latter, she incites a feud between him and Heathcliff that will both cause her death and set the stage for the rest of the book. Her extreme anxiety weakens her greatly, and she dies giving birth to the younger Catherine, leaving behind two devastated men and a motherless child. The young girl, nicknamed Cathy by her father, eventually finds herself to be a victim of the strife between her father and Heathcliff. She is lured into loving Linton, Heathcliff’s son, and is eventually trapped in the home and forced to marry the frail boy. Within days of the marriage, both Linton and Edgar pass into oblivion, having been very weak for several months. Cathy is left on the Wuthering Heights estate with Heathcliff and Hindley, the elder Catherine’s nephew, an orphan whose care has been greatly neglected. As the years pass, Cathy becomes very close to Hindley by teaching him to read, and by the end of the book they are due to be married.

Though the story centers on Catherine and Cathy, it is told in an odd and interesting form: a visitor, by the name of Lockwood, narrates the novel in first person. However, it is in his talking with a servant of Thrushcross Grange (the Lintons’ former home) that the story of Wuthering Heights is revealed. Mrs. Dean, as the servant is called, relates the events as she recalls them, as she was there to witness everything, and so there are two first person narratives being told. The style of the storytelling is very unique and the breaks in the tale – when, for example, Mrs. Dean or Lockwood must sleep – are used well to keep the audience wanting more.

Stylistically, this book is simply breathtaking. Reading it is like wading through a snow drift: it is very difficult at first, but as the snow begins to melt in response to your body heat, water accumulates, and the snow liquefies faster and faster. Essentially, the deeper into the story you get, the more you understand the language. As the reading gets less challenging, the reader is better able to appreciate the complexity and grace of the writing. It feels as though every sentence is an important one; each word carries immeasurable weight. I was certainly entranced by the artistry Bronte displays throughout the novel. Some of the phrases regarding love are worded in ways that are universally relatable. In fact, perhaps because of her usage of the words “soul” and “universe” as frequently as she does in the context of love, the reader constantly feels part of a larger picture, one in which others are experiencing all that they do; in other words, they feel understood.

However, there comes a certain point where such grandiose statements become excessive. There is clearly a prevailing theme of love and loss in the novel that is carried out over the generations, but the extreme reactions and emotions of the characters begin to border on theatrical, and incredible. As a piece of literature, Wuthering Heights is supposed to withstand the test of time, and remain relevant as years pass. And yet, the modern reader cannot help but scorn the intense feelings expressed and acted on throughout the story. For example, Catherine (the elder) is explaining her love for both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton to Ellen, and cries that, “‘If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable…’” for in a dream, it “‘did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy’ “ (126-127). This portrayal of distress is quite frankly unrealistic, and not just minutely; this is an extremely strange reaction to someone living in the 21st century. This is a recurring issue; many times throughout the book the reader feels alienated from the plot. Furthermore, the audience is completely left behind when Cathy falls in love with and marries her first cousin Linton. Modern minds would consider this to be uncouth, and taboo; we know now that keeping hereditary lines within a family can result in inbreeding depression and genetic disorders. Moreover, Linton clearly abuses Cathy verbally and emotionally; anyone can see that the relationship is unhealthy. Signs like these show that the novel hasn’t successfully kept up with current ideas. Although its theme is universal, as themes should be, its deliverer is almost obsolete.

Wuthering Heights is a stunning book, without a doubt. Bronte writes with a rare and beautiful eloquence that mesmerizes its readers. Despite its splendor, though, the book is unable to connect with the current audience, and has therefore failed the test of time. A novel cannot remain an esteemed piece of literature if its content is no longer relevant.

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