My Infatuation With The Brontës

Hello, I finished book #15 of the year and I’m pretty excited about it. I read Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. I really thought I had read this before but had pretty much no recollection of anything while I was reading it, so I think I confused wanting to read it with having read it. Or this was a re-read, and I have the worst memory. But usually I remember characters pretty well, and I can’t see myself forgetting Heathcliff or Cathy, so I’m going to say this was my first time reading it.

Anyway, it was so good. I love Victorian literature, and 18th/19th century British female authors, so I was pretty confident I would love this book. I’ve also been borderline-obsessed with the Brontë sisters ever since I read Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) in high school. Something about three sisters basically living out the plot of a Gothic novel while also being incredible writers forced to publish secretly, under ambiguous male names, is too perfect. I love them. Plus, one of my high school English teachers once said I reminded her of Jane Eyre, so that vainly drove my obsession.

But: Wuthering Heights. It starts off a little bit confusing, which I was expecting, but after enough references to the family tree printed at the beginning, the characters and story became easy enough to keep track of. Almost the entire story is told through the reflection and long-winded storytelling skills of a maid who has been associated with the two main families since the childhood of all the main characters. Said maid is recounting the story of the families to an outside tenant, a stranger to everyone who becomes immersed in all of their lives and stories.

I love this technique so much, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. Having that outsider-looking-in perspective (like Carraway in The Great Gatsby) more deeply involves the reader maybe? It makes me feel like I’m learning of all the facts and relationships and characters, and forming my own opinions of them with the narrator. It then becomes easier to relate to the story, and get more involved.

Either way, it’s really effective in Wuthering Heights. The novel takes place over the course of about a year, but the story as told by the maid to the tenant starts fifteen or twenty years earlier, when one of the main characters, Heathcliff, is a child just joining the family, and a couple of the other main character haven’t even been born yet. So right away that made the story more interesting, because the reader is introduced to this horrible, bitter man, and then taken back to his childhood when he was added to the family with no origin or explanation, and his experiences growing up as this outsider misfit.

There’s also the tragic love story. Heathcliff was messed up, and you can blame that on a lot of things, but factoring in his thwarted love story at a young age is unavoidable. I won’t get super into it, because I’m finding this is a hard novel to discuss, but he spends the majority of his life, and time as a character in this novel, being bitter and manipulative and generally trying to ruin everyone else’s lives around him to avenge his loss of Catherine. I don’t know if he ever could have been a good character, but I got the sense that he definitely could have been different, had those two ended up together in their sweet, childhood love.

Two last things: I also loved that the story spanned generations, and the parallels between the two generations and the male and female components of both generations. That probably doesn’t make sense… but it was really interesting to me to see these characters all interact with each other, and mirror each other’s behaviors, while considering how the second generation’s story could be so different had things ended differently for their parents. And lastly, Emily Brontë knows how to describe nature, weather, and the seasons. Reading her descriptions made me want to be outside, and I’d recommend the book to anyone for that alone.

Catherine, Cathy, Edgar, Heathcliff, Linton, and Hareton were a cast of crazy-named, compelling, and really human characters. I loved and hated them all. I think that’s the sign of a good cast of characters, because that’s how I feel about most people in real life. ◊

… the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine. At last, we agreed to try both… and then we kissed each other and were friends.”

– page 240

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