On my bedside table this 11th Day of Christmas…
Like my knitting nutcracker-style figure? My mom found her for me. And there’s my current project! I am making better progress with this second sock than the first, but last night I didn’t knit a thing being utterly absorbed in my first read of 2017.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
I cannot recommend this edition highly enough. The introduction was refreshing and the annotations/footnotes actually do a great deal toward explaining ambiguous areas of the text (for instance, it translates Bronte’s example of the character Joseph’s broad Yorkshire into something Americans can understand).
Now here’s a revelation: I hadn’t touched WH in about twenty years, and I hated it the last time I read it.
The first time I read WH was in middle school. I distinctly remember reading Catherine’s impassioned speech to Nelly while on the bus ride home from the junior high school, and re-underlining in bright turquoise pen the sentences that a previous reader–possibly an aunt–had underlined in pencil another twenty years before me. The thing is, I didn’t quite get then why this was supposed to be one of the greatest love story of all time, as the cover proclaimed, and yet here was Catherine saying in one breath that she and Heathcliff were one soul, yet she couldn’t degrade herself to marry beneath her station. Whyever not? Oh, and then he runs off and after waiting three years she marries the eligible neighbor. Heathcliff then comes back, and not long after Catherine dies and everything goes bad and bad and very bad until Heathcliff dies too. Greatest… love story?
I finished the book, still confused.
I picked up the book again in high school and read it cover to cover in a day. My doubts were still there. By then I had read Jane Eyre by Emily’s sister Charlotte, and decided that as a love story it at least was slightly more satisfying. I mean, Mr. Rochester kept an insane wife locked up (very bad). But then the wife perished in a house fire (and he did attempt to save her), so then Jane could marry him (um…good?). And at least then they could live happily ever after and he did begin to recover sight in one eye after being horribly mangled in said fire. So despite all that, the book did end happily for our heroine and, um, hero(?)!
But Heathcliff and Catherine and their great… love?
I admit when my sister suggested we read this book and discuss together, I thought back to my earlier read of the book and did a little “do we hafta” kind of whine. But I went along with her because I wanted to have bargaining power in case she wanted to veto my suggestion of Chesterton’s Fr. Brown Mysteries later this year. Also, I knew she’d make me laugh with her own take on passages of it. So I dug into my book change and sent off for this edition of WH you see pictured. I have the Mansfield Park edition of that series and also enjoyed the respect the editors give to both text and author.
As soon as I read a few pages of the introduction, I realized my error.
This book was not written to be the greatest love story of all time!
It is, rather, a great example of the evils of selfishness. In fact, the presumed hero and heroine are both so abysmally selfish, so totally unconcerned with anything beyond their own gratification, that unless you think LOVE is “getting my way all the time and the rest of you just deal with it,” you will be disappointed if you expect a happy ending (unless you count the two at the end. That Hareton got what he deserved in the best sense was always a satisfaction).
So some mental notes I made to bring up with my sister over the next phone call went something like: “Heathcliff = Pride Goeth Before a Fall, and you might just create a living Hell for everyone in your wake.” or “The greatest sadistic revenge plot aside from The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“Catherine = You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you’re going to self-destruct in the attempt and blame it on everyone but yourself.”
“Isabella = you’re going to elope with the dark Byronic gentleman next door, and when he comes to pick you up he decides to hang your dog. How do you think this is going to work out for you?”
Charlotte Bronte once (in)famously said that she would hardly like to live with Jane Austen’s characters. I took serious umbrage to that in high school, when I first read all of Austen’s novels with interest. I thought of the unpleasant home Heathcliff made for himself and everyone else, and at the time I fired back to my volume of Jane Eyre that there wasn’t a chance I’d choose to spend time with any Bronte character.
I see now that isn’t entirely true. I’d love to sit at a cosy fire with Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Dean and listen to her gossip while she sews.