Archive for the ‘1840s’ Category

wuthering heights oup emily bronte 001Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë ~ 1847. This edition: Oxford University Press, 1981. Edited and with Introduction by Ian Jack. Paperback. ISBN: 0-19-281543-1. 370 pages.

My rating: Hmmm…tough call. I appreciate that it’s a highly regarded “classic”, and Emily Bronte has my admiration for keeping me engaged all the way through, though I despised the vast majority of her characters on a personal level. Did I enjoy my read? Sort of. Okay, yes, I did. But more in a “I can’t believe this is happening!” way than in a “Oh, I’m putting this on the favourites shelf!” sort of way. So let’s try this: 6.5/10. Restrained recommendation, one might say.

What did I just read? This was the strangest book. I wonder if I can condense it into 100 words? I doubt it, but will try. Here goes.

  • Sullen foundling Heathcliff forms inseparable friendship with daughter-of-wealthy-house Cathy. Cathy’s father dies. Heathcliff is downgraded in status from foster-brother to mere farm worker. A rich neighbour courts Cathy. She accepts. Heathcliff runs away. He comes back, educated and financially solvent, but still sullen. More marriages take place, babies are born. People die, including Cathy. Heathcliff through shady dealing ends up lord of the local manor. He forces a marriage between his barely teenage son and Cathy’s daughter. Son dies. Heathcliff, haunted by memory of Cathy-the-first, starves himself to death. Cathy-the-second finds true love, thus negating Heathcliff’s revenge scenario. The End.

The key characters peopling this unlikely saga are totally without inhibition. They don’t bite back their words, they act on every dark impulse, they treat each other with casual cruelty. Most of the novel concerns the cut-and-thrust of “Oh, yeah, well I’ll make YOU sorry” parrying. They brawl continuously, both verbally and physically. Heathcliff in particular specializes in random acts of impulsive brutality. He smacks his wife around, until she escapes to a faraway refuge, and then the ultimate shelter of death. (He hangs her pet dog!!!) He beats up his lost-love-Cathy’s daughter and locks her up so she can’t attend her own father’s deathbed. He refuses to have a doctor to treat his own dying son.

Having never actually read Wuthering Heights before, and having my knowledge of it only through the references of others and the various filmed adaptations which I was mildly aware of but which I’d never personally viewed, I had always pictured Heathcliff as some sort of romantic hero. And yes, for a brief few chapters I was in sympathy with his young self, for he was treated very badly by his adoptive guardian’s successors, and “kindred soul” Cathy was blithely heartless in her blindness to Heathcliff’s deep devotion and how he would be affected when she decides to marry the money next door. Heathcliff’s subsequently warped nature is quite understandable, and his increasingly awful behaviour certainly keeps the reader riveted to the tale, wondering what nasty thing the anti-hero will pull off next.

Disappointingly, the women in Wuthering Heights never really reached full life for me. Even Cathy-the-first, instigator of the reason for the story, seemed puppet-like in her role. In my opinion, upon this first reading, the novel is basically a moving portrait of Heathcliff, over-the-top scenery-buster that he is. All the other stuff sounded like rackety background noise.

This isn’t at all a proper review, is it?

I’m not sure what one could say that hasn’t already been said elsewehere by literary scholars, and by the thousands of students worrying their way through this dense melodrama in their AP English classes, poor souls.

So, Heathcliff or Rochester? Well, Rochester is a bit arrogant, but he doesn’t hang pet dogs, or disinter his dead love’s coffin so he can lie down with her corpse. (That was just icky.) Heathcliff, off to the storm-tossed moor with you. Rochester, I suppose I will accept your redemption, and forgive your previously libertine ways.

Last word, and it has to do with the inevitable comparison of these two sisters’ novels. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre I know I will reread with pleasure. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, not so much, though I’m happy to have ticked it off my “you really should read” list.

Dear fellow readers, your own thought are most welcome. (And if you’ve read both Brontës, are you for Rochester or for Heathcliff?) 🙂

 

 

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jane eyre charlotte bronteJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë ~ 1847. This edition: Penguin, 1985. Edited and with Introduction by Q.D. Leavis. Paperback. ISBN: 0-14-043011-3. 489 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Let’s see if I can pull off a 100-word summation:

  • Wee orphan Jane is despised by her only (that she knows about) relations and ends up in a charity-girl’s school, where she emerges at the age of 18 to take on a governess post to the illegitimate ward of the moody Mr. Rochester. Romantic sparks fly, despite a series of disturbing nocturnal events, and Jane is at the altar when an appalling allegation is made and everything is off. She runs away, finds shelter with a stern clergyman’s family, inherits a fortune, has a moral crisis, and passionately races her way back to Rochester’s now-mutilated arms. (There was this conflagration…)

Confession time: I have never read this book before, not even in my library-haunting adolescence when I tackled so many of the weighty greats. I do wonder what my younger self would have thought about it? I suspect much the same as my older self does: Rochester is bad, bad news, and Jane, you’re a fool.

This initially harsh reaction is salvaged by the author letting both of her main characters disarmingly confess the above about themselves a number of times. (Okay, it’s more like Jane knows she’s a fool. Rochester knows he’s bad news but he rather thinks that he gets a pass on his bad behaviour because…well…he’s rich and upper-class. And a man. A man has needs, don’t you know? Hence the three mistresses and the attempted bigamy.)

If the voice of Jane wasn’t so ardently introspective, I would have absolutely despised this deeply melodramatic tale. As it was, I quite enjoyed it, especially the orphanage saga at the beginning, and the “Should I be a missionary wife and go to India?” complication near the end. Engaging, most of it, though it took some work to wade through the romantic twaddle in the middle, before the aborted wedding ceremony and the Big Reveal about the insane first wife locked away in the attic.

If you have so far dodged this novel, you’re likely backing away slowly, thinking life’s too darned short for this sort of antique concoction, but let me reassure you that the thing has classic status for a reason, and that it’s well worth taking a go at it, if only to be able to at last identify the hundreds of references you’ve no doubt bumped up against in your other reading.

Can I stop right here? Though I could of course go on for thousands of words, picking the novel to pieces and putting it back together again, rambling on about symbolism and feminist elements (or the opposite) and the merits and demerits of the styling and plot, and should we be relating to Miss Eyre or despising her, and is Rochester really for real.

But I won’t.

This would be an awesome book to tackle with a real-life group of like-minded readers. No shortage of conversational topics, and it would be great fun to wax eloquent about the more outrageous bits, and to bounce favourite characters and scenes around.

So if you haven’t yet read Jane Eyre, here’s your nudge. Do it. You’ll love some bits, you’ll cringe at others, you’ll laugh (for there are some funny bits, both deliberate and unintentional), you’ll want to rattle some sense into Jane at least once or twice, and you’ll also yearn for Mr. Arrogance – oops, Rochester – to receive his much-deserved comeuppance. (Or maybe you’ll find him wonderfully romantic?)

Then come back and tell me what you think.

 

 

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